Bei Dao: literature is uninspired

Chinese poet Bei Dao gives an interview to China Daily where he claims:

…today’s Chinese literature is uninspired. “It’s true not only in China but also across the world, and it’s related to many factors, like materialism oriented by consumption, the nationwide trend of seeking entertainment, information dissemination brought by new technologies. All these things are making bubbles in language and literature,” he said.

He pointed out that previously a clear-cut division existed between “vulgar” culture and”serious” culture, but today vulgar culture is swallowing serious culture like a black hole, and unfortunately, many writers are forced to lower their writing standards to cater to vulgarity in today’s society.

There are other reasons for the devolution of Chinese poetry, Bei Dao said, such as the absence of a system of construction.

“Poetry needs good guides, and a good critic is a good guide who can lead or shape a group of well-educated readers through unscrambling and analyzing poets.”

Bei Dao, who was a key member of the Misty Poets, was at a literary conference in Berlin during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. His poem ‘Huida’ (‘The Answer’), which was written during the 1976 Tiananmen demonstrations, was used by protestors both as an anthem and written on posters. Following the protests Bei Dao was not permitted to return to China. He has since been able to visit twice in the past twenty years.

It is hard not to agree with his comments. In the absence of formality poetry is beginning to loose the sonorous quality and complexity both imagistic and syntactic of older works. It is tempting to consider Ezra Pound who claimed his activities were “to keep alive a certain group of advancing poets, to set the arts in their rightful place as the acknowledged guide and lamp of civilization”, and wonder who is able to restore poetry.

Thirteen poems by Bei Dao are published in Jacket Magazine. They are translated by Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong.

My back to the window of open fields
holding on to the gravity of life
and the doubts of May
like the audience at a violent movie
lit by drink

except for the honey-drop at five o’clock
the morning’s lovers grow old
and become a single body
a compass needle
on a homesick sea

between writing and the table
a diagonal enemy line
Friday in the billowing smoke
someone climbs a ladder
out of sight of the audience

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