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China Daily Global / 2023-06 / 14 / Page014

Poetry rides new wave

By Gui Qian | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-14 00:00

Chinese youth are driving new forms of poetry, showing that its power and charm never get old, Gui Qian reports.

Open mainstream Chinese social media and you might get the impression that poetry is making a comeback among the country's young generation.

Lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu has organized online activities such as "poems battle" and "poetry Renaissance".Poetry-related posts on the platform have reached more than 3 million and content with the hashtag "Xiaohongshu poetry alliance" has received 190 million views.

On the video-sharing website Bilibili, poetry societies have been setting up accounts, among which the Spark Society has gained over 132,000 followers; vloggers, including Youshan Xiansheng and "The Naive and Sentimental Novelist" have been calling for poetry reciting and poem submissions from literature lovers; and poems created by users in comment sections and bullet screens have led to the publication of a new chapbook called I No Longer Work Hard to Become Someone Else: Writing Poetry on Bilibili.

Whether in print or online, young people are reading, writing, engaging and pursuing poetry.

"For a while, poetry was in its low tide in China and poets were stigmatized. Now I'm happy to see poetry making a comeback, which affirms that poetry never dies as it always finds a way to keep its heart beating," said Zhou Yuchen, once a physics major at the University of Cambridge, UK, and now a postgraduate at King's College London.

Apart from writing poems, the 22-year-old has been promoting poetry among youth, as she was one of the founding members and the former vice president of the 00s Poets Society, which is made up of around 60 Chinese poets living around the world who were born post-2000.

The 00s Poets Society arranges poetry lectures and seminars, organizes an international poetry award to recognize outstanding poems in Chinese and other languages, and publishes annual selections of winning works.

Other poetry societies like Zhou's make up the landscape of the world of young Chinese poets. Their mainstays have long been domestic top universities' poetry clubs, including those of Peking University, Fudan University and Wuhan University. But recent years have witnessed the thriving of folk societies such as the Jihe Society and Hangchuan Society. Overseas associations of young Chinese poets, like Accent Society, which is based in New York City, are also making waves in the multilingual and cross-cultural poetry scenes.

According to Zhou, these societies have established communities for poetry enthusiasts to communicate and grow their influence. She also thinks that the prevalence of poetry is connected to the pressure felt from study, work, finance or relationships that young people have to face nowadays.

"Youngsters are looking for shelter from reality, so they look inward. Poetry in nature is the reflection of inner reality and the path through which one can shape it," she explained. "For example, if you want to become happier and more confident, write a poem with positive images and read it aloud, and you may see real changes. This is the magic of poetry." Zhou says this is her philosophy of poetry and thinks it is that of many others, too, consciously or subconsciously.

In the world of the craft of poetry, the young generation is experimenting with language and showcasing a sense of innovation. By integrating computer languages, mathematic terms and financial expressions into poetic lines, poets with different backgrounds are taking poetry to various fields and drawing out new possibilities for the genre. "We young poets want to tame languages of different realms and write poems where poetry does not commonly appear," Zhou said.

Words on the streets

At a night market in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, a subway station in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, or a beach in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, you may find a stall set up by a twenty-something woman with a signboard that reads, "Improvised poems. Pay as you wish".

The woman goes by the nickname Gehuaren, who has made a name for herself on social media as a "street-stall poet". Back in 2020, when Gehuaren resigned from her job at an advertising agency in Shanghai, she decided to do something fun. Having an interest in literature, she was struck by the idea of offering people a unique service of quickly writing poems based on themes of the customers' choice.

Her improvised poems are usually short, with just several lines. Once the poem has been completed, she refuses to make any edits, saying, "Poetry captures the fleeting moments in our lives and gives substance to our floating imagination."

Starting from Xishuangbanna, Gehuaren has been to several cities vending her poems, already selling several hundred of them. "Most of my customers are young people. I'm surprised that they are more than happy to walk up to me and ask about the 'strange goods' I'm selling. This shows poetry is quite accepted among the youth," she said.

"The feedback I often received about my poems are encouraging words like 'cute' and 'fulfilling'. For me, writing poems is entertainment rather than a job," she added.

To make the entertainment even more entertaining, Gehuaren then started two other poetry "experiments".

She is now cooperating with musicians to create poems that can be made into songs. She writes the lyrics while the bands compose the melodies and perform the songs. "I plan to work with 33 bands to bring in 33 works, each of which may be about an emotion, a social issue or maybe nothing at all," she said.

The other experiment is titled "Taking Poetry to the Streets", in which Gehuaren turns walls, windows, trash cans, delivery cars and almost everything in daily life into showcases of poetry. Of course, she doesn't write the poems directly on them. Instead, she took pictures and added her poems onto the images with her phone, making ordinary scenes poetic.

"I believe that there is always a corner in the world that contains poetry. I write wherever I go, and I compose whatever comes to my mind," she said.

Searching for authenticity

For artist Liu Xiaochuan, 24, who does sculptures and kunqu performances, poetry is another medium of art for her through which she develops her interest in different cultures, explores the beauty of languages and connects to herself and others.

Growing up in Beijing, Liu went to the US to study Studio Art and French in 2017. In her university's poetry course, she started to read and write poems in English. At that time, she was struggling to adapt to the new environment and suffering from memory difficulties after a brain injury, so she put all her painful thoughts into her poems. The poems became more than homework — they were healing.

She dove into the sea of rhymes, forms and images of poems in a non-native language and pursued the authentic flavor of English poetry. She also attended many poetry readings, which are popular activities among poetry lovers in the West. In pubs and bookstores, where the events usually take place, poets recite their pieces in unique styles. Liu once met a poet who energetically rapped his works, as well as one who recited in a melancholy style as if he was singing the blues. As for Liu, her style is natural and sincere. "The events give me a sense of community and intimacy," she said.

From Liu's dedication comes a poetry chapbook of her own. Selected as the winner of the Jubilat Poetry Prize, her works were published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2019, titled The Rye of Pondering.

After her book, Liu has kept on writing. For her, writing is a never-ending path and poetry is never a finished product. "As you live longer and think deeper, you can always make your poems richer and more accurate," she said. "I like to explore the musical characteristics of poetry and its connection with visual arts. Sometimes, images like camera shots pop into my mind first before I put them into poetry lines."

A piece titled Unnamed Poem in Mourning displays how she carefully crafts her phrases. Following her good friend's suicide, she couldn't help but think about death, and dark, cruel images kept coming into her head. So, she wrote, "Death. A piece of bad meat that the butcher threw into the trash. I am a stray dog. I approached it." Liu composed an over-1,000-word poem and called it "her strongest effort in extending into and grasping the cherished beings in her memory".

Work in progress

Seven years ago, poet Sirongyun appeared in public view with his work Young People, Please Bear With It, which struck a chord with the youth and spread quickly online. One year later, he published a poetry collection with the same title, and at the end of last year he brought out his second official book Cliff Rising After Meeting You.

The poet from Jiangsu province started to write poems when he was a kid and has dedicated himself to the craft for over 15 years. In past years, he worked as a property manager as well as a staff member at an internet startup and is now a freelancer engaging in photography and poetry-related work. For Sirongyun, now in his 30s, one thing that hasn't changed is writing poetry, which has accompanied him through days and nights of loneliness.

Poetry makes Sirongyun curious and look forward to the future. "I can't wait to see what kinds of poems I will create when I grow old," he said.

Earning his fame with a poem about youths' inner struggles, Sirongyun said he is now entering the next stage of his life, where he is more focused on looking outward.

He came to understand the relationship between poetry and our times. "Technology is changing the way authors create. Big data and automatic input methods offer us buzzwords of the era and high-frequency expressions of our own, so will you go with the flow? We all carry the same burden of what goes on in our world, but will you simply avoid referring to them in your works? Poetry records individual voices in a big era," he said.

Going through all these phases, Sirongyun has realized the things that matter to poets who commit themselves to long-standing creation — to constantly challenge and always stay true to themselves. His words of advice to young poets are clear. "Do not repeat yourself, whether in language or content. And try to find your own voice — the genuine things you want to put in your poems," he said.


Gehuaren has made a name for herself on social media for setting up a street stall, offering to write instant poems for pedestrians. CHINA DAILY

























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