The po­etry of pain de­fines au­thor’s new col­lec­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BOOKS | LIFE - By XING YI xingyi@chi­

While Zhao Li­hong is de­fined by his prose in China, the writer says po­etry is what drives him.

In Novem­ber, Zhao re­leased a col­lec­tion of his po­ems that delve into an eternal lit­er­ary theme — agony and pain.

Ti­tled Pain, the book con­tains 51 po­ems, most of which were writ­ten in the past three years.

“Writ­ing po­ems is a very per­sonal thing. When ideas come to my mind, I note them down,” Zhao said dur­ing a book tour in Bei­jing last month.

“Some ideas ap­pear dur­ing my trav­els on planes and trains, and some come to me in my dreams.”

Zhao’s col­lec­tion in­cludes a poem from his un­pub­lished writ­ings of 1982, in which he writes: “Joy is the shell, but pain is the essence.”

Born in Shang­hai in 1952, like many from his gen­er­a­tion, Zhao ex­pe­ri­enced the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-76) when nor­mal col­lege ed­u­ca­tion was in­ter­rupted in the coun­try.

In those years, he was sent to work on the farm­lands of Chong­ming, an is­land county on the Yangtze River. The work ex­hausted him and the lack of books or com­pan­ions bored him. It was then that he started to write — both prose and po­etry.

“I wrote about the hard work, the hunger, the long­ing for love and about how na­ture soothed me,” Zhao re­calls in his es­say Why I Write.

“I never thought those writ­ings would find read­ers, nor that I would be­come a writer. I just felt that writ­ing eased my lone­li­ness, re­lieved my pain and gave me hope.”

Zhao was among the first col­lege stu­dents af­ter the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” ended. In 1981, he grad­u­ated in Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture from East China Nor­mal Univer­sity. Then, he joined Sprout, a lit­er­ary jour­nal fea­tur­ing works by young writ­ers, as an editor.

In the past few years, Zhao has pub­lished dozens of works of prose and won many awards. Sev­eral of his writ­ings are ref­er­enced in text­books on Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture up to the univer­sity level.

His book The Shadow of A Sun­dial won the Bing Xin Prize, the top award for prose in China, in 2002.

To­day, Zhao is the vice-pres­i­dent of the Shang­hai Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and editor-in-chief of Shang­hai Po­ets, a bi­monthly jour­nal.

“Many read­ers don’t know that I write po­ems,” says Zhao. “But I never stopped writ­ing po­etry.”

Zhao says he car­ries a small notebook with him all the time, and writes down words and sen­tences that in­spire him, in ad­di­tion to his feel­ings. He dips into such ma­te­rial for his po­ems.

“It’s like brew­ing wine. Words and sen­tences be­come po­ems when the time is ready,” he tells China Daily in Bei­jing.

In his lat­est col­lec­tion, Zhao writes about pain in dif­fer­ent po­ems that are ti­tled Scars, The Ar­row of Time, Storm and so on.

While pain is con­stant, how po­ets ex­press it dif­fers, says mod­ern Chi­nese poet Xi Chuan.

“In Zhao’s po­ems, he ex­presses pain not by scream­ing but in a sel­f­re­strained man­ner, like a gen­tle­man,” Xi adds.

Zhao’s book is ex­pected to be out in English early next year.

Karmia Chan Olu­tade, a Chi­nese-Cana­dian writer and trans­la­tor with a de­gree from Stan­ford Univer­sity, has done the trans­la­tion.

“Trans­lat­ing this slen­der body of work was like go­ing to a birth­day party, dur­ing which a re­spected el­derly gen­tle­man is decked in vi­brant col­ors to cel­e­brate his sec­ond child­hood — the gen­tle birth of an in­no­cence af­ter all the labors of the world have ceased and the debt of youth has been fully and fi­nally paid,” Olu­tade writes in a re­view of the book pub­lished in Shang­hai Daily.

The book’s pub­lisher, Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture Pub­lish­ing House, says that trans­la­tions in Span­ish, Bul­gar­ian and Ser­bian are also in progress.


Zhao Li­hong says writ­ing po­ems is like brew­ing wine — it takes time to turn words and sen­tences into verse.

Michael Chabon’s lat­est novel.

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