Bai Hua 柏桦 poetry translations

The Poetry of Bai Hua 柏桦

Selections: 1981-1993

Bai Hua was born in 1956 in Chongqing in Southeast Sichuan. was one of his first and most famous poems, initially published in 1982 in The Born-Again Forest次生林, an unofficial Sichuan poetry journal, and republished in other unofficial journals elsewhere in China and in several officially published anthologies in later years. He was also one of the editors of the Chongqing-based unofficial journals Day By Day Make It New 日日新 and The Red Flag 红旗. Bai’s first officially published poetry collection appeared in 1988, and in 1996 his memoire The Left Side – Lyric Poets of the Mao Zedong Era左边:毛泽东时代的抒情诗人was published as a series in an official literary journal in Tibet. He has written little poetry since 1994.

1) An Expression [表达]

2) A Quiver [震颤]

3) Spring [春天]

4) Precipice [悬崖]

5) Afternoon [下午]

6) Summer's Still Far Away [夏天还很远]

7) Who []

8) Or Something Else [或别的东西]

9) Jonestown [琼斯敦]

10) A Beauty [美人]

11) Past Affairs [往事]

12) Summer. Ahh, Summer [夏天。呵,夏天]

13) Ten Nights Ten Nights [十夜 十夜]

14) Life [生活]

15) Reality [现实]

16) In Memory of Zhu Xiang [纪念朱湘]

17) Family [家人]

18) An Old Poet [老诗人]

19) The Classic of Aging [衰老经]

20) The Future [未来]

21) Ode to Life [生活颂]

22) Song of Cotton [棉花之歌]

23) Bai Hua: A Chinese Lyricist (essay by MD, 1994)

An Expression [表达] October 1981

I want to express a mood

a white sentiment

This mood can't speak for itself

Neither can you feel its presence

But it exists

It comes from another celestial body

Only for this day, this night

does it come into this strange world

It's desolate yet beautiful

dragging a long shadow

but it can't find another shadow to speak with

If you say it's like a stone

cold and silent

I'll tell you it's a flower

The scent of this flower moves stealthily under the night sky

Only when you die

does it enter your plain of awareness

Music is incapable of carrying this mood

Dance can't express its form

You can not know the number of its hairs

and don't know why it is combed in this style

You love her, she doesn't love you

Your love began last year on the eve of spring

Why not this year at the dawn of winter?

I want to express a mood of the motion of cells

I want to ponder why they rebel against themselves

bringing to themselves odd stirrings and rage

I know that this mood is hard to express

like the night, why does it fall at this moment?

Why do she and I fall in love at this time?

Why do you die now?

I know that the flow of blood is soundless

Though tragic

this iron-paved earth will not be melted by it

The flow of water makes sound

The crackle of a tree makes sound

A snake wound around a frog makes sound

This sound presages what?

Does it mean to pass on a particular mood?

or express a philosophy contained within it?

or is it those sounds of crying

Those inexpressible wails

The sons and daughters of China have wept beneath the ancient walls

The true children of Christ have wept in Jerusalem

Tens of thousands have died at Hiroshima

the Japanese have wept

Those who died for a just cause, and the timid have also wept

But all of this is hard to understand

A white mood

an inexpressible sentiment

on this night

has already come into this world

beyond our vision

within our central nerve

it silently shrouds the entire universe

it won't die, neither will it leave us

in our hearts it goes on and on.....

It can't be calmed, can't be sensed and known

because we don't want to die

A Quiver [震颤] September 1982

The black night sleeps soundly here

Nothing can happen

In this entire room only the waves upon the piano speak softly like a song

When you face an empty, motionless doorway

you'll be alarmed, frightened, you'll suddenly lose confidence

you'll jump nimbly aside

curling up in a corner of the room

within a minute a thousand dark thoughts flash by

At the end of the corridor a young girl washes her snow-white skin

murmuring she pours out her heart to you

loneliness is the poet's empress

the sound perplexes him

shadows are already swaying in the window

The lonesome scents of the flower garden

blowing into your thin breast

you will suddenly open the curtains

and happily take a peek

at the vast increase of lights outside

The flames are still slowly falling

not a trace of wind here

the sound gradually disappears

you will suddenly think of the Tokyo philharmonic

at this moment it is busily performing

you think of Alexandria's vast summer nights

the boiling seawater erodes the blockhouses of antiquity

a golden-haired maiden of Rome

has arrived on the teetering coast

listening closely to the angry roar of the tiger in the depths of the thick forest

she still smiles serenely

waiting for your song, your bitter wail

on a winter night next year you will kill a wild beast with a pistol

Each evening you spend half the night in meditation

you can't imagine how large the flocking throngs of thoughts are

waltzes, snow-bright lamp lights

like a swarm of bees roiling in your head, the full-figure of white skin

the stranger who's turned his head toward you

an elegant rigid corpse

trains, black clouds and waves bearing down on you

you won't be able to bear it

you'll suddenly drop heavily on the couch

clutching at your chest you'll gasp, rage, worry or forget

you'll die for a night

After a long while you'll revive

the sound comes toward you again

very near, almost brushing up onto your face

it's breath and odor enter your body

surrounding you entirely

no matter what, you must die tonight

because she will be coming tomorrow

the dawn already passed on her distant seaside love-song

Spring [春天] April 1984

The little homesick moon disappears

a more secretive beauty and a man

and also that anxiety which I cherish

are fixed in place for the cutting edge of early morning's five o'clock knife

Someone's blood is returning

repeating the unreal sound of a bird

Before I could stop it, the dawn had already condescended

the edge of the divine edict thrust

forth -- the day, a sail, an apple tree

eyes beautiful as fine rain

the sun's attempts to enter water

or the memory of a fine grain of sand

The sharp crack of a rifle

a white poplar grows from the hollow of one's palm

the pure, secret decree passes down

the mountain valley

is set aflame by the sunlight

you begin to feel perplexed

and your noises startle the sleeping black-skinned girl

The angered rose is already pregnant

and clutches at the glove of the irritated soldier

walking out from a dream, gazing courageously from afar

cutting open the skin of the sublime

and along with the tree achieving your direction

You grow so fast

as quickly as a stone, a wave and a speeding train

a dark red Li Bai[1] comes up out of the wine

at this moment it's not your lips that drink

but another pair that drink you

that have drunk the Tang dynasty poetry of the South

and drunk the fiery red scream of the tiger

Your mouth is the wind, a cuckoo, the love of the sea

overflowing with elegant stupidity

The roar forms a transparent nipple

and takes in its fill of the setting sun's second-thoughts

the heavy nose and the childhood sadness

You sob as soon as you see the door

at eight o'clock in the evening landforms will confine you

other fingertips provoke you too.

an event beneath your armpits becomes an untouchable dampness

This brutal dizziness will soon be over

a blue hair-ribbon and a butterfly knot cast down the final limits

a nest of snakes soars up like the crown of a tree

imparting the confidence of forgotten time

The stars hint at fate

the phosphorus and the cobblestones blow apart the years

blow apart the rolling thick hairs of the spiraling instant

at this moment, by a strange window, I utter my monologue

just as the scene thickens I fall silent

Girls are forever breaking free of their encirclement

Spring is pulling out

antiquity's drawbridge rises high

defeat at a distance

Precipice [悬崖] May, 1984

A city is one person

two cities, the one direction

the outskirts of loneliness wait soundlessly

A strange trip

timid but aimlessly pressing forward

to pay back for some old atmosphere

restraint is murdering time

An address has a death in it

don't climb up to the attic at night

that vague white neck

will turn its head toward you

At this moment if you make a poem

it's the same as building a sunken ship

a black tree

or a stretch of dyke on a rainy day

The exercise of restraint becomes unfathomable

a riddle of passage

the ears of a courtesan that can never be opened

the inexplicable departure of will power

Your organs wither suddenly

Li He[2] cries out in pain

the hand of the Tang will not return

Afternoon [下午] August, 1985

An anxious silence

you can already feel

in the open pages of a piece of prose

in the sounds of a song curling along the beams

yes, I've taken note

but there's one more important point

someone who walked in and walked out

Before sleeping you're lost in thought

what is that useless mirror staring at

the apple that is about to be sliced open

or a shallow brown dream

You sleep soundly in the afternoon

and your disposition turns to alcohol

yes, I've observed it, all of this

including the shade of beauty in the curtain

your dreams are fording the river

This is the best time

but be careful, even though you're at ease

because danger won't speak

it's like a thing, an event

soft and gentle as someone's shadow

going in and out

Summer's Still Far Away [夏天还很远]

Day after day passes away

something approaches me in the dark

sit for awhile, walk a bit

see the leaves fall

see the sprinkling rain

see someone walk along the street, cross it

Summer's still far away

Really fast, vanishing as soon as it's born

on an October night all that's good enters in

too beautiful, entirely unseen

a huge calm, like your clean cloth-shoes

by the bed, the past is dim, warm and gentle

like an old box

a faded letter

Summer's still far away

A chance encounter, you probably don't remember

it was a little cold outside

my left hand was tired

all the while it was secretly moving to the left

remote and thoroughgoing

that single silly thought of you

Summer's still far away

Never again, losing my temper or loving passionately at a touch

gather up the bad old habits

year after year depressed

the small bamboo building, a white shirt

are you in the prime of life?

it's rare to reach a resolution

Summer's still far away

Who []

Names we can never know

vanish outside our bodies

the modesty in the stoop of someone's body

bit by bit is dying away

all this is so like a certain person

That somebody inside this dark thought

fallen leaves and sunlight are sprinkled behind him

is that you

or some other thing

During a strange encounter

I seem to have touched your finger

but I was thinking of other things then

shaking hands, conversation, agitation

this isn't enough

we should have forgotten it long ago

just like sleep and work that can't be avoided

Day and night seem cramped

I also think they're not enough

so many expressions are changing

but that someone vexes me

Just what is he

a gaunt face, an acute hatred

an abnormal grief glimmering exquisitely

The someone within this dark thought

probably appears on a dark staircase

suddenly turning on a flashlight, illuminating silence

he probably roams in a flower garden late at night

or fixes his eyes on a mirror, motionless

He speaks

he murmurs the name of a book

but this thing doesn't know him

you weep and yell

at something that enrages you or something from before

Or Something Else [或别的东西]

The nail suddenly breaks through at the edge of blackness

longing to fly, the pupil of the eye and the door

signal an impulse in some way

it might be a huge pore

a tuft of hairs standing on end

a piece of fine skin

or the warm sound of a typewriter

it might also be the blade edge of an inlaid dagger

a delicate raging flame

a suddenly vigorous sprig of camellia

or the dangerous degeneration of early summer

The delicate rose and the black cloud enter into the same breath

stretch to the moonlit balcony

and the juncture of the tree top

the unbounded corridors of your heartbeat

waiting for

kisses, hugs, to be strangled

a small, concealed snow-white hand

and the trembling apple delivered on the wind

The murdered shadow

becomes a gloomy sleeve-cuff

it sticks close to you

full of death's precious musk

it transforms into red lips

and adheres to you

the mossy atmosphere makes your nose dizzy, makes it droop

At this moment you slice open the night with solemnity

with your kneecap smash in memory

all of your enthusiastic confidence and timidity

turns to vapor

a wave

a season

or tiger

Jonestown [琼斯敦]

The children can start

this night of revolution

night of the next life

night of the People's Temple

The rocking center of the storm

has already tired of those yet to die

and is anxious to carry us off in that direction

The enemy of our hallucinations

makes repeated assaults on us

our commune is like Stalingrad

the sky is full of a Nazi smell

The vortex of hot blood's moment has arrived

emotions are breaking through

fingers are being jabbed in

glue is thrown across all the classes

the patience of vain hopes does battle with reaction

Through spring until fall

sexual anxiety and disappointment spreads everywhere

bared teeth gnaw on unapproachable times

the yen for munitions in boy's chests explodes

the taboo on eccentricity rips and bites back our tears

See! the ravenous mob is already incensed

A girl is practicing suicide

due to her madness, her beautiful hair tending to get sharper and sharper

laid so tenderly across her helpless shoulders

it is a sign of her being seventeen

the only sign

And our spirits' symbol of first-love

that dazzling white father of ours

happy bullets score direct hits on his temples

his naive specter gushes still:

faith cures, "bushido"

the beautiful body of a coup d'etat

The mountain of corpses has already stopped the rehearsals

a loud voice in an unheard-of silence swears an oath:

pass through crisis

drill your thoughts

make a sincere sacrifice

Confronted by this white night, the concentrated betrayal of flesh

this last white night of humanity

I know that this is also my night of a painful bumper harvest

A Beauty [美人]

I hear a solitary fish blaze red

a respectable street

the sound of bullets entering the firing chambers?

of course there's also a herd of horses trampling a curve into the air

The parade to the execution of beauty, you must salute me

death has already put a stop to the lot of you

and from deep in the hills is beginning to surge into the city

And from out of our flesh, some hues

some feigned seriousness and holiness

overwhelming our bodies

A faulty detonator is set in the belly of midnight

children search for decadence amidst edible things

as a matter of form young people step up to struggle

Whoever blows now

that person is fire

that person is convulsing the pulse of a blooming flower

These climbing organs, the ghosts on my fingernails

grow in alcohol

the rain knocks incessantly on our skulls

Hey! forest of the heart, the nitpicking weather

pushes up-close and reviews our tears

the clay of the times makes our bones

Throughout one entire autumn, Beauty

I bore witness

you drove out

our clean, rising hot blood

and sunk it under

Past Affairs [往事] October 1988

These innocent envoys, they wear

summer clothes in the way they usually do

and sit here, beside me


exposing a little of the shy breasts of old age to me

The journey that was once so ardent

all that unknowable weariness

stops in this strange moment

this well-intentioned, tear-jerking moment

So much bowing to be done in old age

standard speech, the local version (do you really need to?)

soft, sexy false teeth

a raging, fiery voice

I've pulled together my energies and seen

the cool breeze of middle age

it stirs the expression in those eyes that come upon

this heartsick sentiment

this candid kindness

this romantic literary affair belongs strictly to a past age

Hey! These innocent envoys

they're always moving

knocking softly on doors

breasts bursting with love and reverence

arriving in my life of too little experience

Summer. Ahh, Summer [夏天。呵,夏天] June, 1988

The summer, its blood has increased speed

this afternoon, patients cherish stones

the orders are repeated, and the repeated paralysis

This heat! Too hot. Can't take it!

Here stands this summertime she

swearing an oath, the shy she

I can't breathe, can't breathe

It's too hot in the left wing, a mindless kind of heat

Here unconventional poems, icy poems are performed

the street becomes soft, difficult

she puts in the white teeth of knowledge

the brilliance, the white, continuous white

Once she represented a silent people

exposed one breast

attempted dying

Take another look at her body, this swooning delicate body

lying among brittle yellow leaves

dispensed with, all on its own

Look again, she's opening fire on the park

firing on herself, on laughter

Look again, she's passing out flowers to everyone

whoever wants them gets them

Look again, a deserted playing field, the wide campus

and look at it again. Summer. Ahh, summer

Ten Nights Ten Nights [十夜 十夜] September, 1989

Ten nights, for ten nights consecutively

Autumn's been drawing near, leaves turning yellow

your teacher is wasting away

my books, my body

Hey, my, my, my

every hour of mine, every second

my stern left eye is throbbing in place of my heart

Ten nights, all that is weighty has gone to sleep

ten nights, after sex the panther and the green of spring

all of the South and the North asleep

Ten nights, the road is like a dictatorship keeping its watch on a distant place

for ten nights, the Young Pioneers have forgotten their ideals

For ten nights consecutively, I lay on my bed

for ten nights in a row, ten nights constricted the atrium to my heart

Ten nights, ten nights

ten nights remolded my looks

the women of the ten nights greeted my climaxes

Ten nights, ten nights

with a look of shame I arrived at your core

I let both hands fall and plead for your forgiveness

For ten evenings, I heard another kind of song

for ten evenings, I heard the trees

booming in the sky I name

Life [生活] September 30, 1990

Life, you're so broad, like a road

carrying the smell of political power rushing on to a place far-off

The far-off place, where the people of all nationalities sing

about a blue sky and a open square on the top of big lips and high-pitched voices

The square, where endless and dejected farmers are reared

over the four seasons, ferocious beasts and starvation loiter

Everything is far off, nothing is of any importance

life itself, death itself, enthusiasm of itself

Like a little orphaned son sitting alone on the earth

like an undernourished cloud, like oh ...

Like life, just stripping bamboo, destroying rice, killing pigs

like living, only in your sleep, squaring accounts in your sleep

Reality [现实] December 1990

This is gentle, not the rhetoric of gentleness

this is disgust, disgust itself

Hey! Reading, your prospects, the body's turn

all of it is slow

In the long night, reaping isn't done out of necessity

in the long night, speed should be omitted

And winter is probably spring

and Lu Xun probably Lin Yu-tang[3]

In Memory of Zhu Xiang [纪念朱湘][4] February, 1991

I noticed your form at a glance

a figure raving in the autumn wind

but so serene in a book

A solitary seemingly unintelligent drinker

a martyr of fathomless sensitivity

before dying he drinks another large cup

bows his body down and enters into that long, inevitable sleep

I know, since you were a child you've practiced the martyr's bearing

your green spring had its fill of roving through gossip

but your songs can only belong to heaven

Ach, why did this exemplar only come to light at death

and then leave us busy memorializing

busy talking, corresponding

busy with all that, up until 1989

Family [家人] February 1991

Life is eating at home

and someone opening his mouth

and saying: "I'm Goethe,

I don't eat."

His wife, sometimes hot sometimes cold

sits sadly beside him

What follows....

what follows is a toast to this Goethe business

one should show respect

there's an embarrassed P.E. teacher sitting here, too

Please don't ask me to eat again

please put a cork in it

act like a country hick who rushes to Beijing

to take up a career flogging buttons

His wife runs hot and cold

sitting sadly beside him

An Old Poet [老诗人] February 1991

Spring, March, the good feelings of fields and gardens

in another ten days, he'll be fifty

He says there's still a line of poetry torturing him

No, it's a word's nagging at him

His hair is wild, like the fatherland

again his corpulence agitates the tabletop

Literature, slack and undisciplined literature

the fatherland, he sees it as an after-hours patria

But he says:

because it's vulgar, literature should be restrained

for this reason the fatherland ought to export it

The Classic of Aging [衰老经] April 1991

Weary but not weary enough

I'm experiencing winter

Outside a room

the dull lights of the railroad, in the distance

A distant place, distant people vomit up green springs

and haul ropes around amusingly

Hey! I must thank you

I now know the times

But winter hasn't replaced brief summer days

but for all of three weeks I've been stuck in the collective

The Future [未来] December 1990

This roving thing should go back

loneliness has already hurt him

His unfortunate liver wallows among fish and pride

teary alcohol is added to his unfortunate youth

Hey! does this anger need to grow

haven't you already cursed enough people

Birds, beasts, flowers, trees, spring, summer, fall, winter

all astounded at the little madman

Reds redder, whites whiter

yellow on top of yellow, he's his own corpse to be

Ode to Life [生活颂] 1993

A cool June

I note down trivialities about "meaning":

First there is the news out of Germany:

"We're studying vending skills,

we'll start with Mercedes-Benz,

and hum some popular Taiwanese songs."

Impractical homesickness or ideas on the fatherland

I declare him a postage stamp from a distant land

He isn't the Trotsky of that far-off place!

Later someone from the publishing house comes (a fat guy)

wants me to photocopy Hongkong magazines:

"Deng Xiaoping Educates the Underworld"

"Deng Xiaoping Warns that the Problem is with Agriculture"

"Deng Xiaoping Talks about China-US Relations"

Must be quick about it, the book market's off-season has begun

he also talks about compiling a book, "Cultural Treasury of China"

Following this, an emergency in Anhui province:

the older brother of a poet has killed himself

naked from the waist down, surrounded by oqlers

he brings in a poet who works in the judicial branch

to clear-up the suicide issue

and his other older brother, a reporter

makes the rounds of the high-level departments for two months

There's also a great pile of realities

listening to music and fitting-out the apartment, false tears and sex

drink to get fat and get rid of the dull and the withered

mass competitions are boring

cheat people with love, especially for money

some people specialize in talking dirty

some specialize in smiling at all you say

There're still some things (within the scope of daily lessons)

women all go for dogs

children all throw mud on walls

every morning an old geezer shouts:

"The eight elders are all shameless" (in Shandong dialect)

and my slovenly friend is busy with pesticides

even says he'll be receiving a large gift of cash this year

A cool June passes like this

my life's "meaning" rolls on into July

Song of Cotton [棉花之歌] 1993

Day follows day, so many tomorrows

life gathers into a factory

cotton flourishing, strand upon strand

The workers sing of cotton

the workers purchase cotton

they don't sell out on cotton

Great quantities of cotton, cash cotton, love cotton

all gather into a ballade of middle age

the cymbals and drums of collectivism

the Silent Night of the flesh

the joy of every household

Cotton is the song of the people's livelihood

cotton doesn't lose sleep

cotton is the mother of autarky

when the coastal cities raise their wings

cotton abandons the sea and goes continental

Jolly, laughing cotton has come

jolly, laughing three-meals-a-day have come

the jolly, laughing working class has come

Day follows day, so many tomorrows

life gathers into a factory

cotton flourishing, strand upon strand

Bai Hua: A Chinese Lyricist

I believe that the rhythms of a poem, like those of life, are formed naturally in [the rhythms of our] breathing. Once a poem forms a particular atmosphere, the written word blurs and dissolves into a flavor or a sound. At that moment the poem attempts a fortuitous transcendence, and, on the strength of this, approaches the natural and the pure. However, even the greatest poem rarely achieves this purity, and, therefore, the joy that it brings us is limited [and gives rise] to regret. In this sense, poetry can not

be written, but only the forms that we employ in circumstances under which we are left without other alternatives.”[5]



Although Bai Hua may have very little to say that is new (like most of the rest of us most of the time), I have always been impressed by his way of restating the familiar in unfamiliar ways. His poetry, his unique brand of lyricism features cognitive angles and perspectives that are regularly askew. Sometimes it is deliberately executed as in , the poem which brought Bai Hua's name to the attention of China's poetry lovers, and in which he addresses the inadequacies of language, the difficulties of being lyrical when so much that we feel is inexpressible. And, yet, lyrical is what Bai Hua undoubtedly is, even if his lyrics are those of inadequacy and uncertainty as he searches incessantly for those fortuitous linguistic moments in which he can find and produce emotive purity and naturalness. For Bai Hua, poetry is a search for the words to express the ineffable, the same search that the Chinese language has known as poetry for 3,000 years -- a fact the Bai is all too aware of.

Bai Hua was born on January 21, 1956, in Chongqing on the banks of the Yangtse River in Sichuan province. Bai is one of a very small number of younger Chinese poets who can speak a language other than Chinese. In 1981, he graduated from the Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute and has been an English teacher at various universities and institutes in China since that time.

During the few days I have spent in Bai Hua's company in Nanjing, he left me with a very deep impression of a poet so wrapped up in poetry, both his own and others', that at times his unbridled enthusiasm was embarrassing. Despite his avowed war with words, a war he admits can never be won, he seems to never tire of the fight and comes to the world with the innocence and naivety of a child. While he is not ignorant of the world – as is clearly indicated by such poems as , , , and ­it is specific circumstances and their incumbent lyrical possibilities which motivate his poetry and provide the reader with a key to an understanding of it.

While these translations faithfully recreate the physical form and structure of Bai’s poetry in terms of stanza length and so on, what is lost is the tonal musicality within lines, between lines and between stanzas, a characteristic that has always been a hallmark of Bai’s poetry. He is one of the few younger Chinese poets to still make use of rhyme on a more-or-less regular basis. Assonance, consonance, tonal grouping, meter -- anything that might lend to that "particular atmosphere", to the "flavor and sound" that Bai seeks to recreate with his words is brought into play.

Instead of following Bails enigmatic credo, with which I opened these remarks, with equally ambiguous comments of my own, let us turn to the work itself for enlightenment of sorts. I may be doing Bai Hua no favors by opening this collection of poems with . For, while this poem may be his best known work, it may be the most flawed and immature work of those I have selected. I have translated the poem in its original form and have also offered a suggestion for an alternative conclusion to the poem. Written as the poem is in 1981, it can be seen as a response to the poetry of that time, a poetry which was not yet free of the political shackles that required explicit social engagement. What begins as a highly personal expression of a sentiment (which at the same time is universalized through the pronouns you, she and I) is suddenly (and, I think, unnecessarily) wrenched into the realm of hackneyed imagery and the cant of politics [the last two stanzas]. The revised conclusion offered on the following page is, I believe, faithful to the poem's first six stanzas and provides a satisfying unity. Perhaps Bai was still not sure of the validity of personal expression in 1981, when he wrote this poem. Perhaps he was also not sure of his audience's ability to process and comprehend lyrical ambiguity rooted in purely sensory experience (though this poem also employees more obvious symbolism than his later poetry).

Much of Bai’s earlier poetry is concerned with the various difficulties of poetic expression. The theme of lyrical inadequacy is continually plumbed, and Bai mercilessly throws himself into the shadow of the Tang dynasty, the acknowledged period of Chinese poetic excellence, when he conjures up images of poets such as Li Bai [] and Li He [], and collateral imagery [such as, "a stretch of dyke", "drawbridge" and so on]. Both these poems end in the poet's painful defeat -- he hasn't the words to challenge the excellence of past lyricism.

The poem , inspired by the November 18, 1978, collective suicide of 914 Americans in Guyana, South America, appears to mark a turning point of sorts for Bai Hua. Here, as the final lines of the poem announce, Bai has taken his inspiration from an actual event. Occasional poetry, poetry based in events either past or present the details of which inspire emotions that lead to a poetic response, comes to play a greater role. In this sense, Bai’s poetry becomes less abstract and more accessible to readers who are now better able to sense more completely the emotions of the poet. In general, his poems are shorter, images are more compact and intense. Clearly, Bai no longer doubts his own abilities and no longer questions the limits of lyrical expression. And, just as obviously, readers are better able to locate the poet and his vision, or lyric impulse, and retrieve their own experience of the poem.

For reasons that can only be based on differing and restrictive aesthetic tastes, very little of Bai Hua's poetry has found its way into communist party-controlled, establishment literary journals. However, he has been prominently featured as a contributor to numerous "samizdat" poetry journals over the past ten years (1985-1995), and is well represented in the handful of good poetry anthologies that have been published during times of political-cultural relaxation in 1986, 1989 and 1993. Although he has been invited to attend international poetry conferences, Bai has never received permission to do so -- it is unclear as to the reason why, for he is neither an "underground" poetry activist nor overtly political.

In recent months Bai has published a number of essays related to his own experience of other Chinese poets of previous generations and his own generation. While Bai’s writing has been of an exceptionally high quality, it appears that he is one of an increasing number of poets who have turned away from writing poetry to writing about themselves and poetry. For some, this has become a matter of economic survival in a world where poetry simply does not pay and Chinese poets can no longer afford the bohemian lifestyle many were still able to enjoy up until 1990. In many cases, the poets and poetry that have been lost as a result of the social chaos and economic readjustment in China today will not be missed. Bai Hua, however, does not belong to this category. His unique voice will be sorely missed if he also is flattened beneath China's ominous political-economic steamroller and the vapid, CCP-controlled "spiritual civilization" that accompanies it.

[1] Li Bai 李白(701-762 A.D.), also latinized as Li Po, flourished during the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and is one of China's most beloved poets.

[2] Li He 李贺(791-817 A.D.), also latinized as Li Ho, flourished as a poet during the Tang dynasty.

[3] Lu Xun鲁迅 and Lin Yu-tang林玉堂 were writers who flourished prior to 1937 and Japan's invasion of China. Lu is held up as the supreme example of a “serious” writer, while Lin was considered to be his opposite number.

[4] Zhu Xiang was one of China's better modern poets prior to 1949.

[5] 中国当代实验诗选 [A Selection of Contemporary Chinese Experimental Poetry], Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡 & Wang Jiaxin王家新 ed., Shenyang 沈阳:春风文艺出版社 [Spring Wind Literature and Arts Press], 1987: 117.

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