Ouyang Jianghe belongs to the generation of Chinese poets known as the “post-Misty” school, the second wave of poets to emerge in the 1980s in the warming political climate after the end of the Cultural Revolution. The first wave, whose representative poets included Duo Duo, Gu Cheng, and most prominently, Bei Dao, transmuted the surrealism of French and Latin American poetry into a vehicle for political allegory. “Phoenix,” a mini-epic ekphrastic poem written as a companion piece to Xu Bing’s sculpture of the same name, multiplies the complexity of his earlier poems by an order of magnitude. It is, by his own account, his magnum opus. Synthesizing his earlier concerns of the materiality of language, the Chinese literary legacy, and the role of art in society into a sustained meditation on the theme of flight, it reflects two and a half decades of work refining the “difficult” language of Misty poetry into a vessel for sophisticated philosophical inquiry.
Known as one of the “Five Masters from Sichuan,” Ouyang Jianghe is one of China’s most influential avant-garde poets. His intricate, fugue-like poems are concerned with dissecting the layers of meaning that underlie everyday objects and notions such as “doubled shadows.” He is also a prominent art critic and calligrapher; he lives in Beijing.
A Chinese-English literary translator, Austin Woerner has translated a collection of poetry by Ouyang Jianghe (Doubled Shadows), a novel by Su Wei, and edited the English edition of the Chinese literary magazine Chutzpah!. A graduate of Yale and of the New School's creative writing MFA program, he joined Ouyang in 2009 as the first author-translator pair to participate in the Literature in Translation Program at the Vermont Studio Center.
Phoenix, by Ouyang Jianghe
Inspired by Xu Bing
from Chinese by Austin Woerner
ISBN 978-1-938890-04-8 (paper)
9 x 7
64 pages [Bilingual Chinese/English]
With over 20 full-color photos of Xu Bing’s “Phoenix”
Read a review at The Los Angeles Review
Ouyang Jianghe has produced a masterpiece equaling Xu Bing’s magnificent “Phoenix” in scale and political acuity. I can think of no parallel for this poem in the writing of my country, where ekphrastic poetry is a rather pale medium. What verve and penetrating wit! He mixes phenomenology, mystical appetite and jeremiad to produce an unforgettable critique of the entrepreneurial titanism of the new China.