To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Che Qianzi: Five Poems & the Poetics of Reincarnation


Translation from Chinese by Denis Mair

[Che Qianzi (the pen name of Gu Pan) was born in 1963 in Suzhuo and currently splits his time between his hometown and Beijing. A well-known poet, prose stylist, and painter, Che has published over twenty-one volumes of poetry and essays. He recently staged two solo exhibits of his ink wash paintings in China, and his work can be seen at Galerie Gabrial in the US and online. Writes Glenn Mott in a recent posting on Chinese Literature Today: “While [Che Qianzi] is often associated with the LANGUAGE school of avant-garde American poetry because of his attention to the materiality of language itself, close readers of his work will find that this focus is specifically tuned to the physicality of the Chinese written language (its visual, aural, and etymological nature) and thus arises from a very different set of cultural conditions.”  Some excerpts from Glenn’s interview with him, concerning what he speaks of there as a poetics of reincarnation, follow the five poems presented below.]


White bride, shadow bride,
Not one's own shadow.
Bride of snow.

It is the groom's shadow.
Beneath fluorescent lights hold a shadow marriage.

Brides of snow inexhaustible, from the sky,
Grooms, underground.
Deep underground, feelers wiggling.
He goes even deeper,
Where the gloom gets thick.

No daily life, human sphere,
There between . . . the heavens—the underground.

His claws scrape it away—its mirror, its eyeball,
And feelers wiggle, performance beyond grade level,
Like first waking.

Dawn (Outside the Window, Resembling a Painting by Castiglione)

Rustling traces, fitly dispersed,
Ink left over from a rubbed ink stick—

Flash-heated by recipe, this overseas red,
Those rustling, stippled,
Echoing traces.

Ramble midway up the mountain, enough to stir sounds
Reveling in water amid echoes.
In the hour of the cock, liaison with Chinese landscape of some kind.


"With a fragment of a poem in mind."

At an ice-skating juncture, he is suffused with light,
Like an eyeball:
Not a single blink,
Plunged into fearsome silence.

Someone buys monkeys and rabbits on a carpet . . .
(animals that) managed to run away,
which depends on carrying along a tail,
in the right measure.

Think of us being just right,
Since we know what is seemly,
Never make love, not having preparation in this area,
Not having the skill.

Index finger in the underlying color of a pretext,
As if about to flick ash off a cigarette.
And those Beijingers, in places where they are acquainted,
The one keeping company with eternity enjoys the chill.

Spiritual strolls, no farther than the outskirts, an onion
planted in the ground head-first,
Harvest the stunted wheat field next to the bridge;
Tree merely for show at an arboretum, green sleeves dragging into earth.
As long as there's some reaction.
Artesian spring on a carpet after monkeys and rabbits run away—
In the snowdrifts left behind,
Tap out a cave.

“Animals of prey printed for wide distribution.”

Wake Up Like an Infant

Well-digger, come here,
Let go of yourself,
Wake up like an infant,
One more streak of clear water in sewage.

Water-fetcher, come here,
Let go of me and you.

Wake up like an eye,
Once again, an artesian well lifted high,
Between the legs, set dankness to work
From, dank greenery all around.

Hemmed in,
This overly concrete—
Mood of rushing into death's arms;
Just as in love.

All around, rapt intrigue of water,
Goes deep into soil.

Mother Tongue

Eat cotton candy.

I eat cotton.

Drink mother's milk,
In the arms of an inflatable doll.
I suckle on the mother tongue.

Tossed raw vegetables with mother tongue,
Bitter melon sautéed with mother tongue.
Mother tongue sautéed with meat strips.

A page of manuscript.
Heat you can feel,
It gives off heat you can feel,
Cottony wisps,
Giving off heat in the air.

A page of manuscript;
Drank milk excessively, of course,
You are a dairy cow,
Oh those black-on-white words!

(Provide: a page of manuscript.)
(Provide: mother tongue stewed in milk.)
(Provide: giving off heat you can feel.)


From “Poetics as Reincarnation,” a Conversation with Glenn Mott

CQ: I believe that people have their last lives. My latest reincarnation, according to my observation, or to be exact, comprehension, happened in the Yuan dynasty.

GM: So we are really talking about reincarnation, then? Talking literally.

CQ: With long intervals in between. ... Now I regard the history of literature and painting as a process of unceasing reincarnation, which leaves behind many traces. I am now interested in these traces, perhaps even more than the spirit, the material, and the work itself. ... Why do I say that I belong to the Yuan dynasty? I recognized my last life as a poet in the Yuan dynasty. I know I am the reincarnation of him. I remembered that I once wrote in my résumé that I was the reincarnation of a Yuan poet called Yang Weizhen 杨维桢. Unintelligible text took up half of this résumé. I did that on purpose because reincarnation, to a great extent, is beyond what language can express. Now another reason why reincarnation is the identification of culture rather than spirituality: When I said I am a Yuan poet reincarnated, I identify his fate as my own.

[The full “conversation” is available at]

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