As the first grain of millet bursts out in the field
I hear Ina*’s voice on the phone from my tribal village in the South
The air is rich with the scent of shell ginger flowers
At the next full moon
I’ll go back for Masalu**.
*Ina means “mother” in the Paiwan language
**Masalu means “thanksgiving” in the Paiwan language, here it refers to the harvest festival
Liglav A-wu is from the Paiwan tribe and was born in the tribal village of Pucunug in 1969. She is best known for her essays and reportage on issues concerning aboriginal women and published her first collection in 1996, Who Will Wear The Beautiful Clothes I Wove 《誰來穿我織的美麗衣裳》She was also worked with Walis Nokan on Hunters’ Culture (獵人文化)magazine. She is currently working as a professor at the Taiwanese literature department of Providence University.
都可以 It can be both
有時候是阻擋 Sometimes it obstructs
有時候是歡迎 Sometimes it welcomes
進，或者出 Entry, or exit
都可以 It can be both
它真正的意思 It’s real meaning
只是通過 Is just passing through
This is a nice little poem from author and poet Chiang Hsun (蔣勳). He was born in Xi’an in 1947, and moved to Taiwan with his family in the wake of the Chinese Civil War. He had some involvement with the anarchist movement in France while studying abroad there and supported the democracy movement in Taiwan while working as a professor on his return to Taiwan.
The paddy field is a mirror
Reflecting the blue sky
Reflecting the white clouds
Reflecting the black mountains
Reflecting the green trees
The farmer plants seedlings
Plants them on the green trees
Plants them on the black mountains
Plants them on the white clouds
Plants them on the blue sky
I liked the simplicity of this poem’s words and the reliance on the concept to get its message across. The childlike tone of the poem suggested something like a nursery rhyme, but I also liked the idea of the unreality of the world as seen through an agricultural viewpoint (through the reflection on the paddy field’s surface) and that though humanity might think they exert control over the natural world, this is illusory as a reflection in a mirror. One could read this another way also, as an admiration for the unending toil of a peasant-farmer’s work and the single-minded urge to survive.
Chan Ping (詹冰) was a Hakka poet born in the township of Zhuolan in Miaoli, Taiwan, in 1921 and was a student of Taichung County Taichung Middle School, set up by local elites such as Lin Hsien-tang and Koo Hsien-jung – the only middle school reserved for Taiwanese students during the period of Japanese colonial rule. He went to study pharmacology in Japan in 1942 at the Meiji Pharmaceutical School in Tokyo. He returned to Taiwan after qualifying as a pharmacist. He opened a pharmacy in Zhuolan before being invited to become a science teacher. He wrote poetry in Japanese during his years as a student at the Taichung Middle School and formed a poetry society called the Silver Bell (銀鈴會） with other students, including poet Lin Heng-tai. The society issued a poetry magazine called Green Grass (綠草). After Taiwan was ceded to the Republic of China in 1945 and the Nationalist Retreat to Taiwan in 1949 use of the Japanese language was heavily suppressed and the Silver Bell was forced to dissolve. After a transitional period of around 10 years, Chan started to write in Chinese and in 1964 he formed the Bamboo Rain Hat Poetry Society (笠詩社) along with Lin Heng-tai and other poets and they published a poetry collection called Green Blood Cells in 1965. As well as being a poet, Chan was a novelist, an essayist, a lyricist and a playwright. He died in 2004.
As well as Buddhism and Christianity
Some gods dig water channels like Allah
Some are the Holy Marys pushing wheelchairs in the park
Where ghosts thrive, gods thrive too
As shadow follows the light
Where light shines strongest you feel secure warmth
But don’t fear the places where ghosts roam
Sometimes the city’s depths are lighter than its surface
This is the advance of civlization
In that instant, I thought of my father carrying a big bag of his things on his back, with his electric drill, his hammer and countless other tools I don’t even know the name of inside. Under contract from the moneyed classes to build the city of Taipei, he consulted the architect’s blueprint and listened to the instructions of the foreman, before, just like the scaffolding and walls of plants from the building site, weathered by the wind and rain then scorched by the sun until hollowed out, he returns to obscurity, sheepishly withdrawing from the city, allowing these symbols of grandeur to establish themselves there.
It was he who built this city, but he who is held beyond its limits.
This kind of prose always repels me to some extent, although I admire the imagery of the scaffolding. One reason for this is because I always think that overtly political art (with the possible exception of newspaper cartoons) generally comes across as preachy and tends to oversimplify nuanced issues. This was also one of the reasons I really didn’t like a lot of the work of theatre director Wang Molin. Another reason is that it echoes a lot of the political rhetoric of trade unionists and implies a sense of unpaid debt to the imaginary working class builders, mechanics and plumbers that pepper the speeches of Conservative politicians when they’re trying to incite anger against immigrants or intellectuals. The subtext to this is an implication that newcomers to the city and non-working class people are being rewarded at the expense of working class people. This kind of notion is often what feeds the xenophobia and inter-class resentment that featured heavily in both the Brexit referendum campaigns and in the recent US election campaign by Donald Trump.
Despite this, I do have sympathy for the chip on the shoulder view of Taipei that many people from central and southern Taiwan have, as I had the same chip on my shoulder when visiting London from Belfast growing up. Lots of people in Taiwan call Taipei the 「天龍國」 and Taipei citizens 「天龍人」. This is a term suggesting that they are elitist and look down on others. It takes its origins in the term “World Nobles” (Japanese: 天竜人 Tenryūbito)from Japanese manga One Piece and literally means “Heavenly Dragon Folk”, snobby arrogant elites who serve as the world government in the manga.
This time it’s a reader contribution. My former co-worker snapped this poem on the MRT and sent it to me. The poem was written by Chuang Tsu-huang (莊祖煌 pinyin: Zhuang Zuhuang) who goes under the pen-name Bai Ling (白靈). He was born in Taipei’s Wanhua District in 1951 to a family from Fujian in China. After studying chemistry in Taiwan and teaching for a while, he went to the US to study a master’s at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He is currently a professor at National Taipei University of Technology and at one time took part in a grassroots poetry collective, including a period as the editor of a grassroots poetry publication. He has won a plethora of prizes for his poetry.
不如歌 Better a Song
Better a manic something over a tranquil nothing
Better a tear bubbled up in heat over a dewdrop awaiting the warmth
Better to land the bullseye than to loose an arrow in haste
Better a single eagle than to raise three thousand doves
Better to be pecked, than to be kissed
I found this poem entitled Flower (花) by Taiwanese poet Bi Guo (碧果) on the MRT:
Just one more step
One can leave after shedding one’s garb
I also liked the stylized way the author’s name was written on the poster.
Bi Guo was born in 1932 and is the author of several poetry collections, including A Heartbeat Afternoon, A Changing and Unchanging Canary, Corporeal Awareness and Poetry Belongs to Eve. He has also published a collection of essays, a novel and a play. You can hear him reading some of his poems in Chinese below in a video by the Culture Bureau of the Taipei City Government:
Wu I-Wei (吳億偉) has won numerous awards including the United Daily Press Literary Award for Fiction, the China Times Literary Award for Fiction and Essays, the United Literature Monthly Literary Award for Fiction, and the Liberty Times Lin Rungsan Literary Award for Short Essays. He published his new collection of essays, Motorbike Days (《機車生活》), in 2014 and is now a PhD candidate at the Institute of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and regularly reports the latest German literature news for Taiwanese magazines and newspapers. View an excerpt of a previous translation of his work here. This story, ‘Collecting Gods’, won the Jury Short Story Prize at the 30th China Times Literary Awards in 2007. A slightly different version of the original Chinese story can be found here.
The outside of the embankment was still a deep green in early autumn, the only exception being the cotton-like gray of the miscanthus ears, spreading out in a continuous unbroken strip of their own, the branches appearing a lot softer when in the wind. Amidst the rustling of the leaves and grass, one could hear a clacking sound, like something was rolling toward the riverside. Pushing aside the undergrowth as she went, an old hunch-backed woman dragged a ragged looking old pram along the ground. The frilly lace on it had already gone black and it was full of plastic bottles and sheets of used paper. She looked hesitantly in all directions as she made her way onward, her body lowered to enable her easier access to the ground. The rickety wheels continued to clack as she made her way along the riverbank searching for anything of value. Behind her ran a line of corrugated iron shacks and across a few loofah trellises, was a small path, cut out among the weeds, leading to a little temple, with a roof of red glazed tiles and mottled yellow walls with several scars, as if marked by lightning. The door was wide enough for a person to pass through with their arms outstretched and the statues of the lords of the three realms – the heavens, the earth and the waters – stood fixed on a platform under the roof, golden crowns on their heads and beards down to their chests, each holding a tablet underlining their divine authority, clothed in official garb of glistening divine gold.Continue reading →