Yu Jian 于坚 poetry translations

The Poetry of Yu Jian 于坚

Selections: 1983-1993

Yu Jian was born in 1954 in Ziyang, Sichuan province, but has lived most of his life in Kunming, Yunnan province. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, he participated in unofficial literary activities in Kunming, contributing poetry for journals and giving poetry readings. In 1983, by way of contributing to the Lanzhou-based journal Same Generation同代, he made the acquaintance of the Nanjing poet Han Dong, and in 1985 Yu became one of the core contributors to the Han-edited Them 他们 poetry journal until the mid-1990s. Also during this time, several of Yu’s poems were published in Sichuan’s unofficial journals. Since the mid-1990s, Yu has been a frequent visitor to europe and North America, and in recent years has seen a succession of his poetry collections officially published in China.

1) Opus #39 [作品39]

2) The Tall Mountain [高山]

3) Number 6 Shangyi Street [尚义街六号]

4) A Far-off Friend [远方的朋友]

5) Opus #101 [作品101]

6) Monologue [独白]

7) This Evening a Rainstorm is Approaching [这个夜晚暴雨将至]

8) The Nail that Pierces the Sky [一枚穿过天空的钉子]

9) The Hint of a Rose [被暗示的玫瑰]

10) The Naming of the Crow [对一支乌鸦的命名]

11) Spring Song [春天咏叹调]

12) A Bald Autumn Children Standing Outside of Death [秃顶的秋天 站在死亡之外


13) The Dossier of O [零档案]

I. The Records Room [档案室]

II. File #1 History Of Birth [卷一 出生史]

14) A Beer Bottle's Cap [啤酒瓶盖]

15) Incidents: A Power Cut [事件:停电]

16) A Stack of Gas Cans by the Railroad [铁路附近的一堆油桶]

17) On A Fly [关于苍蝇]

18) Sunlight Shatters My View of a Bunch of Tree Leaves [阳光破坏了我对一群树叶的观看]

19) Mouse in a Glass Cage – A Record of a Trip to the Zoo [玻璃笼中的鼠记一次游园活动]

20) The Poetry of Yu Jian (essay by MD, 1995)

Opus #39 [作品39] 1983

During a time of crowded avenues

you went alone to Xinjiang

it's just as well that you're walking on open ground

you don't stand out in the crowd

now you can find out

if your blue jeans are durable

worn for three and a half years they still look new

you must remember that time

we spoke so frankly

but people were silent

you've never laughed at my ears

actually, in your heart it's clear

our lifetime struggle

is a desire to act like individuals

confronted by pretty females

we are forever at wit's end

not understanding oneself -- just how stupid can one be

there was a woman who came to see me

said it's a pity about you with your voice

by all rights you could be a baritone singer

sometimes I remember you've borrowed money from me

I can also stand by the main gate

recognizing those messed-up men

I know that one day you'll return

clutching three novellas and a bottle of strong liquor

you'll sit down on that rattan chair from Sichuan

and lecture me for two hours

as if the whole world were listening

occasionally you'll turn to look at yourself (in the mirror)

for a time happy at heart

later you'll stare at me, speechless for a while

and you'll go home alone clutching an empty bottle

The Tall Mountain [高山] 1984

The tall mountain casts its shadow at the world

the largest man is made to look small

among tall mountains a person must be sincere

a person feels that he walks before heroes

he doesn't speak afraid he'll lose strength

be honest like a black rock

like an eagle a young sharp-needled tree

only in this way can you be on the tall mountain

walking on its summit

tempests floods and lightening

all are the immortal power of the mountain

they smash at it

but the mountain also smashes them

they create the mountain

and it also creates them

on the tall mountain a person is alone

only the flat lands are jammed full of kitchen smoke

you need the patience of a seaman in the high mountains

the waves will not quiet down the port will not appear

between the pitch and the roll

you ascend to the mountain top

or sink into a chasm

never to see the horizon again in your lifetime

to see into the distance you must climb high

but from the top all you see are mountain tops

an uncountable number of higher peaks

you're silent you can only move on

no clear destination

in Yunnan many ordinary men and women

have reached many grand mountain peaks during their lives

and in the end have been buried among these stones

Number 6 Shangyi Street [尚义街六号] June 1984

Number 6 Shangyi Street

a green French-style house

Lao Wu's trousers are drying on the second floor

a shout a spectacled head is trust out through the crotch

early each morning there's a long line-up

at the big public toilet next door

we usually present ourselves there at dusk

flocking into it like stinking canned fish

opening packs of cigarettes breaking out the worries of many days

unfolding the loneliness brought away from the sea of men

Yu Jian's painting is tacked on the wall

many people take exception to it

they only know van Gogh

Lao Ka's shirt crumpled up into a rag

is used by us to wipe fruit juice off hands

he's leafing through a book of pornography

later he has a love affair

they often arrive as a pair

they argue here they flirt here

one day they announce their separation

for a time, friends relax are happy

but the next day he sends out wedding invitations

everyone dresses immaculately and goes to the banquet

Zhu Xiaoyang's manuscript is invariably spread out on the table

his words at sixes and sevens

the bastard fixes a gaze on us like a policeman's

confronted by that pair of bloodshot eyes

afraid they'll look down on us if we say it's good

afraid they'll shoot out sparks if we say it's bad

we can only speak obscurely

like a fashionable poem

Li Bo's slippers are pressed down on Fei Jia's leather shoes

his feet wrapped in Lao Wu's pillow case

he's already made a name for himself he has a blue (writers union) membership card

he often lies in the bunk above us

telling us how we should wear shoes

how to piss to wash underwear

how to cook to sleep etcetera and so on

When he returned from Beijing in 1982

his manner was more profound than before

he spoke of literary intrigues

in the tone of a famous author

the tea is Lao Wu's the electricity meter is Lao Wu's

the floor is Lao Wu's the neighbors are Lao Wu's

the daughter-in-law is Lao Wu's the stomach medicine is Lao Wu's

the phlegm the cigarette butts the air the friends are all Lao Wu's

in a city without prostitutes

male virgins speak confidently of women

occasionally skirts come and go

and everybody does up their buttons

at that age we all dreamed of getting under a skirt

but weren't willing to bend at the waist

Yu Jian wasn't famous yet

and was chided every time

he wrote down his many deeply meaningful pen names

on an old newspaper

there was one who everybody feared

he worked at a certain office

"He has motives for coming,

we won't say a thing!"

on some days the weather was bad

we were always out of luck in life

so we attacked Fei Jia's recent works

said Zhu Xiaoyang was a great master

afterwards this sheep would stroke his wallet

hum and haw hedge this way and that

eight laughing mouths would immediately stand up

that was an age of wisdom

so many conversations could have produced books

if they had been recorded

it was an exciting time

so many faces appeared here

if you ask about it in the city

you'll find that they're all big names now

it's drizzling outside

and we arrive on the street

the big public toilet is deserted

for the first time he uses it alone

some have married

some have become famous

some are going out west

Lao Wu wants to go too

everyone says he's just pretending to be a tough guy all are anxious

Wu Wenguang, you're going

where'll I bum a meal tonight

old debts of gratitude and resentment clamor and confusion

finally everyone has left

an empty floor is left behind

like an old record that'll never be played again

in other places

we often mention number 6 Shangyi Street

saying that on a day many years hence

children will come to look

when Zhang Qingguo and others hear this

they feel jealous but look natural

how is it that we didn't get to know Wu Wenguang then

they think that night in their beds

A Far-off Friend [远方的朋友] (January 1986)

My far-off friend

I've read your letter

what do you look like I think it over

more than likely you look like so-and-so

I realize that one day you'll come to see me

I can't help feeling somewhat anxious

I'm afraid we'll have nothing to say

that as soon as we meet we'll discover ulterior motives

each wanting to get the upper hand

I'm afraid we'll be silent

having said all that we should say

no matter whether here or there

the days pass in the same way

here or there

we read the same novels

I fear not having anything to say about the state of the nation

of being drowsy in front of you stifling yawns

I'm afraid I won't get your humour

I'll be struck dumb like a marionette

I fear you might be noble, dignified have an elegant way about you

which will scare me into clumsiness

a shirt cuff catching a tea cup a cigarette burning my finger tips

I'm afraid you'll be polite urbane

I won't know where to look

constantly mishearing what you say

now rubbing my thighs

now picking at my ears

my far-off friend

it's not easy to find a friend

if you were to open my door with a kick

and shout "I'm so-and-so"

all I could say is:

I'm Yu Jian

Opus #101 [作品101] November 19, 1987

In a strange land the sea surrounds you

all about you hostile waves roar

like a pack of sinister dogs in a remote village

you force a smile out onto your face stroke life's fangs

like spring's gentle breezes you make the waves bow their heads and nestle up to you

the sky's above and the sea is boundless

far away from the ancestral wreck from now on you'll follow the waves and the current

an outsider never again will the world know your true image

no need to touch the water plants hidden in the deep

those are plants which even the tempest cannot pass through

it was entangled by them once and died of hydrophobia

no need to touch them no need to search out their roots

they're nothing but instants of music carried on the wind a black net woven by the months and


a farce a scar a moniker and the source of a pleasant flavor

of course your days are hard their bites will leave you covered in blood

when the weather is bad you must endure it alone

and the mail van is far away hands empty, you stare blankly

from one line of waves to another

both life and the ocean are equally vast

a red sea a golden sky

but below it's as black as night but, there, in a certain place

your memories are fresh in the midst of the pack of snarling dogs

once when faced with a rash intruder

your curly hair stood brazenly on end

Monologue [独白] (December 1988)

Every Autumn the crops ripen under the moonlight

just as the spirit sinks It's fated to be this way

established at thirty still I'm not spared

the walls of the heavily fortified city are breached once more

traitors trample the crops a soul fleeing the holocaust

has no place to hide but is entirely at ease

In the past, besides myself 2 also supported a god

in the history of the heart everyone ignored the white flags

I keep watch over myself an entirely naked clown time and again sliding down the mirror of time everything in the past is so clear it makes one sick

nothing can be grasped anymore because both hands are full of fruit

At the start everything started off from truth solemn vows

but like a hypocrite I put on elegant airs

I probably should have long ago been silent as a stone

finding peace in the river's flow But, no

my heart has sunk into degradation longing for nobility

yearning for immortality thirsting to confront the great sea

from then on I was broad and deep

fated to fall forever an actor

if one doesn't mount the stage others will play your part

sobbing over yet another deception yearning to repent

a century without churches no light in the sky

even if you kneel for a thousand years

never again can you become a seed thick-skinned and brazen

you still puff out your chest and act the man guileless and upright

but the worm will never die it is always biting

until your complacent life is once again punctured

And so it’s the Autumn grain ripening in the moonlight

and what must sink down is the soul

moonlight like water illuminates the pretty countryside

and shines on your soul's dark mirror of time

This Evening a Rainstorm is Approaching [这个夜晚暴雨将至]

This evening a rainstorm is approaching

on the street people walk quickly

you've just washed your hair

skin as white as snow a group of Italian musicians

is playing spring for you on an audio cassette

the oil painting on the wall is of a valley somewhere in the south

an azure sky a leaf stirs the human heart

the spirits of all ages stand on the book shelf

thoughts which in the past incited rebellion

are now quiet

friends won't be coming

you go ahead and lie down

I want to sit a while longer write letters

so many things are going to get soaked

will be changed

so many umbrellas will be opened or closed

after we experience this sort of wet night

nothing amazes us anymore

when the raindrops fall

we're already asleep

already asleep

The Nail that Pierces the Sky [一枚穿过天空的钉子]

The nail that pierces the sky

enters the expectant heart

That which enters is not what the heart had been waiting for

It's not the entry of the approaching word

It's not an entrance initiated by an act

In fact this nail had long ago gone into the wall

The movement which had knocked it into that wall has long born rust

On a metallic, small and static early morning I first saw it

Exposed on the wall, its bald head penetrating the sunlight

Entering into a keenness it had never previously possessed

There it not only penetrated sunlight but also pierced the room and its sky

With its bald head from the factual deep side

It stabbed towards the empty side the shallow side

This kind of entry coincides so well with the sky and tallies so well with the heart

The nail that pierces the sky

sharp expansive its radiance shoots in all directions

The Hint of a Rose [被暗示的玫瑰]

It's hinted at in our yard as being

A rose

A small garden makes this sort of suggestion

The shutters of a yellowing house have dropped this hint

We always smell a certain odor on a day in May

Always, during the dusk of this day we sink into the nets of passion

as if we hear the hum of bumble bees see birds and gardeners

We murmur to ourselves calling a girl a rose

It's been hinted at in our compound as being a rose

Although, there amid a pile of bricks and clumps of weeds

a plant like a rose has never been bred

The Naming of the Crow [对一支乌鸦的命名] (1990)

From an unseen place

the crow rakes away lumps of autumn cloud with its toes

It drifts into the wind which droops from my eyes and the sky of light

The mark of the crow: sulphuric acid decocted by the nun of black night

sizzles its way through the flock's mattress

sinking down onto the branches of my heart

As in the days of my childhood, conquering crows nests in the treetops of my hometown

Never again can my hand touch a scene of autumn landscapes

It pulls itself up onto another big tree, wants to yank another crow

out of darkness

Crow in the past was bird meat a pile of feathers and intestine

Now the desire to narrate the impulse to speak

Possibly self-consolation in the face of imminent misfortune

the escaping of an inauspicious shadow

This kind of handiwork as blind-eyed as childhood

my bravest hand thrust into a black hole full of sharp beaks More difficult

when a crow perches within the wilderness of my heart

What I want to say is not its symbol metaphor or myth

What I want to say is just crow just as back then

I could never grab a dove out of a crow's nest

Ever since childhood to this day My two hands are calloused with language

But as a poet I have yet to speak it out loud crow

As much in this age of deep thought and careful plans adept at all forms of inspiration meter

and rhyme

as when beginning to write immersing the entire brush in the ink well

I want to tackle this crow its root from its origins it must be black through and through

Skin flesh and bones the run of its blood and

its flight revealed in the sky all must be thoroughly black

The crow from its birth entering into eternal solitude and being prejudiced against

Entered into all-encompassing destruction and persecution

It isn't a bird it is crow

A world stuffed with evil each and every moment

They all have excuses in the name of beauty or light

to open fire on this moving target that represents the power of darkness

Because of this the word won't escape beyond being crow

It flies a little higher together they surpass the eagle's seat

Or they drop a little lower to be found at the lowly level of the ant

Borer of holes in the sky it is its own black cavern its own black drill bit

It is its own altitude the altitude of a crow

On its own bearings its own time, driving its passengers

It's a happy big mouthed crow

Outside it the world is merely a construct

Only the limitless imagination of a crow

You the vast sky and the earth the vastness beyond vastness

You Yu Jian and generation after generation of readers

in the crow's nest are all eatables

I want to deal with this crow with only a few dozen morphemes

The ripe fruit of description It's said to be a black box

But I don't know who holds its key

I don't know who is conceiving the dark code of a crow

In another depiction it appears as a pastor binding his leg wrappings

This saint is standing below heaven's high walls looking for the entrance

But I realize the crow's dwelling-place is closer to god than the pastor

Perhaps one day it will be at the top of the church steeple

having already seen the body of the Nazarene

When I describe the crow as a swan reared by eternal black night

A solid bird flashing the light of a swan flying past the brilliant bog beside me

This fact causes me to immediately to lose confidence in the metaphor

I set the verb "drop down" on its wings

But in the manner of an airplane it "soars through the nine heavens"

I say to it "silence" but it stands stock still in "speechless"

I saw this sorcerer-bird, defier of all laws human and divine

In the sky above me a great flock of verbs in tow crow verbs

I can't speak them my tongue held in check by rivets

I watch them soar high up into the sky leap up

sink down into the sunlight and then gather on a cloud top

freely, leisurely transforming and composing every kind of crow totem

That day I was like the hollow scarecrow standing in an empty land

All my thoughts were sunk in crow

I distinctly felt crow felt its dark flesh

Its dark heart yet I couldn't escape this sunless fortress

When it circles it is me circling

How will I ever reach beyond the crow get a grip on it

That day as I gazed up into the blue sky all crows were completely black already

a tribe which dines on carrion long ago I should have turned a blind eye to the sky over my


I caught hold of them once I was so naive then

at the first whiff of that stink of death frantically I released my grip

As to the sky I should have fixed my glance only on clouds and skylarks white cranes

How well I understand and love these angels of beauty

But on that day I saw a bird

an ugly bird a bird the color of a crow

suspended by the sky's grey rope

its distressed legs stretched straight like those of a wooden puppet

hanging aslant over the slope of the air

revolving around a certain center spinning

a gigantic, empty circle

On that day I heard a series of evil cries

suspended in an invisible place

I want to say something of that

and make it known to the world I'm not afraid

of those invisible sounds

Spring Song [春天咏叹调] (1989)

Spring you kick open my windows and somersault into my room

Your body is covered in sunshine feathers and water and leaves, too

You knock over my flower vase

A quiet virgin in its black evening gown it waits for you to present a bouquet of real flowers You spill out its water and without helping it up you leap over

Provoking gales of laughter on the earth outside from the red-faced farmers wives

Last night you were even more brutal pulling the table cloth out from under the sky's birthday


So many stately stars crying out in misery as they dropped down

So many whales flipped over by the waves

So many stones left their old homes

Last night I hid in the castle once more you kidnapped my heart

Your tanks rumbled across my roof I listened to them all night

I listened to your ferocious assault on the South an assault on the gigantic bird cage

As if it had heard the flute of an Indian swami a snake awoke in my body

But I can't go out I have neither wings nor roots

Hiding in the house like a die-hard royalist I have no ties to the new season

If I leave the castle I won't reach the speed of the wind I won't sing out like a bird

I won't join in with the leaves won't become a charioteer

Staying put I have a greater interest in spring than any bird

In this world before the earth and the seeds I am the first to speak of spring

the first sound among sounds to sing of spring before the North and the wind

O! Spring I've stitched together a skirt to fit on you

Like the bowls of beggars I've lined up flower vases on the world's long table

Each nerve bristles as wide open as a hedgehog

I don a green wig and sneak into the flower garden

Late one night in February I sit alone writing poems for you

O Spring Spring you're an unworldly lad a naive fool

As soon as your flower buds nod their heads or your bees lift their voices

All is a fully-exposed image of death like a belch that can't be held in

A vase full of stale water a corpse wrapped in a curtain

Stinking adjectives stiff verbs empty nouns

In the spring I am the strangest he who gets along least well with others

My body refuses to grow grass the word Spring is not in my vocabulary

Living beside trees I have never seen how they drink water

Living with the wind I have never touched its skin

Even though I am one who praises spring though I am witness to spring year after year

Time and again I watch the snow melt into water

Again and again I watch plants raise the same flags from different houses

In the spring our labour is still the production of bricks and iron braces and the putting up of

new walls

We make the motions of spring entering into our loneliness and reproduction energetically Always Spring is just for its own things thus it stirs the world

And passes through our homes kicking our windows open

it has no interest in awakening some part of us it doesn't understand our truths

It rejects our love our quest for help it rejects our finest poems

We are forever a den of foxes looking forward to the next March the next night

The sky hung full of golden grapes all sour

A Bald Autumn Children Standing Outside of Death [秃顶的秋天 站在死亡之外的


A bald autumn death passes through the gaps between trees

and enters life Several unusual events occur

A dark rain doesn't let up until water begins to seep through walls

a swollen hospital jammed with the joints of sufferers and in the moonlight

there are always mysterious appearances hovering above the white objects of that harvest

moss hangs from windows into solitude and sadness

and poetry is of no more use than other seasons

a frightening path muddy An ex-beauty queen

up to her ears in dirty clothes and a poverty-ridden marriage

just like the premonitions we had, the days are being peeled away

writing ads for "expert treatment of impotence" exposing

the glue under the paper on the rotting body of the telephone pole

all this is enough to fill a person in his green youth

with the stench of mildew waking him occasionally from his long slumber

like a corpse looking at a dark mirror

and it's these things exactly that death relies on that likewise opens wide

the playground for the children

they are here growing up just as they have before

a bright, gaily colored group There, where we see death

they see a red rubber ball

just across the street bouncing

The Dossier of O [零档案] (selections) March-May 1992

The Records Room [档案室]

fifth floor of the building behind lock after lock his dossier

packed in a document pouch it acts as proof of the person separated from him by two


he works on the second floor the pouch is 50 meters of hallway distant thirty


a room different from others six steel-reinforced walls of poured concrete three doors

no windows

one florescent light four red fire extinguishers 200 square meters over a thousand locks visible locks hidden locks drawer locks the biggest is the "Forever Fixed Brand"

hanging outside

up stairs turn left up stairs turn right turn left again right again open a lock

open a lock

pass through a combination finally enter within file cabinet up against file cabinet

this one beside that

that one above this this one beneath that that one in front of this this one behind that

eight rows 64 lines packed within them over a ton of glazed printing paper black

characters paper clips and glue

his 30 years a pouch in one of 1800 drawers mastered by a key

it's not really very thick this person is still young only a little over 50 pages

somewhat more than 40,000 characters

together with a dozen or so official seal-bearing documents seven or eight photos and

some hand prints net weight: 1000 grams

different handwriting all from left to right two blank lines after the first another after

each paragraph

from one radical to another it's all concerned with his name definitions and adverbial


a third of his life his time places events people and patterns of regular activity

no pile of verbs lies reliably in the dark it won't budge won't be exposed to the light

it won't get wet won't catch fire there are no mice no germs no microorganisms of

any kind

transcribed neatly clearly cleanly he's trusted

based on this, others see him as comrade issue him credentials wages acknowledge

his sex

based on this he comes to work at eight o'clock every day uses every kind of paper

ink and correction fluid

he conceives the opening lines the composition the revision makes everything

abide by standard grammar

from the writing of one character to another the movement of the hand the pen, from

left to right from one radical

to another from verb to noun from frank detail to metaphor

from, to.

the process of the ink's gradual exhaustion the action of a good person called "O" by


his body carries him as when o turns his body in response to someone asking for paper

his building is absolutely motionless his position is fixed the rays of light are perfectly


the locks are motionless the huge metal cabinets stand stock still and the pouch doesn't


File #1 History Of Birth [卷一 出生史]

his organs have nothing to do with writing he came from the 28 year-old labour pains of a


an old established hospital carrier of three floors inflammation medicine doctors

and a morgue

whitewashed each year to save on trouble consuming reams of gauze cotton balls glass

and ethyl alcohol

the walls expose their bricks the grain of the wooden floors has disappeared things from

human bodies

take the place of paint not smooth somewhat elastic no connection to humanity

the scalpel has lost its chromium the doctor is 48 the nurses are virgins

howls struggle infusions injections the passage of instruments sighs daubing

wrenching clutching push pull cutting tearing running relax drip trickle


these verbs all on the spot the scene is entirely verbal verbs immersed in a sea of


"the head's out" the adept tones of the doctor Testimony: blood covers hands

a white smock covered in blood a bed sheet soaked in blood blood all over the floor

blood all over metal implements

Testimony: "Delivery Room" "Please don't spit" "Having only one is good"

Investigative Data: those with colds to the right laryngitis straight ahead "Men's


X-rays on the third floor hospitalization department out the door and 100 meters west

surgical department in 305

line-up for injections on the first floor payments line at the left-side window medicine

pickup line at the window to the right

a day crowded with every sort of pain a day of tight nerves of slicing and suturing

a day of initial diagnosis and relapse of decomposition and full recovery of birth and


everywhere there is talk of cure and illness words begging for life and dying words


there are curative actions and ill behavior acts of attendance to the dying and the delivery

of life

all of that old routine adheres to that first child that initial one that first time

to that new tongue those new vocal cords that new head that new pair of testicles

these active things which are born out of countless verbs are given the notional name of 0

A Beer Bottle's Cap [啤酒瓶盖] February 1991

I don't know what to call it just now it still resided at the high point of the banquet

the guardian of a bottle of dark beer you shouldn't doubt it has some status

signifying a fine feeling at dusk and the depth of a frothing cup

at the start of an evening meal with a movement very like a bullfrog it hops off with a pop

the waiter thinks it really is that thinks that on a table set full of cooked food something returns

to life

upset at his misconception he immediately turns his attention to a toothpick

he's the last one after this the world will never think of the bottle-cap again

no more do dictionaries have an entry for it no more roots extensions and transferred meanings

now the china plates reluctantly laid beneath it signal a cluster of Sichuan flavors

a napkin gets used by a general's hand roses flourish proud metaphor

in an odd arc it got out of the occasion This is its curvature

the brewery never designed this sort of a trajectory for a bottle of beer

now it's together with cigarette butts footprints chewed up bones and the floor, these filthy

unrelated things

an impromptu pattern no one of them any use to the other

but it's even worse off a butt can recall for the world of a slovenly pig

one piece of bone identifies a cat or a dog footprints hint naturally at the life of a person

it's a waste item its white is only its white its form is only its form

beyond all that our adjectives can touch on

At the time I had yet to drink it was I who opened the beer-bottle

so I saw it hop so oddly so simply to get out of there

suddenly I also imagine the pop of it the leap away but I can not

a writer with a body of poetry and a torso of sixty kilos

I merely bend over gather up this little white gem

the hard serrated edge of it slices into my finger

makes me feel its keenness unrelated to knives

Incidents: A Power Cut [事件:停电] 1991

In our lives a power cut is one of the incidents we often run into

a little pantomime on a fuse wire arthritis at a power plant legalized rape and violence

the guillotining of light we're used to it we take it calmly

when suddenly all light is arrested the world's in darkness

we're not the least bit anxious unmoved we continue to study to live

everyone knows a power cut can't alter the size of a bedroom

cannot change the amount of starch in a slice of bread can't change the color of water

we know it all well before the outage after the outage the same

sequences particulars parts whole climax and epilogue the same

First some minor romantic effects such as ghosts corpses a haunted house

such as candles in a kingdom of darkness footsteps on the stair and demons

one after another these little conceptions attack we pretend to be afraid or tragic throw up

our hands or puff out chests

we know these tricks well like familiar toys familiar MSG and milk

we're well aware the door's shut tight the neighbors are all comrades there's someone on

duty at the main gate

in the end we all stay in our old spots completely unharmed same ideas same motions

still like good people under the light keeping a proper sense of decorum our bearing self-


certainly nobody will change their posture suddenly "like a rapier" that way for instance assaulting the women there (this has now got into a novel) The world as perfect as in the


seeing going on seeing movement going on moving silence continuing silent

hands feet move in and out freely no need to thump in on heels like an invader

everything is still everything space color sound texture weight and inner


on the ceiling a hanging lamp under foot a floor left hand to the left right hand to

the right

the bed deep in the room placed by the window beside it a dresser and mirror

a box is placed highest shoes lowest food in the cupboard the TV reports news

extend the left hand you can take hold of painkillers and a hot-water thermos a glass

and cigarettes

extend the right you can touch an orange a candy jar and magazines extend it a bit

more and matches

half a step forward this long object must be the sofa sink down at the opportunity and

rest on cushions

back a bit an empty space at the foot of the wall portrait frames at a height of six feet

my parents and me 1954's smiling faces 1967's seating arrangements

standing beside the door a bookcase on the highest shelf classics third shelf medical


the wallpaper behind it pasted in the year of the horse behind the paper 1987's bricks

ice in the icebox clothing on clothes hangers water in water pipes time behind the

clock casing

what's soft is cloth sharp a fruit knife a collision is sound itching is skin

bed sheets are white ink is black rope thin and long blood liquid

leather shoes $48 a pair power 45 cents per watt a watch worth $400 a TV $2,500

everything present nothing will disappear no electricity the switch is still here

the electric meter still exists tools exist electricians engineers and plans still exist

only that wolf isn't here the he-wolf that stands on the calendar's August

at the moment the power cut out it slipped into darkness I can't see it

cannot determine if it's still on that paper for a few seconds

I feel this fellow breathing listening carefully in that piece of flat darkness

since the power went out this feeling is the only delusion amidst all my composure and


the only time on a summer night I shiver in fright

A Stack of Gas Cans by the Railroad [铁路附近的一堆油桶] 1993

Piled beside the railway line making up a surface

large deep-brown outlines clearly distinguished from the earth and sky

"surroundings" and "vicinity" all background

red-painted letters apparently the proletariat's hand

A B M and X like metaphysical spiders

represent something interior behind the surface

I can't see any interior when the train passes here

only a dozen seconds or so the time I witness a surface

before this my eyes were as blind as the train's

following a fixed line toward a station already known

the carriage behind is a boxcar tightly sealed

a herd of pigs off to Wuhan travelling with me

by the Beijing-Wuhan trunk line my vision is preserved by a surface

as on a certain day in history Vincent van Gogh

arrived at a farm near Arles

I realize later on it's only a stack of gas cans

On A Fly [关于苍蝇] 1994

The fly appears in places where April occurs

I want to present it with the words "rose" and "migratory bird"

they make up conceptions of April simultaneously living things of different form

from the garden from the north from the garbage dump but signifying April

is a month that already exists in time and space a vivid conception

it isn't the April of poetry not the April of a flower vase nor the April of an enemy

it is the April of earth roses complete the garden migrant birds open up the sky

and flies make the room an area where wings can move

they each go about their own business move April on toward completeness

I still want to present the fly with "bloom" and "chirp" "fragrant" and "melodious"

and I also want to offer "germs" to the rose "filth" to the bird

and "biting" "buzzing" too

the world's mysterious passageway is only found in if you can pass through the dark to April

a fly has a fly's darkness a rose has a rose's a migrant bird a migrant bird's

in this bright month before it enters into this month recorded by lyric poetry

a fly doesn't know if it can enter into "fly"

a rose if it can enter "rose"

a migrant bird if it can go into "migrant bird"

not all things can go into April as in the Aprils of history

in the city where I must live April cannot arrive at April's appointed time

it cannot pass through the rose's darkness the darkness of iron a factory's darkness

it can't pass through the darkness of a revolutionary's hatred of the old world

in a fly-less April missing a rose that likewise hasn't appeared

and this is the world's darkness a darkness April cannot supersede

Sunlight Shatters My View of a Bunch of Tree Leaves [阳光破坏了我对一群树叶的观

] 1994

Sunlight shatters my view of a bunch of tree leaves

a simple tree as a tree, grows among trees

but the sunlight makes one tree distinct

the leaves of a solid whole it splits into a dark zone

a bright zone a half-bright half-dark zone

like a lion the ruler of a water hole all golden-yellow curls

but not yet scribbling out the whole picture

it's the sunlight and not the lion in April's blue sky

exercising a sun's prerogative during a clear moment

an actual eucalyptus tree disappears now

"a tree is not just a tree"

that pyramid-shaped timber that rises out of the earth into the sky

has at least three symbols suggesting light and dark

informers and traitors swinging between the two

Mouse in a Glass Cage – A Record of a Trip to the Zoo [玻璃笼中的鼠记一次游园活

] 1994

A Frenchman draped in silver ornaments sleep's beneath Egypt's spring­time sky

What I point to is a python

in a glass cage in the zoo its court coiled poison daydreaming, it releases its missed lunch

A white mouse

climbs back and forth on its body a pocket-size bear doing floor exercises

optional moves all of exceptional skill tail turned up along the snake road like a soldier

beating a drum moving on to death

It steps on and over the snake's face making bystander mankind break out in cold sweat

Under the jaw of a devil the mouse fine-tunes its ears

listens continues to play Death at one stroke already 21 fellow­-sufferers have fallen in

this game it is the last

The time of the snake a gear drenched in oily poison a minor role like a nimble chisel

entering deep into a maze of patterns

The corridor of god people cannot enter like church and heaven forever partitioned by

baroque glass

A ghastly sight watching this little animal really fly on Death's tongue hopping rolling

it can't fall down

Suddenly the snake stretches into a huge yawn like an island rising up out of a gulf the little

white mouse a lone precipice Beneath its toes

the demarcation line between two deaths it's close the snake will die die too in another

mouth of time

A leap toward the abyss it falls into the snake's feeding place unexpectedly it doesn't meet

with death

Sailing back out of the snake's mouth it licks at its body's odd odor with its pointed red mouth

Once more it enters the arena a little lunatic in its asylum striping its frenzied nerves

naked a mad look a frenzy of hands and feet

Suddenly normal again it runs toward the audience looks at their feet and speaks in signs

Outside the glass cage a group of thinkers is gathered round In the lofty view of man

at this time in this place it should have quit playing long ago It strikes the thinker’s pose

like that Danish prince, think that way to live or pass away

It doesn’t know any better the python is bigger the mouse’s world belongs to a smaller

domain smaller food

smaller foes How could I know in a larger universe it is only bread crumbs

Outside the glass cage the bystanders’ sky is full of drifting sympathy universal love

humanism insight a grand overview but no person can save the mouse

A zoo has a zoo’s rules mankind has mankind’s intellect a mouse has the lot of a

mouse This is the order of the universe

And poets a common saying has it a mantis traps a cicada a siskin stands behind

If the story ends here a deep theme can be inferred from it

If we were mice and there was a python bigger than this python as it swallowed us

who would save us?

Thank the zoo the cost of a ticket wasn’t wasted we’ve received an education our

thought has progressed

I go back to write the inspiration I receive from a snake and mouse a story a

record of a trip to the zoo

The Poetry of Yu Jian

This collection of poems is intended to reveal the personality, style and growth of Yu Jian as a poet over the years since 1983 until 1994. Of course, as this is only a partial selection of his poems, such a claim is of limited value, but still of some value, nonetheless, since so little of his poetry has been read beyond the confines of the Chinese language. I will not list honors that Yu Jian and his poetry have received in order to prove the value of his poetry; rather, I believe that the quality of his poetry is readily apparent to those of us who have an interest in the modern poetry of any language. In view of these comments, I will now do no more than offer a generalized biography of the man and a few equally general comments about the poetry from which the sensitive reader will be able to draw finer distinctions on his or her own.

Yu Jian was born on August 8, 1954 in Ziyang, Sichuan province, but moved with his family to Kunming, in nearby Yunnan, at a very young age. As a result of the Cultural Revolution, Yu, like many others of his generation, went to work in a factory at the age of 16 and remained there for ten years before having the opportunity to attend university. During those ten years, Yu was able to educate himself through extensive reading of literature and poetry in particular. During the years of the cultural Revolution, for many of the more sensitive and aware, poetry was the only place where honest emotion and expression of self could occur.

The poetry of Yu Jian, when it first began to circulate beyond the borders of Yunnan in 1983, was something of a revelation to others (some of whom claimed then, and still do today, that what he writes is not poetry) exactly because of his plain, unaffected colloquial style and his unadorned naturalness of expression. The poems of this period are characterized by nature poetry () devoted to the mountains, plateaus and rivers of Yunnan. This theme was perhaps unremarkable, but he also wrote as naturally and unaffectedly in his portrayal of city life and relationships with others (, , ).

In 1984, together with two other poets (Han Dong of Nanjing and Ding Dang, then of Xi’an), Yu co-founded the unofficial poetry journal Them [他们]. The seventh issue of the journal was printed in the Fall of 1994 and, true to its origins, it remains a journal for poets who are more interested in "how a thing is said" rather than in "what is said." Yu is a poet who would rather exploit the language of the street than the language of current poetic discourse -- a language, in China, which Yu feels has lost its bearings within "utopian mythologies", some imported from modern western poetics, others which can be traced back to the influence of Mao Zedong and China's brand of communist discourse.

This is not to say that Yu Jian has not been influenced by Western poetics, for surrealist influences are quite obvious in some of his more recent poetry. Beginning in 1987 or so, his poetry began to take on a more obscure dimension, as if he were driven by forces beyond his control to mask his sentiments behind clouds of verbiage which remain, admittedly, plainly accessible to the more devoted reader of poetry. To a certain extent, the sentiments he has sought to express are now more complicated and controversial, and both critical of himself and of others.

is a strange poem which I had mixed feelings about translating and including in this collection. It is one of the most discursive pieces that Yu has ever written. Also, it is exceedingly strange in that it consists of a cluster of "fixed idiomatic phrases" [成语], and trite phraseology taken, in part, from translations of Western poetry. A puzzling poem, I have now come to the conclusion that it was written as a not-so-subtle, indirect criticism of the poetry written by many of China's younger poets in recent years. Yu is often critical of their inattention to language, by which he means the cavalier disregard of the Chinese language as the only true home of poetry that can be called Chinese and contemporary. Instead the stock languages of foreign and metaphysical "utopian mythologies" dominant the poetic landscape of China. (But, then again, I cannot be sure of this. What seems obvious in the Chinese language text all but disappears in translation. Possibly Yu was experimenting with new forms and sought to express the sentiments which appear less affected in English than they do in Chinese.)

Of course, Yu himself is far from being entirely innocent of these charges, as some of the poetry I have translated will attest. Perhaps it was his own awareness of this fact which led him to write of O>. This poem reveals the emasculating nature of the modern Chinese language as Yu apparently perceives it. The language of the Communist Party of China lays a trap which all are born into and are fated to die within. The impersonal, all-powerful personal dossier creates the limits from which no-one may escape. The actions and words of all are molded so as to fit its dimensions, and, consequently, thoughts and emotions are also stunted to the height and depth required by the Party and the dossier. Yu offers no options, no pathways out of his sprawling linguistic snare. There are only the actions and thoughts of the hollow men, stripped of their humanity -- the unpredictable, uncontrollable imaginative faculties that distinguish an individual.

A bleak picture and a very political picture. It comes as no surprise to learn that Yu had difficulties in getting the poem published. Fearing political consequences, the establishment literary journal which ultimately published it in the spring of 1994 (Great Masters [大家]) required Yu to remove portions of the poem which might prove most troublesome politically. Many Chinese readers are having difficulty coming to grips with the idea of a personal dossier as the subject of a poem. Certainly, as a poet, it took some daring on Yu's part to address such an object as a muse. And it will be interesting to see what kind of impact, if any, this poem will have on other poets. However, as Yu has pointed out, it seems that many Chinese poets today are ashamed to admit that they might possibly be influenced by another Chinese poet, alive or dead. And the Chinese language, as a language of poetry, is no more than an accidental circumstance of birth. Pity.

But where does Yu Jian's poetry go from this point? Perhaps after reading his poetry in translation, people other than his readers in the PRC will care to know.

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