from Issue #8: Poetry by Lu Ye, translated by Ouyang Yu

Photo (CC) reurinkjan @ Flickr

Photo (CC) reurinkjan @ Flickr

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The Girl Students’ Dormitory

In fact, a girl students’ dormitory is equivalent
To a boudoir in ancient times
If they study in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature
It’s more like a Xiaoxiang Guan or Hengwu Garden

The clothes and skirts, out to dry, are full of youth
Coaxed as much as nourished by the sun
In the shade of the locust tree downstairs there always stands a boy
Looking lost, like Jia Baoyu or Zhang Junrui
The window, with a wind bell hanging, is upheld by the pious eye
Like the pagoda in the sacred revolutionary place
The last stop to love, like
An outpost position

Like debts, there is a heap of pen-notes to make on the desk
That darkens the good days with shadows
Desk holes stuffed with lipstick bought with meal savings
Pittance of tax paid to beauty
Print bed sheets spread with large acres of fresh flowers
In which serendipity hides, like bees
The stockings, over the bed rails, are lazy, ostentatiously coquettish
A dress with sad colours is in abnormal menstruation
A cloth doll is more stunning than her owner
The little speckles on its face have an antique feel
A diary, secretively, is harbouring amorous thoughts underneath the pillow
A red plum branch sticking out of its hardcover
And there is an envelope, just sealed, that looks as solemn
As a carefully furnished room

Like those who love beauty more than landscape
They love chocolate more than shape
Whenever they read they crack spicy melon seeds
Faster and more accurate than their reading
And they are ready to crack open their bodies
The way they crack the seeds
When they have too many instant noodles they smell of soap
Their shelf-life, like love, is no longer than six months
And the wildest love is no more than
Suffering migraines whose side-products are
Poetry and prose, of the whimpering and whinging kind

When time, as chewy as chewing gum, is not consumed
Something else must happen, something else must be extracted
From the rose that is youth
In the most critical moment
It would be best to fall ill, as ill as Xi Shi
For love, like revolution in nature
Wins where the linkage is at its weakest
Bodywise and heartwise

Here, everyone plays the leading role herself
In the film that is life
And treats the attentions of a boy as the Oscar
God has awarded her

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The Nunnery

Life, like this nunnery
Has days that are no different from one another
It ends even before it is lived
The flowers outside open and fall, and fall and open
The trees behind the house green and yellow, and yellow and green
Even a small grass flashes her fashion
But I, the colour of blue brick and grey tile
Deteriorate and go moldy because of the long imprisonment of the aroma in
…………..my bone marrow

Locked inside a tiny niche
I, illegally, sleep with desire and morality, swallowing each others’ innards
The drum and evening bell execute days and nights
The beautiful holidays, that have breathed their last, resemble the roses,
…………..uprooted in the spring
Never believing in resurrection
The classics look like a coffin shop, as calculating as a mouth organ,
…………..punched everywhere with holes
Its thickness just enough to trip the lightest steps

I live but I have parted company with life
My character more desolate than the embroidered cliff
My body more serious than the dead branches
My expression no better than a slate of bluestone, where no moss gathers
And, in the hollow of my arms that reflects the fields
One feels the non-existence of air

However, a jug, sometimes empty and sometimes full, somehow shows
A face many years ago
Its smile, framed with fire, like a secret code that erases its traces from the
…………..dusty world
Flickers in the water
The mute wooden fish is sorrowing
And, looking for the recovery of knocked time, intends to swim away

Look, the yeast of dream needs little
To swell the heart
An idea, like an incandescent bulb, rushes from quietude
To quietude, like screaming rats, an ominous sound bouncing back from the
…………..southern wall

How I admire the bunch of plum flowers by the window, born in the
…………..morning and dying at dusk
Its soul as tender as a white handkerchief
I do not know what love is; I have not written honeyed words
But I shall keep a post-life letter
And my will one day break the sky, as hidden as an illegitimate child

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Making a Coffin

People were busy making a coffin
Death was fresh
With a clear fragrance of wood chips and shavings
My grandfather, just dead, lay inside the house
He, I believe, must have heard
The sawing of the wood and the hammering of the nails outside

At the same time when I felt
That there was a large white flower opening, quietly, in the air

The sunlight everywhere, seemingly generous enough
I was walking in the courtyard
I, was, still, alive,
My viscera intact
Desiring to seek pleasure, for love alone

The makers of the coffin, I was hoping, should reduce the noise to a
minimum
As I did not want the person inside the house to hear this
Unlucky noise
He might have got upset
Perhaps he was only assuming that he was taking a nap
And would wake up in a little while
When he would push the window open and raise his head
Towards the sky in order to observe the direction of the wind

There was a large white flower
Opening, quietly, in the air

I was wondering what
To be placed inside the coffin
A tape-recorder with a tape of Lü Opera
An asthma gas spray, a cloth tiger
A woolen hat and a set of dentures
There were just so many to put in
I didn’t want to include the person

The large white flower in the air
Was becoming larger, and lighter

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ABOUT THE POET AND TRANSLATOR

LU YE is a Chinese poet born in December 1969. She has published a number of poetry collections, such as feng shenglai jiu meiyou jia (Wind is Born Homeless), xin shi yijia fengche (Heart is a Windmill) and wode zixu zhi zhen wuyou zhi xiang (My Non-existent Home Town). She has also published 5 novels, including xingfu shi you de (There was Happiness) and xiawu dudianzhong (Five in the Afternoon). She has won a number of poetry awards, including People’s Literature Award in 2011. She now teaches at Jinan University, China.

Since his arrival in Australia in 1991, OUYANG YU has published 73 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism in both English and Chinese. His latest novel in Chinese is Taojin Di (Land of Gold Diggers), published by Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House in 2014 and his latest novel in English is Diary of a Naked Official, published by Transit Lounge in 2014. His latest translation into Chinese is The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, published by Nanjing University Press in 2014. He is now professor of English at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.

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from Issue #6: Poetry by Ouyang Yu

Photo (CC) Sam Sherratt @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Sam Sherratt @ Flickr

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Perhaps

Perhaps it’s all wrong
Perhaps one should have stayed poor and enjoyed it more
Perhaps one should never have been born to live the multiply lived lives that
…………are essentially the same the world over
Perhaps one should have been born with an ambition to become a top-
…………grossing international movie or a zero-adding movable asset
Perhaps it’s all wrong
Perhaps one should remain a never-ending cigarette that burns its time till it
…………turns into time-honoured ashes as long as life
Perhaps poetry should not have been allowed to exist; instead, poets should
…………have been set free to become birds or insects or some as yet to be
…………discovered creeping creatures
Perhaps the earth should suicide-bomb, leaving words as radioactive waves
…………for light years to decipher
Perhaps it’s all wrong
Perhaps nothing ought to be judged along the faultlines of good or evil or
…………good or bad or good or better
Perhaps one is a bin, once unleashed into the universe, is but a self-
…………proliferating bin tumbling into fragments of being doing in its undoing
Perhaps love is evil spelt backwards wrongly, good is gag, and life should
…………never have been lived for that single purpose of making money or else
…………why, I mean, one could have simply swapped one’s life for that of
…………being a piece of gold, waiting to be dug, like Australia
Perhaps it’s all wrong, after all

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Planning

Not to write short fiction, spending time on things that may interest others,
but not self

Not to write drama

Not to write mere fiction that demonstrates to the world that one is merely
alive, from a few years of death to another few years of death

But to follow the wandering heart wherever poetry takes it and to bend over
the bow in the shape of mind designed to let loose a skyful of stars

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Death

I think that’s quite nice a way of dying
Suffering so much senile dementia
One doesn’t even know where one is till one is gone

She said this in her 3rd or 5th-I don’t remember which-floor
Apartment where one could gaze past trees and rooftops
At the corner of what looks slightly like the Opera House

Followed by my own remark that it’s more preferable
To die like the Polish poet who dreamt into death
In bed, found dead the next day, and better still

If everything financial is organized pre-death
She agreed and started talking about the significance
Of facial features, such as the deep valley between

My brows that cuts my way to success
A thing, according to her, one can’t go without
Or else one’s life is pure death

It so happens that today I’ve received a magazine
Carrying a poem among many with a line that says
Something to this effect: Why have there never been successful birds?

Many live, only to die
Many live a death of life
And many live, successfully, but no one remembers them, it seems

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Binru

…………………….Translated from the Chinese by the author

Some people are sure to be completely forgotten by history
Not written into any books
Or local chronicles
Not mentioned online or offline
Such as Dad
Even I have almost forgotten him
But for the fact that the hazy Shanghai
Is not so hazy today
And that my footsteps back from the vegetable market
Are not so hurried
The sun, even if it is in China
Even if it is in early November
Still has the power, at its end time
Of stripping one off his jacket
The man, a poet who never wrote a poem
The man, who called everything names behind a closed door at home
Was amicable enough as soon as he went outdoors
At peace with the world, and who managed to get his three sons
To go to college within the same year
Two of them becoming foreign citizens
Within twenty years
The other one, Oh, the other one
Has since become a symbol of something hopelessly spiritual
Dad had a single first name before liberation: Cheng
And, after liberation, he was categorized as a ‘Historical Counter-
revolutionary’
When he changed his name to Binyu
Yu for Zhou Yu, a piece of beautiful jade
Mom called him, in a strange local dialect
Binru

(Zhou Yu, 175–210, courtesy name Gongjin, was a military general and strategist serving under the warlord Sun Ce in the late Eastern Han Dynasty.)

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Old Zuo

……………………Translated from the Chinese by the author

It’s a bit hard to write about Old Zuo
Some called her Big Sister Zuo
Some called her Mother Zuo
Some called her Aunty Zuo
And most of them would call her Old Zuo
Old Zuo smoked
Old Zuo didn’t cook and she preferred to eat at the canteen
Steamed bun and congee for breakfast, lettuce for lunch and a soup of turnip and
vegetables for dinner
When her sons came back on Sundays
Old Zuo would get up early and buy pork ribs and lotus-roots
To stew a pot of soup with them over a slow fire
Two of her sons she left in someone else’s care
The other one was away most of the times and went overseas later
Old Zuo loved smoking and she had many male friends and colleagues
She worked at the Third Front
She worked in the mountains
She was a good ping-pong player in her youth
Old Zuo wasn’t choosy about things she ate
But she was most particular about manners
Not allowing us to make noise while chewing food
Not allowing the tips of our chopsticks to be stained with a single grain of rice
when picking the dishes
And not allowing us not to hold our rice bowls steady at the dining table
Old Zuo was a stickler for cleanliness
She peeled whatever she ate
Including sesames
According to her daughter-in-law, married to her third son
Old Zuo was not happy in her old age
Suffering from senile dementia
To the degree that she did not recognize him when her oldest son came back from
Australia
Old Zuo now sleeps a calm sleep under the ground
Old Zuo is Mom
By the name of Zuo Zhen
A name not findable online
Right across the world

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ABOUT THE POET

Since his arrival in Australia in 1991, Ouyang Yu has published 73 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism in both English and Chinese. His latest novel in Chinese is Taojin Di (Land of Gold Diggers), published by Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House in 2014 and his latest novel in English is Diary of a Naked Official, published by Transit Lounge in 2014. His latest translation into Chinese is The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, published by Nanjing University Press in 2014. He is now professor of English at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.

Contrappasso, Issue #6 – launching in September 2014

Cover image "DSC02603" (CC) Vincent Lou @ Flickr, altered from original

Cover image “DSC02603” (CC) Vincent Lou @ Flickr, altered from original

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New Issue. New Authors. Contrappasso 6 is launching soon! This issue explores still more possibilities in international writing, bringing together work from nine countries in four languages, by more than twenty authors who are appearing in the journal for the first time.

Their work leads from snowy streets in Montana to packed train stations in Tokyo, from Hong Kong horse races to Sicilian passion-plays, from the Coal River Valley to Manila shopping malls, and from an iron lung to The Raft of the Medusa.

This issue features interviews with Australian poet Judith Beveridge, veteran American crime writer Lawrence Block and Filipino novelist Jose Dalisay. It presents new fiction by Japanese novelist Mitsuyo Kakuta (translated by Aoi Matsushima), Chilean Álvaro Bisama (translated by Megan McDowell) and from the USA, Jon A. Jackson and R. Zamora Linmark. The poets are Elizabeth Smither, Iain Britton and Stephen Oliver (New Zealand), Flora Delalande (France), Penny Florence (UK), Ouyang Yu (China/Australia) and Richard James Allen, Stuart Barnes, Jamie Grant, Siobhan Hodge, Frank Russo and Les Wicks (Australia).

Watch this website to sample the work this all-new ensemble of writers. They travel far.

The Editors

 

 

from Issue #4: Poetry by Hong Ying 虹影 translated by Mabel Lee 陈顺妍

Photo (CC) Laiwan Ng @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Laiwan Ng @ Flickr

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Home of darkness  /  黑暗的家

I see low stairs
Stretch out under his feet….a brain planning travel
And skeletons poking out everywhere
Thinking to regret is easier than not making a mistake
He takes out a piece of paper

A piece of very crumpled paper
He of course has passed through many cities
Stirred the hearts of many women
….I hear steamboats on the Yangtze

Blasts of whistles fill the air…..rejecting the deceit
Or maybe colluding with him to end
This part of history

Being faithful is harder than loving…..what I have to say
Must cut through the misty Yangtze
Until after these trees turn to red

I am an artist in depravity
And have not known good luck for a long time
Ultimately he will engrave my face with his dagger

Before swallowing the piece of paper…..moreover—

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Plan to write someone’s biography  /  准备为一个人写传

Didn’t think he was this ready to act. Had I known
I wouldn’t be standing in the rain clutching an umbrella
The rain is heavy, because he is coming towards me
His face shrouded in a special

Calm. If the rain stops now
I’ll lower my head
Crouch down, and let the bottom of his coat
Brush the top of my head. The roses he is holding
Will instantly transform into scattered islands

I’m certain once he’s in the white car
It will cross the warning line
And like a tongue, wrap around the corner light post
Swallowing it. He will make me lose my umbrella
Lose my scarf, and shiver with excitement    it’s true, it’s true

He’s just a bit braver than me in going ahead. The white car
And all around it is heavy with blood
Making all the lines of my palms jump wildly. He and I
What went wrong? This is just the incomplete first chapter

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Dreaming of Beijing  /  梦北京

It is all rotting cabbages
That can drown every one of my dreams
A hedgehog carefully makes its way across
The vanishing city wall
And sees us sisters hugging and weeping

Our lungs
Are always wrapping around men’s lies and sex organs
I turn
Confront my mother to her face
She walks away alone
We sisters will open our beautiful mouths before we die
And spit out one man after another

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Train / 火车

I have raised my head from the sea more than once to watch how the train runs
over my body
At night in dream, it continues to rumble along
Taking away people I know
But thinking about it now, why are they unfamiliar?
I am submerged in the sea
A sea deeper than a city that vanished long ago
But a fish prefers being here
She says in February, the wind whinnies like a horse
She says in May, the horse is like brocade cushions and silk
But none is hers

The passengers wearing masks that are modern and trendy
Mix with festival revellers, taking away my suffering
But not leaving me any joy
I am alone in the sea
Sinking, persist in sinking
I hear fish whisper: go ashore, why worry about being caught
I suddenly remember, I’ve been dead for many years
And my skull has gradually turned blue

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The black and white of eyes  /  眼睛的黑白

A chastity belt the crowd hangs on a tree…..adds weight to it
Light as a bundle of nerves, it is heavy like a demon staff
Under the tree I repeat a dance step, then a look of the eye
You and I unluckily entered an episode of a novel
Flowing water never fouls, and green mountains stay green
That’s one way of putting it
Another way of putting it is
Good or evil in our hearts is linked to the food we eat
And not the equivalent of our memories

I sent the cat to look for any trace of you
But there was no news all summer
When the cat’s paws were etched with your name
It said, no, no
Her eyes brimming with tears
Also one summer, I wrote in a book what the cat had said
Who wins or loses? Like a stinking fish
A cruel white, colonizes the eyes of those in the crowd
I lost because I buried myself under the tree

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I am also called Salammbo  /  我也叫萨朗波

Nobody remembers me, but it doesn’t matter
No sign of the carriage that left long ago
And the whiplashes also stopped hurting long ago
Loving someone
Turns into a dream
A greater void than having no dreams

I am dead
And know nothing
Beauty ends like that, and the times end like that
On the sea today no birds can be seen
Give me a glass of red wine
And give me an apple
Salammbo is just a name

None of you is good-hearted
You look at clouds, forgetting how to look at them
How geometric shapes fold
How a person is made to vanish
I remember him coming to me
And saying, look at my eyes

They were full of lust, full of sad songs
He closed his eyes
And they were icy cold
But when my lips touched them they burned like fire
Yes indeed, now he is a good person

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ABOUT THE POET AND TRANSLATOR

Hong Ying 虹影 (b. 1962 Chongqing, China) began her writing career as a poet during the early 1980s in China. After relocating to London in 1990 she continued to publish poetry as well as short-story collections and novels in rapid succession. To date she has written twelve novels in Chinese, some of which have been published in many languages and made into TV series or films. She is best known in the English-speaking world for her novels Summer of Betrayal, Daughter of the River and K: The Art of Love. Her autobiographical novel Daughter of the River has been translated into thirty languages, and K: The Art of Love won the Premio Letterario Rome award in 2005. Her four poetry collections include Quick, Run Eclipse (1999) and I am also called Salammbo (2013). Hong Ying now lives in Beijing and Italy.

Mabel Lee 陈顺 PhD FAHA (b. 1939, Warialda NSW, Australia) is adjunct professor at the University of Sydney, after serving on the academic staff for 34 years. From the early 1980s until 2000, she was assistant editor of the Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia (JOSA) and co-editor of the University of Sydney East Asian Series. Her translations include three titles by Yang Lian, winner of the Flaiano International Poetry Prize in 1999: Masks and Crocodile (1990), The Dead in Exile (1990) and Yi (2002); and five titles by 2000 Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian: Soul Mountain (2000), One Man’s Bible (2002), Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather (2004), The Case for Literature (2006) and Aesthetics and Creation (2012). She began publishing translations of Hong Ying’s poetry in 1999, and thirty new poems will be included in Hong Ying, Zhai Yongming and Yang Lian (forthcoming 2013).