Chinese Writers Festival: Discovering Poetry, and more


As part of Peril’s coverage of the Chinese Writers Festival, we are reviewing some of the work by guest writers hosted at the festival. First up in the series, language teacher and translator Xia Cui reflects on the some poetry of Ouyang Yu.


Ouyang Yu is a prolific and accomplished poet, critic, translator, editor and novelist. His literary creations have won him multiple grants and awards of prestige, his poems consecutively included in the best Australian poetry collection.

I, on the other hand, don’t read much poetry and somehow had the idea that its grace and subtlety might be well beyond my grasp. Hence I was understandably nervous when asked to review some of his works as part of the Chinese Writers Festival taking place on the 28th
 of August.

Such concerns quickly went away as I sat down to read Ouyang Yu’s poems and gladly find them frank and accessible. The feelings revealed between the lines are familiar and resonating, as I too am a Chinese living in Australia who, at times, translates and writes, though far less experienced and skilled.

Often raw and alive, Ouyang Yu’s poems are free flowing and the styles of these are unpredictable.

Some are witty:

“15. Sky, an umbrella, but leaks.”[1]

Some are honest, and slightly brutal:

“8. Love you, she said, years ago.”[2]

“38. Lied together, fucked together, parted forever.”[3]

Some are delicately poetic, like The Tree

Occasionally, he might be bored, or perhaps is trying to be smart:

6-word stories are longer than five.

Yet there are also those that are unexpectedly heavy (Someone), and loaded with complex emotions (Moon over Melbourne).

Ouyang Yu apparently finds poetry in everything, and anything: a misread of book title (A happy misreading), a typo, seeing a breast feeding woman on the street (So nice), the translation of a commercial document full of technical terms (Flowers), his own fetish of the –ish suffix (Fetish), and his creative play with the Chinese and English language.

Being bilingual and an experienced translator gives Ouyang Yu an edge in his literary creations. In his eyes, direct translation itself is poetry. Seeing this happen, I couldn’t agree more.

For example, his poem, China, consists entirely of the direct translation of selected names of river in China. It reads not only smooth and poetic, but also renders native speakers of Chinese, like myself, a new perspective to re-appreciate the poetic-ness of our mother tongue which we so often take for granted. Indeed, as Ouyang Yu writes:

 Nothing can be more pleasurably creative when writing, reading and translating happen across the board, and across the genres. [4]

In Ouyang Yu’s works, I see a poet who dances with ease within and between Chinese and English. His authority and ownership of both the languages is impressive. Whichever language he writes in, he owns, exploits fully his bilingual advantage, does whatever he feels like to his creative satisfaction, and apparently has great fun while doing so.

Along with reading Ouyang Yu’s poems comes another pleasant find, his views on writing: “write anywhere and anyhow”.[5] Indeed, he can write more than 45 poems over just two weeks, and when questioned on the perfection of these, Ouyang Yu’s response is a gift card quote: “If you keep refining shit, would it become non-shit?”[6] So instead it is, as Ouyang Yu says beautifully: 

To capture the spirit of the moment, like a falling star, like a flying butterfly, like a passing whim, a poet has to be constantly on the alert. [7]

While I’m a little offended by the shit-refining part, as that’s basically what I do all the time, his idea of perseverance holds true to any of us who write to create and hence at the mercy of inspiration that arrives and leaves as it wishes. To best our chance of catching it next time inspiration pops by, let’s write anywhere, and anyhow!

Then, last but not least, and quite unexpectedly, I was thrilled to find something from Ouyang Yu that I could perhaps borrow and use straightaway, his outlook on self-identity, or to be more precise, his response to the various versions of identity applied on him: “After a while, though, seeing that people continue to apply whatever terms they’d like to when describing me, I have given up on feeling uncomfortable but just let things go as each makes sense on its own, capturing only part of the whole thing identity-wise.”[8]

Similar to him, I too changed passports; feeling the need to justify this choice at times can be slightly annoying, and I’m yet to come up with a response that I could comfortably pull out when I need to. Reading Ouyang Yu’s response expressing a thought similar to mine but with non-confrontational confidence makes me feel less anxious, and perhaps even empowered. Before I come up with my own, I may just borrow his.

So here I am on a wintery weekend of Melbourne, discovering the grace of poetry expressed with passion and genuineness, and more.

[1] Ouyang Yu, Short Short Stories in Peril Magazine 22(2015).

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] Ouyang Yu, Ways of Writing, Reading and Translating: Genre-Crossing in the 21st Centuryin Peril Magazine 14(2012).

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] Ouyang Yu, Rotten, in Peril Magazine 15(2013).

Xia Cui

Author: Xia Cui

Living in Australia for over ten years, Xia has always been intrigued by the process of meaning negotiation among people from different sociocultural upbringings. How does miscommunication or a conflict occur, for example, get resolved, or not? She’s constantly seeking answers to questions like these through her roles including being a language teacher, translator/interpreter, academic and fitness professional. Xia is currently dedicated to developing immersion Chinese programs, and passionately working with her fitness clients every day towards their goals! 在澳洲生活的十余年间,崔峡所从事的职业有语言教师,翻译员,研究学者, 健身教练等等。在她工作生活的人际交往过程中,崔峡始终有着强烈兴趣并不 断探索的是,来自不同社会文化背景的人们是如何进行意义沟通的。误解甚至冲突是怎样产生,化解,又或不了了之?崔峡目前致力于开发沉浸式中文教学课程。与此同时,她每天都在充满热情的与自己的健身客户一起努力实现他们的健身目标!