Discreet and seldom a guest at mainstream poetry events, Yu Xiang lives the figurative interpretation of her own poem, “Low Key,” shying away from media attention and commercial literary activities. She considers her life uneventful and boring, and earns a living in an office as do most “ordinary beings”—“I am not interested in too many things. Life has no joy, so I write. I am actually interested in very few things, so I write,” she continues in her credo. On the other hand, she is adamant that a mundane life does not lack poetry. Rather, it lacks being discovered. For one who believes the music is stronger than the musician, poetry is neither career nor charity. The art is a privilege, the word a spiritual nourishment that helps her survive the tedium of life, and find meaning or beauty in an otherwise pessimistic and difficult society.
A key figure of the post-70s Chinese poets, Yu Xiang began writing poetry in 2000. Her honors include the Rougang Poetry Prize (2002), the Yulong Poetry Prize (2006) and the Cultural China Annual Poetry Award (2007). Enigmatic and sensual, Yu Xiang’s writings are immensely popular. Her work includes a volume of poetry, Exhale (2006), and two chapbooks, Sorceress (2009) and Low Key (2011). As a visual artist, she has also exhibited oil paintings at various venues. Yu Xiang currently lives in Ji’nan, the capital city of Shandong province.
Author of two books of poetry, My Funeral Gondola (Mānoa Books/El León, 2013) and Water the Moon (Marick, 2010), as well as several volumes of translation of contemporary Chinese, American and French poets, Fiona Sze-Lorrain co-edited the Mānoa anthologies, Sky Lanterns (2012) and On Freedom: Spirit, Art, and State (2013), both from the University of Hawai’i Press. She lives in France where she is an editor at Vif Éditions and Cerise Press.
I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust, by Yu Xiang
I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust
from Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
ISBN 978-0-9832970-9-3 (paper)
6 x 8
168 pages [Bilingual Chinese/English]
Yu Xiang, using simple language, striking syntax, and hypnotic refrains, keeps her poet’s eye and mind attentive to the not-so-hidden heart of quotidian life. And what does she find there? People, including herself, confronted with the beautiful and terrifying fact of their lives, wanting to “Love someone/anyone” (“Street”), before it ends. To Yu, life is far from humdrum. Like a photographer who photographs his feet as he walks, each step points to a larger movement—too large to capture as a totality. Yu focuses her attention on the smaller details—these tiny, shimmering essences. And with language that helps us train our gaze, the poet reveals that the ordinary can be spellbinding.
—Naomi Long Eagleson, “Words Without Borders”
These spare, yet sensuous poems, selfless, but beating with an inimitable voice and heart, remind me that no matter what the language, no matter what the culture, there is only one poetry: the poetry of the bone marrow. May this haunting, truth-insistent book circumnavigate the whole planet!
Yu Xiang comfortably inhabits the negative space between viewer and subject, artist and artwork, the lover and her beloved in this acrobatic, ekphrastic, meditatively-compelling collection. Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s crisp translation invites American readers to experience Yu Xiang’s poetic mastery half a world away from its formative origins in the Shandong province, bringing into focus the voice of one of China’s most celebrated and memorable female voices. “I have a lonely yet/ stable life,” Yu admits at one point in the book. “This is my house. If/ you happen to walk in, it’s certainly not/ for my rambling notes.” Yu Xiang disarms her reader with exacting imagery and pathos in order to tell the aching, unavoidable truth of womanhood in these striking poems.