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Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic By Paul Manfredi

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Modern Poetry in China:

well from maker to object made, namely the textual poem (the graphic representations on the page or other writing surface). The new poem, having announced itself with a new configuration of words on two-dimensional surface, lays claim to credibility both for itself and the lyrical speaker (poet) in a kind of dual consolidation. The modern poetic lyrical subject position merges the imperatives of national renewal with formal needs of textual practice (modern poetry) in a single visualization.

Visualized lyrical subject is thus a major element of poetic practice from early in the century with the first poetic experiments around 1920 of Li Jinfa, through Ji Xian at midcentury in China and then on Taiwan, and extending through Luo Qing, who provides the most profound meditation on self-representation of all the writer/artists examined. In each case, the ideology of lyrical subject as visible presence, the seeing and therefore seeable poet, is prominent and significant for even formal evolution of poetic method and content. By late-century Taiwan, however, postmodern trends scramble lyrical subjectivity almost entirely, and Xia Yu’s engagement with automatic writing, Internet, and technology are symptomatic of the end of the “I.” As I take up analysis of Xia’s work, then, a different rubric for apprehending visuality will come into play, one that allows for full appreciation of her collage-affected subjectivity in both a literal and figurative sense. Xia’s literary art achievements not only challenge assumptions but in fact habitually and quite damagingly undermine conventions, often questioning emphatically, if also somewhat casually, the exercise of writing poetry itself. In this respect, Chinese lyrical subjectivity parallels the development of the self-portrait in European and American art, from its origins in the classical era, through its Renaissance and seventeenth-century apogee, to its modern drift into the wide spectrum of figural art it has come to occupy in the twentieth century. Despite the variety of visual practices that can be subsumed under the rubric of self-portrait in the modern and contemporary era, this subgenre has been instrumental, in China and elsewhere, in solidifying a public image of the artist.18