Avant-Garde Chinese Poetry

1982-1992: 6 Poets

Translated by Wang Ping


PING04.01 and RIFT04.01 are copyright (c) 1995. See below for full notice. Click here for EPC HOTLIST

Introduction by Wang Ping Commentary by Yunte Huang

Zou Jingzhi


     From "Yellow Tiles and Red Walls

The gate of hell, so gloomy so cold so deep and so far away,
opening and closing at the bottom of the dry well
Girls dare not bend to look in
afraid of a hand pusing from behind

Concubine Zhen died thin.
Her husband was an emperor, her mother-in-law the emperor dowager
Widowed for many years,
the dowager feared the laughter between man and woman,
feared that Zhen's graceful steps and her perfume
hooked the emperor's eye.

She ordered Zhen to die
and the emperor to love another.

Crying she said she didn't want to die or pollute the well.
If she died the other person would also perish . . .
Before she finished she was pushed 
into a long distant night

She's been floating ever since

     in the news
     a girl who rebels against an exchange marriage
     jumps into a well

translated by Wang Ping and Murar Nemet-Nejar


The wheat reaper
has ground his sickle
His wine is also ripe
like the sickle

The wheat is waiting
to fall
like friends far away
coming over
to fall into your arms

He hears
the sound of wheat meeting the sickle
He is that sickle
as well as the wheat

If there were no winter
the reaper would have given up the harvest
Wine agrees
when it cuts his throat

translated by Wang Ping and Murar Nemet-Nejar


Those who are gone or going away
stand still at the sound of your voice
The air that ascends to heaven floats in different images
The finger of a tawny daylily
plucks the string of a distant memory
I walk away to lie in the sunny marsh
The May sun makes love to me from different angles

I loiter on the street corner
I see the world piece itself together then fall apart
When you start moving
every life stops to watch
When you think of women
you knit your brows or smile openly
The flag on the tower is playing with the wind
It makes you think of her body surging like a wave
the same body that ripped the city
of its sex

You reach out your hand
and penetrate her skin like a hero
You think of the snow that covered the fields all winter
and the fresh damp air
you will no longer belong to yourself or to anyone else
you will become a wriggling sprout out of the ancient past
That moment only takes a second on your watch
Within that second your life ends then begins again

Death is the destination of birth
This Buddhist eulogy is depressing
On another day in another situation
you thought about many women by drawing inference
     about other cases from one instance
and their seducing postures
You predicted destinations of all journeys
That short second is a complete life
Day is day
night is night
You and the women are all rusty machines
We close our eyes vertiginously
We embrace to keep warm
and wait for the next samsara
while thoughts ferment discreetly between the transmigrations
You no longer restrain yourself from fantasizing about other
     women when you make love
One night you suddenly see through your own face
Waking up the next morning you said to the only star:
     I wish I could die quickly
     to be born again in a moment

translated by Wang Ping and Lewis Warsh

Mo Fei



In that place either silent or blind
You're writing the only poem.
In the backyard of time
you've written the lines to replace words and objects.

Before the destruction you started
the poem
which no one can kidnap,
which has no beginning.
It's approaching the winter.
The pen tip gleams.
The last stroke in the dark
brings the world to a sudden halt.

Those whose ears were stolen
will never forgive.
The disaster caused by the snow storm
awoke all the intoxicated.

A gardener who keeps death and roses
is trying to learn cool wisdom
with the short days of his life.
Doors and windows are tightly closed.
How you wish you could keep your relatives here
and let trees enjoy the silent twilight.

You're doomed
to write this only poem.
The breath of the blooming words is short--
you linger on.

translated by Wang Ping and Leonard Schwartz


The person who is fixed in place in this room
is scared of the table.
Words are endless holes
that he doesn't know how to repair.

A piece of blank paper lives a cleaner life.
All is but habit.
He often wonders about the clock on the wall.
It might be more accuratge if only it stopped ticking.

A premonition throbs in his temples.
He can hear nothing.
Thunder stuns the woods
as in a vicious dream.

It's already the dawn
after a sleepless night.
An utterly unjust fire
saves his life from the book.

translated by Wang Ping and Leonard Schwartz


This is not the last 
that's punished by language.
A new wooden house
is knocked down by a tree.

The prisoner
makes traps around himself.
If he's let out alive
he'll take the crimes with him.

He has no other shortcut.
A knife between life and death.
Light is cut open
and bent by the lonely sky.

The world is as painful as fate.
Words are shackles.
Once he's learned how to confess,
no one can ever defend him.

Translated by Wang Ping and Lewis Warsh

Mo Mo


At night I reach out my hands
Bright fingers, pointing
in the direction of roses, my head bent silently
to the blooming, withered
and soft fingers, pointing
in the direction of waves, my head bent silently
to the calm
cold fingers, pointing
in the direction of the cliff, my head bent silently
to those who remain
I slip into spring water pebbles cloves
My hair has grown like wheat, but can't be harvested

At night I reach out my hands
rough fingers pointing
in the direction of language, my head bent silently
to the talking, listening
and slim fingers, pointing
in the direction of a miracle, my head bent silently
to the existing, non-existing
and bent fingers, pointing
in the direction of a dream, my head bent silently
to the beautiful scenes and nightmares
At night, I dream I'm thrown into a slaughterhouse
Death is not a secret, death is a gaze

Dawn is here, the fingers are still pointing
in the direction of a song
Once I sang, but now I have lost my voice
The sun has risen, the firm fingers pointing
in the direction of mother
I was born there, but now I am drifting farther away
The sun is blinding my eyes, the trembling fingers
pointing in the direction of a city
which holds a funeral for me
as if I were a puppet

who doesn't show any sign of life unless touched by a hand
Tears stain my face, I can't see
what direction the last finger is pointing
If it's pointing in the direction of my imagination
then it's the direction of time
which is also your direction
After someone said the water was flowing so fast
you came over and made a whirlpool
to drown me, to choke me
then you pointed your finger suddenly
in the direction of the void

translated by Wang Ping and Lewis Warsh


I sell dreams, cheap
following my inclinations like a dog who sold his master
I sell epochs,
my body crosshatched with scars
I sell time, diarrhetic
penniless as fresh air
I sell country, motherland disappears
I sell space, earth vanishes
I hold the universe in my hand and write you a love letter

I sell holidays, together with loneliness
in ignorance of the world
I sell everything:
life, breath, death
But tonight you must listen
I'm going to kiss you seriously
and turn over like a sunken boat
You're the ocean
the only thing I have left

translated by Wang Ping and Lewis Warsh


In my eyes there's nothing but China
She blooms forever
breeding poetry which delights the world
I've read the women of Chu, Lu and Wu
and the goddesses from the last century
Through the loudspeaker of the human tongue
I disclose the misery of the earth to the universe

I call a man father
I scorn mountains
I experience the void night and day
My body has grown into the shape of the seven continents pieced
Homer is blind
I'm bright-eyed
A woman calls me darling
I nap under the wall of the Paris Commune
I have four limbs like the four oceans
The possibility of remaking nature still exists in my brain
Everyday I read the newspaper and cry
I can only be myself

When it's dark, I hold
the secret of China in my hands
When it's bright, 
I become the last struggle,
the last harvest
on earth

translated by Wang Ping and Lewis Warsh


When I'm gluttonous, I want to taste dinosaur meat and smell the cooker
When I'm hungry, I want to eat iceberg and drink sunlight
I hate girls with big front teeth
hate the college students who study the nutritive value
of Jin Gangshan herbs with Citzen watches around their wrists
I've just managed to learn how to be honest,
only to discover the world has already betrayed me
I'm bursting with anger
It makes me look ugly when I laugh
So I only grimace
To defend the blue sky, I drive away all the clouds
To defend the bonfire, I set the whole grassland on fire
To defend autumn, I turn myself into a fruit
I want to eat everything.
Quick, close your eyes
It's embarrassing to see me so gluttonous and hungry

translated by Wang Ping and Lewis Warsh

Liu Manliu

Mayfly's Journal

Poetry suffers and freezes.
We turn our backs to the memories
In the distance are the endagered fish

The masterpiece of foam
A melancholy narrator under the waterline

Days live in dark seclusion
and don't hear the fish teeth grinding

They can't hear
the bad news of my disappeared poet-brothers

Water, gigantic water
curves in dizziness

Who will notice the body's double trembling
breathing like a thread, like an ant

Finally a first pair of wings born in humiliation
Another pair!

Lightly I flap my wings
and take off

I write down my name on the surface of the water
the tremendous dream under the green lotus leaf's shadow

I pass the land
and the market of cattails

like an insect kindergarden
or a grand ball of the white lotus

I accept the beautiful scenes along the shore
as a cheer

The first trip into a multiple world
without help from a machine

The thread-like object on the tail
serves to keep balance in this dust

In my own sky
I make a tragic surge

The trace of crash
can teach all new-comers

To begin like an apprentice
to summarize like an expert

Unconsciously I'm approaching eternity
nearing multiplicity

Oh humans, why are you so greedy
Give me a day

One day is enough for me
Give me one day of eternity

Measurement doesn't exist
No need to be excited about beginning or end

Death is just a ritual
the ritual of leaving your life

We fly in groups at twilgiht
facing the same sunset

Within concentric circles are innumerable other circles
The first and last days of a lunar month just a secondary matter

If a soul is multiple enough
it can hold anything

No need to point at the sky and say
This is a second

or billions of light years
The explsoion is on-going

The cosmos in one moment
we all exist in this enthusiastic shot

Flying is also a performance

But no audience.  The morning bacteria and underground soul
are not the distance that separate us

It's an ultimate affirmation
proving that we deserve to be underlined

The flight in the process 
holds water and sky which are more casual than us

Flight means embracing this attitude
embracing the land and humans

For the sea and the pity for a drop of salt
our flight exists without boundaries

We take our lives as a holiday--
On the same day, we lay eggs, mate and die

translated by Wang Ping and David Shapiro


Title page--like daytime before I was born, light at the other
     end of the tunnel
     In a blind navel I found a white fear

     A baby grown accustomed to the dark is impressed
          by the first look at light

     To praise darkness, to sing about the dark, is a habit
          I've cultivated in the center of the sea

     I'm mysterious like a sea urchin, far away like fish,
          and I cry like a mermaid

     My tears, each drop as big as fan shells

     make a new deposit, the colors on my left gray forehead
          keep interweaving like an exchange, and record the
          ocean's tremor
     The shrinking skill in a book of poetry

     I didn't forget to leave my name and date

The first page--in the center of a small, dark universe, I'm warm
     and safe, surrounded by amniotic memory

     A universe in a shell, sometimes it hides out of 
          temporary necessity
     I suck the darkness and delicious liquid
     History is torn off by my hands
     The worst crime is a pearl
     The pale core is a grain of salt
     The most discolored is the rule
     Withdrawal again is out of temporary necessity

From the first to second--not only a movement of turning
     pages.  The sea is the source.  For me,
     there's always another eye open in the bottom of the brain
     Face the iron

     Now I understand your language

     I suffered the heaviest blow at the bottom of the sea
     It taught me life

     In the electric chair of universe, the contractions became

     The human universe fights against the human

     Some misfortune is foredoomed
     Some birthmarks are indelible

Between the third and fourth pages--the design that can't be
     washed away even by the sea is your native tongue

     At the moment of flight, you said I needed light, and the
          light shone on you
     and a blurred tall god was surrounded by a halo

     Thus religion was born, and nurses became angels

     All the angels are white dwarf stars
     All crows are fallen angels

     Like fixed stars and their moons, nights are the collapse of

     We've been forcing ourselves to believe that a thousand
     years of darkness will be rewarded with a thousand
     happy years

On Page X--contractions made me forget my last name, the whitest
     page, the criminal page, the light turned on and off
     suddenly, and the wounded one is comforted

     I turned the page, but forgot to number it.  I didn't
     darken it deliberately

     When you open your eyes
     you'll become blind again after you see the light
     It's time to utter your first calls
     in a language that can be understood throughout the world

     Don't let this X turn into a swastika
     Don't be sentenced before you sing

     My only concern is the force-field of language

The untimely end--like the night before I was born, like a white
     moth turned into black, a dance or a mutation

     Suddenly I grew into a singer and my first song
          was dedicated to a night

     All the living and dead, the first and last night
     the pattern of the trembling sea, in which a youth drowned

     He taught me how to raise my voice, how to drink the
          sunlight or blood while shouting
     how to drink the sunlight in the dark, to drink bood in
     to see light in the dark, to read my handwriting in the 

     Time  Space

translated by Wang Ping and David Shapiro

Liu Manliu


It's a sick epoch, lungs hit me with coughing
My own lungs are getting sick with love.

My own body hits me with diseases
My own body is like a clock of our time.

Diseases attack me repeatedly
I'm plucked many times, so loud.

It's a sick time, I want to love more
and my health gets worse.

Violent coughing shakes me
I, who loves to shout, am losing my voice.

translated by Wang Ping and David Shapiro


Hunt down the fall in a fallen leaf
Walk farther than human beings on an abandoned street

The miserable days that hang onto trees belong to such leaves
But in whose mind do I hang, in pain?

The long street dances against the wind
This street looks like a twig
full of empty calls.

She touches the sky's cheeks
Her own strength bends her backwards
A fallen leaf crawls in the approach of life's limits.

I hold my hand out to a leaf
and send my city into a deep, dignified sleep.

Nobody wakes up!  Nobody!
But let's walk through this empty street like human beings!

translated by Wang Ping and David Shapiro

Liu Manliu


The red land   about thirty-five acres  at the bottom of the hill
On the slope grow pine trees  grass and mushrooms
A wooden cottage  an ox head hangs from the window ledge
The front yard has firewood  footprints   dogs and a muddy plough
The host not seen   the ploughed red soil looks fertile
The sound of a stream   seems to come from behind the mountain
As if a place for gods   everything   splendid
Except for a piece of fence   standing in the middle of the      fields
instead of around the house
crooked   about ten branches    tied toegether with vines
standing over there   fencing in nothing    surrounded by nothing
If it went a few steps back    it might make a vegetable garden
Or if it extended further along the meadow and the new soil
it could become   a sign of possession
But it isn't where it's supposed to be
firmly planted in the middle of the red filed   far away
     from the edges of everything
It isn't a statue in a square   but a piece of fence
The cottage has often appeared in my dreams   But I never   expected
this extra piece of fence
It makes me feel unsatisfied    anxious to correct it
However   it has nothing to do with me
I'm just passing through
This is a place for dogs   For them
over there   in the middle of the red land
there should be a piece of fence

translated by Wang Ping and Ron Padgett


On the fifth floor in the city of Qujing
they were talking about the Pearl River and its source
"We were there two years ago   fifty miles away from the city
Nothing to see there
Not a tree   no grass   no person   no road
Only some rocks
Big and small   all gray   the mud sucked at our shoes
Some crows flew up out of nowhere   almost scared us to death
     what bad luck
After a long trek in the mud   we reached a ditch   A drop of water
dripped down from a crack in the rocks    This is the source of
     the Pearl River
We'll never go again in this life   What bad luck"
In the city of Qujing   I listened to them talking about the Pearl River
and looked into the distance   Far away there were only barren hills

RIF/T: An Electronic Space for Poetry, Prose, and Poetics
Editors: Kenneth Sherwood and Loss Pequeño Glazier
ISSN#: 1070-0072
Version 4.1 Spring 1995

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