Archive for the Interviews Category

Rotterdam loves The Itinerant Poetry Library

After five days at the festival, The Itinerant Poetry Library (aka Sara Wingate Gray and her suitcase) now has a total of 113 Rotterdam members (aka Valued Patrons), putting Rotterdam in the number 2 TIPL membership spot, ahead of Leipzig (with 99 Valued Patrons). San Francisco is still beating us, but that’s a good reason for TIPL to return to Rotterdam next year. Vive la bibliothèque!

TIPL in the theatre foyer © Sarah Ream

PIW Japan editor Yasuhiro Yotsumoto at TIPL © Sarah Ream

TIPL © Sarah Ream

© Sarah Ream

The body of the poet

Les Murray © Michele Hutchison

During the translation symposium on Wednesday, when explaining her kooky notion of “translation as homeopathy”, Erín Moure said that language was in her cells, and poetry was in her body. Naturally, it got me thinking about the poet’s body. After all, what is the festival about if not to reveal to the audience the embodiment of the poetry? On the opening night the footlights came on and the poets came forward in a line from the darkness at the back of the stage. They moved forwards, bowed and climbed down from the stage to take up their places on the first row. It was a lovely moment. Here were the poet’s bodies, revealed.

Maarten Elzinga, Murray's translator © Michele Hutchison

They looked like poets. It was a comforting sight: young, old, tall, short, fat and thin, shabbily dressed, one in a straw hat. Dominant was the imposing bulk of Les Murray. Dressed in baggy black casuals, he moves slowly. I spot him wherever I go here, sidling crab-like down the theatre stairs. He wears a faded cap which he takes off to read and carries his transcripts in a white plastic bag. The embodiment of poetry, just how an elderly statesman of the genre should look. More fitting still is his voice, Australian but deep, dignified, gurgling, slurring, Churchillian. The Les Murray experience.

Les with his plastic bag © Michele Hutchison

Syrian poet Nazih Abou Afach was set to appear in last night’s programme but he’d had to cancel at the last minute. His translator, Asad Jaber, took his place on the stage. There was no photo of Afach in the programme but his translator looked Arabic, looked about the right age, could have been a poet. He was clearly bilingual, he read the originals with flourish and conviction. He was as good as a replica as you might find and since a translator can be considered a poet’s (sinister?) shadow self, perhaps the experience was authentic. But no, a niggling voice inside me wondered if it would have been more authentic if the translator had read his translations instead – his own channelling, his own physical reproduction of the poems.

Interview with The Itinerant Poetry Librarian

TIPL closing for the day in Romania, with a small VPL looking on! July 2010 © TIPL

PIW editor Sarah Ream interviews Sara Wingate Gray, aka The Itinerant Poetry Librarian.

What is The Itinerant Poetry Library?

The Itinerant Poetry Library (TIPL) is a non static, special collections public library of poetry. For free, for everyone, and for everywhere, or at least, everywhere we can get to. From May 2006 until September 2009 the library operated continuously and was, quite literally, carried by myself, The Itinerant Poetry Librarian, which involved hoicking the collection of physical books through 11 countries and 23 towns and cities, providing a free public poetry library service in each spot I got to.

Operating without the confines of a building of its own, but within parameters of typical library systems, including free membership for all, circulation procedures, library regulation and the overseeing of the library’s collection by a librarian in situ, the project fundamentally explores, and encourages users to explore, our perceptions of what a library might be. It’s part public library, part life-experiment and part live art, and by September 2009 The Itinerant Poetry Library had signed up over 1000 members, and collected and acquisitioned new poetry titles in each place the library had operated in, so the collection now has more than 12 languages represented and has been open in more than 200 locations worldwide.

For me, personally, the project is about facilitating people to examine and enrich their lives, their communities, their cultures, in the context of the wider world, by accessing both the library as a live art performance experience, and as a real public library experience – that is, joining the library and sitting down and reading one of the poetry items in the collection. The act of reading, and specifically the act of reading poetry, and even more specifically the act of reading poetry in translation or indeed reading any other of the library’s “lost & forgotten” poetry items facilitates this very process. And it’s this very process which enables us to grow as individuals, and to understand our shared future . . . Because, as the poet Louise Glück has written: “contact, of the most intimate sort, is what poetry can accomplish. Poems do not endure as objects but as presences. When you read anything worth remembering, you liberate a human voice; you release into the world again a companion spirit.”

TIPL lying on top of the grave of e.e. cummings, before opening the library in a Boston cemetery, September 2010 © TIPL

Running The Itinerant Poetry Library was a full-time occupation from 2006 through 2009, and as it provided little or no income (by virtue of the project’s ethos of free open access) this was sustainable only by performing radically new ways of living, such as eating out of the food-bins at the back of supermarkets, sleeping on stranger’s couches, and learning how to heft more than my own body weight in paper-based items (and all my meagre life-belongings) on my back, using public transport along the way to move me from one library location to the next. Since September 2009, the project has continued to operate on a part-time basis, as otherwise I would have wasted away and become too fragile to woman-handle the library around, and this has enabled me to spend more time reflecting on the undercurrents at play in my project, and specifically, to work towards uncovering a philosophy of the public library.

TIPL in her back garden during San Francisco operations, 2008 © TIPL

Fundamentally, my project is here to issue a clarion call, or, indeed, going back to the Doric Greek, a ‘paean’. Or if you’re not so much into that war stuff: a hymn to public libraries, in fact. Its modus operandi has been all about exploring ways of being, sustainable ways. Ways that address some of the core issues of our time: the limits of our world resources, the limits of a capitalist, market-driven, consumer-led philosophy. I think that poetry, and in particular, the public library have a very important part to play in helping us address these issues and that the public library philosophy, if it can be truly uncovered, will shine a light on how we should proceed.

This is an extract from an interview about The Itinerant Poetry Library. Read the full interview with Sara Wingate Gray, The Itinerant Poetry Librarian, on PIW.

Interview with Correen Dekker

Correen Dekker © Sarah Ream

Could you tell us about your role in the 42nd Poetry International Festival? What will be different about the festival this year compared to previous festivals?

As one of the two programmers, I am responsible for the content of the festival programme, but my role also involves thinking in broader terms about the form and structure of the festival and the type of events that we organise. Working in this context, it is fascinating to see the impressions of the public regarding the new scheduling of the festival events. This year, the frequency of events increases during the week of the festival, with the highest concentration at the weekend, including a large variety of programmes during the day. I think that we have reflected the festival theme in our events more than during previous festivals. The festival poets too, will be extremely busy this year: they have been actively involved in the planning of the events and be appearing multiple times during the festival.

I first began working at Poetry International as an intern. One of my responsibilities then was to organise a translation workshop for poets: they concentrated on translating the work of one festival poet into their own languages, and interpreted and discussed the meaning, syntax and metaphors, and unravelled a poem in detail. To translate poetry requires such an intense reading, and I definitely find that interesting. That is also the reason why we decided to launch the project ‘Met andere woorden’ (In other words) this year – to give an introduction to translation – and, indirectly, to reading poetry too – to large groups of Dutch people. And, for the first time, we have also organised a translation symposium, at which professional and aspiring translators can meet and exchange ideas.

Tell us a little more about the festival theme, Chaos and Order, and how it relates to your work.

The theme has seemed very relevant in the weeks preceding the festival, which are always chaotic in terms of work, and this year is no exception. I think that we all feel the tension of the unknown aspects of a new schedule; nobody knows exactly what to expect. However, the choice of theme this year stemmed from our interest in various forms of social engagement and our curiosity about how poetry reacts to these. I think it is impossible not to see chaos in newspaper reports and not to recognise various attempts to impose and find order, from events on the world stage to the frustration people feel in cities – places that are constantly ‘event-inducing’, so to speak, and are thus becoming more and more uninhabitable.

Which events, workshops or sessions are you are most looking forward to?

So many, for various reasons: Les Murray being interviewed by none other than Robert Hass is a unique event that I do not want to miss. But I am also looking forward to hearing more about the work of Eugène Savitzkaya, Øyvind Rimbereid and others. Furthermore, I am curious to see how panelists will reflect on the ways in which the Internet affects the development of poetry in the ‘This is me’ event. I personally think that the Internet provides many opportunities for the dissemination of great poetry, but, at the same time, I ask myself whether my impressions are one-sided because of the language barrier and whether there is more I am unintentionally missing. So I am keen to hear what the festival poets think about this.

Correen Dekker is a programmer for the Poetry International Festival.

Interview with Renske Brandhoff

Could you tell us about your role in the 42nd Poetry International Festival? What are the biggest challenges you will face before or during the festival? What are your favourite tasks, and your least favourite?

During my internship at Poetry International, I have helped organise educational projects, of which the biggest is a translation project called ‘Met andere woorden’ (In other words). For this project, people were able to sign up to translate poems by the festival poets at home or in school. During the festival, they will be able to meet the poet whose poems they translated. Since so many poets are coming to Rotterdam, this is quite a challenge to coordinate. Furthermore, I will be coordinating the different festival programmes that will take place in the foyer and in the garden of Café Floor, making sure there everyone turns up at the right place at the right time and that there are enough chairs to sit on and so on. It is definitely going to be a busy week, with so many different programmes in the foyer. It’s my very first festival, so I’m not quite sure yet how it will all work out but I’m really looking forward to it!

© Renske Brandhoff

Which events, workshops or sessions are you are most looking forward to?

The influence of the internet on our daily lives is still growing, and that is both making our world smaller and bigger at the same time. I’m looking forward to the ‘This is me’ event about how the digital world influences poets and their work and how they work with the internet themselves. That’s definitely going to be interesting. Also, many events are related to the city of Rotterdam, which I think is wonderful, and I would like to see some of those events as well.

What does this year’s theme Chaos and Order mean to you in terms of poetry, the festival and your work?

That’s a hard question. I grew up in a small place, so for me, working in Rotterdam automatically implies some sort of chaos, especially at the Poetry International office . . . The different festival events have made me realise that poetry embodies and examines many kinds of chaos or order. I really appreciate the fact that poetry can make you aware of these kinds of things and perhaps make you look at the world in a slightly different way.

Which poet or poets are you most looking forward to see at the festival?

Truong Tran, Øyvind Rimbereid, Daljit Nagra and Robert Hass.

Renske Brandhoff is a production intern at Poetry International.

Interview with Robin Myers

© Robin Myers

How do you normally begin a translation? Did you use the same approach in the translation of Eduardo Espina’s poetry?

I usually start rough: I don’t do a starkly literal translation per se, but I start with a certain literal-mindedness, trying to get as much of the ‘stuff’ of the poem on paper as possible without worrying too much about cohesion or grace. From there, I return both to the original and to my draft, looking at how the particular phrases and images happen in Spanish – what they do, how they move, what they’re made of – and then trying to find a way to get them to happen in English, too. In abstract terms, I begin a translation by letting the poem teach me how to read it. Nothing about my approach as such was different in translating Espina’s poetry. But even the ‘literal-mindedness’ of the beginning was much harder, much more painstaking, than it often is, so there were more holes in my rough drafts as a result, more fits and starts along the way.

As the translator of these poems, do you agree with Espina’s views of his work being untranslatable? How successful do you feel you were  in translating his poetry?

You know, when I translate, I worry a lot about the other questions (some more rhetorical than others) that I think are embedded in your first question, and in Espina’s description of his work as potentially untranslatable: Can a poem really be defined as untranslatable? If so, does that mean we shouldn’t attempt a translation? What are our responsibilities and limitations – surmountable or inevitable – when we translate? Which are attributable to the poet and which to the translator? Is anything translatable?

In any case, Espina’s poems daunted me more than anything else I’ve translated, and I completely agree with him that some of its most important components – its syntax, its atonal music, its overlapping and fragmentary images and tenses – can so easily be lost. I know I lost them sometimes. And when I did, I often knew I was losing them, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to find instead. Those are the times when I was unsuccessful as a translator: when I could tell I wasn’t fully doing justice to the original self-contained complexity because I couldn’t fully configure a new one. There were other times when this reconfiguration did, I hope, take place.

That said, and without letting myself off the hook for what I didn’t pull off, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that a poem isn’t a collection of elements to be recreated, and that this isn’t what translation is for. Successfully or unsuccessfully, you have to move away from the original syntax, vocabulary, etc., in order to move closer to a new one – and the new one will have, like the first, its own logic, its own restrictions, its own possibilities. Ultimately, the poem must stand on its own two feet. And then walk around, run, skip, swim, whatever. A translator friend of mine says it’s like a musician covering a song: you must honor what you’re playing (you’re not making stuff up), but you are not beholden to every single thing that made the original what it was, and, in fact, you must imbue it with other things. I don’t think I always got the hang of this with Espina’s poems, but it’s an ideal he made me work towards; and so to him, and to the poems themselves, I feel both apologetic and thankful!

How were you able to cope with the non-conventional syntax in Espina’s poems?

Espina’s poems – his entire poems, but also their syntax – often seem almost ‘coded’: bristling with images and phrases that can be hard to parse on the most literal level. Even the grammar can be unorthodox: Espina sometimes elides verbs and sentence structures, condensing an entire serious of actions or emotions into a sort of suggestion of what has happened. To translate them, I had to try to learn his shorthand – to examine the literal pieces hidden from view, understand them, and hide them away again, albeit by different means and in different guises, in English. In some cases, even if it was impossible to maintain, say, the particular music of a particular phrase, or a particular rhythmic pattern, I tried to understand the effect of this music or this rhythm in the original, and then tried to find a way in English to reembody the effect, to keep the wheel turning in English as it turns in the original Spanish without trying to reproduce every cog.

Also, the more I read Espina’s poems and grappled with his syntax, the more I felt that not only the level but the nature of their complexity was a very tricky business. Even at their densest and most abstract, his work feels extremely meticulous and his choices deliberate. So, it was both sobering and liberating to realize that part of ‘coping’ meant not only permitting ambiguities (because there are so many, and of so many kinds) but making them sound sure of themselves. A line that’s intentionally opaque in the original needs to stay opaque in translation – but that doesn’t mean it can be sloppy. It should be confident; it should encourage the reader to follow.

Could you give us an example of a line or an image that was particularly difficult to translate?

Here’s a passage from the poem ‘Que pase el que sigue’ (Next in Line, Please):

desde el principio supo a la perfección
cómo respirar despacio, acercarse a las ideas huidas al jardín
que por diciembre en la mente era otro mes aquel, respirando
de menos a esto, o al revés porque está bien que el viento vea
de vez en cuando, cierzo al que solo el olvido ha podido dividir.

And my attempt:

since the start she’d mastered perfectly
how to breathe slowly, approach the ideas that had fled to the garden,
which, around December, was another month in the mind, breathing
from less to this, or else the opposite, because it’s good the wind can see
once in a while, the wind that only oblivion has managed to divide.

Has Espina’s work given you new insights into contemporary Hispanic poetry?

I don’t think any single poet can really do this. I know reading Espina’s work has given me new insights about what makes it Espina’s work: that means, even unconsciously, a clearer sense of how he inhabits language, the kinds of ideas that matter to him, even the other writers and thinkers who have shaped his own writing and thinking. In this way, reading Espina (or any other writer) can expose us to ideas or patterns or concerns that are threaded through, in this case, contemporary Latin American poetry, but I wouldn’t ask or expect him to expressly speak on their behalf.

Robin Myers (USA, 1987) is a freelance translator and editor. Born in New York, she has spent the past several years between the USA, Mexico and Palestine. She was a 2009 Fellow of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), and she is working on a collection of her own poems.

Interview with Doina Ioanid

© Doina Ioanid

Your PIW biographer, Jan H. Mysjkin, writes that in your poems “autobiographical data are interspersed with surreal images”. How do you see the role of memory in your poems? Are there distinctions for you, poetically and personally, between imagined or embellished memories and ‘true’ memories?

Memory plays a major part in my poetry, but then again it plays a major part in all literature. Even ‘pure’ fiction draws on memory in order to structure an imaginary world. Memory stores data which the writer retrieves unawares whenever he/she needs to create a character or to describe a situation or to provide a background for them. In my case, memory feeds my poems, but in a way that transcends personal experience. In my poetry, memory data are processed and integrated into a poetic order that aims at understanding the particular from a wider perspective. Moreover, these data are passed through the filter of words and images, thus being reshaped into a concrete sensitive material that hopefully becomes relevant for the others as they read my poems.

Personally, I don’t believe in ‘true’ memories. All memories are emotionally or affectively marked, which doesn’t make them necessarily untrue. But what we remember is an emotional association of facts and images that sometimes distorts what is commonly called ‘objective reality’. There is no such thing. Reality is a matter of subjective perception, and as such it cannot be objectively defined. Paradoxically, poetic subjectivity reshuffles memorized experience, imbuing it with a sense of higher objectivity, the objectivity of poetic order. Surreal images are a natural product of poetic order, seizing points of convergence between random occurrences and interpreting them transcendentally.

Has your knowledge of French language and literature (and of other languages) influenced your own writing? If so, are you able to say in what ways?

Each language one learns opens a wider field of knowledge, not only to literature, but to the whole culture of the linguistic space in question. Consequently, influences are unavoidable, even though they sometimes go undetected. These influences, however, should be assimilated well enough not to transpire in one’s writing. I know I’ve been influenced by my knowledge of French and English, but I can’t put my finger on it and that is a good thing. The influences should stay subtle.  Let me give you an example: I was utterly unimpressed by Baudelaire in the Romanian translation, but when I read him in the original, something clicked. I started writing somehow differently.

How do you combine your life as a poet with your work as editor at The Cultural Observer? Are they distinct or intertwined?

My writing and my work as an editor are worlds apart. The only way they are related is that they both compete for my time.

Have you attended other poetry festivals as a guest reader? What have you most and least enjoyed about these experiences? Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to about the Rotterdam festival?

Over the years, I’ve attended several poetry festivals, both in Romania and abroad. What I enjoy most about the ones in Romania, apart from interacting with new readerships, is getting together with fellow poets I appreciate and don’t see very often. Reading abroad is a totally different experience of course, since my poems have to be transmuted into another language. It’s like putting on a new dress. At the Istanbul Poetry Festival, for instance, I liked the occasional unconventional setting – at one point, I read on a boat sailing the Bosporus. But most of all, I like the reactions of a responsive audience. And that’s what I’m looking forward to in Rotterdam.

Read more about Doina Ioanid on PIW.

Read some of the poems from Doina Ioanid’s latest collection translated into English and published by Singapore literary magazine Asymptote.

Interview with Erín Moure

You’re from Calgary, but you’ve adopted Montréal as your home – what is it about the city that appeals to you as a poet?

© Erín Moure

What interests me is the mixture of languages here, that French is the public language but other languages traverse it. My childhood and education were spent in the English language only, with a bit of the western Ukrainian village language (a kind of Ukrainian and Polish co-existence) in the background. I thrive in the teeming rush of multiple languages that is Montréal.

As well as English, you speak and translate from Galician, Spanish, French and Portuguese. How did you come to learn these languages?

French is a Canadian language and we all learn a bit of it in school. I learned it more completely when I moved to Montreal 27 years ago. In 1998 I started to learn Galician because it is a small language, and small languages to survive must admit new speakers. I wanted to join that language and exist in it too. Galician, galego, is close to Portuguese by its roots and close to Spanish by the history of colonization of the periphery by the centre in Spain. So I can read in Portuguese, and taught myself to read in Spanish too, more slowly.

Your festival biographer, Melissa Jacques, writes that all these languages inform your work in English. Do you see your writing being affected in different ways by each different languages? Do you feel your knowledge of other languages influences your writing in terms of syntax, vocabulary, subject matter or form – or all of these (and more)?

All of these, and more, yes! It’s that I think in English, French and Galician, in all three of these languages, I dream in them, I write and read in them every day (and most days in Spanish, and Portuguese . . . I at least read them, or hear them spoken around me in Montréal). Because of the differing structures of the languages and the differing relationships between words and in the multiple meanings within any single word in any language, I think differently, different thoughts are made possible in each different language. And because I translate, I can translate them back into English. Even though translation as equivalence is impossible, translation as valence (i.e. relative capacity to unite or react or interact) is possible. And I like writing and being in Montreal, where my friends are multilingual and we talk in all our languages. Without always having to translate ourselves.

Of the poems from your festival selection, you write: “[they are] purporting to be translations by Elisa Sampedrín – who doesn’t exist – and who translates from a language she does not even know: simply because she sees the poems and wants to read them, and can’t, in their original language.” I’m interested in the distancing effect created – you write, then, as another writer, who is writing poems based on other poems written in another language. Is this a metaphor for the writing of your original poetry in general? Do you see all poetry as a form of translation?

It could be such a metaphor, except that it is euphoric not metaphoric . . . the transport is rooted in the sight and taste of a language, of textuality, whether or not one knows the language, and is provoked by the search of the eye over the curve of letters to “make sense”, to increase and deepen the eye’s relation with the text itself. Our eyes caress the surface of text, and we urgently need to know. This is Elisa Sampedrín’s dilemma.

As for me, Je suis un autre. Rimbaud said that. Thus: I am always another writer . . .

Can one be a translator without speaking a second language?

There is a sense in which every reading of a text by an individual is ALWAYS a translation, because it is read through an individual body, a body impossible to replicate in terms of its cells and experiences and the ways that experience have affected its neurons and neural maps and capacities. We always already speak a second language: we call it our mother tongue. Our first language is silence, the silence before speaking, and we retain this language in our body, in our ability to feel fear, or arousal upon presentation of something or someone in our visual or tactile field. And in our ability to engage with flowers and trees and smells and the taste of coffee on the tongue, or papaya, or our lover’s shoulder.

So, yes. it is impossible to be a translator without a second language, but we all already have at least two languages. We need to learn to access our language of birth all over, for our mother tongue can shut it down . . . knowing a third and fourth language helps us know how to access that first one. Which is, in another sense, never a first one. There is always language that precedes us.

When writing these pieces, did you first envisage (or perhaps actually depart from) the original poems that Elisa was translating?

With the eyes of Elisa (who is a Galician me with a different history, who disturbs my bodily relation with text), I caressed the text and read it as if it were a strangeness in Galician . . . my mother was dying at that time, and I could not write, and I could scarcely see, and this caress of the surface of Stănescu’s texts was all I was capable of. Quickly, other texts emerged, from non understanding and non knowing, from not writing and not translating . . . and these are Elisa’s translations. She translates because she can read in the general sense, even though she cannot read Romanian. She needs urgently to put the strange language into her mouth, so as to alter the course of time (as our body knows time in the mouth, in the cells of the mouth, and in the non-seeing cells of the retina) . . .

It’s sort of like the filmmaker Werner Herzog walking from Munich to Paris in the fall of 1974 to keep his dying friend, the film historian Lotte Eisner, alive . . . he must go see her before she dies (in Of Walking In Ice) and he knows if he prolongs the trip by walking, she will stay alive longer. Writing, and translation, reverse or slow time.

What are the parallels in the way you approach the writing of an original poem and the translation of an existing poem?

Simply that in both cases (and I might add that there are many many ways of translating, from ways that seem very normative to ways that seem to extend that normativity in shocking ways), I respond to language with all my cells. I answer language’s insistence with language. I try to listen to what the language and poem bid me to do, in, through and alongside texts that have flared up before me or in me. Writing is a response to language, it’s not just an act performed upon it by a subject separate from it.

Read more about Erín Moure on PIW.

Interview with Yan Jun

Most of the poems in your festival selection have dates as their title. What is the appeal of the diary poem for you? How autobiographical are these poems?

Once I thought: oh, I’m not a great poet and maybe I can’t be a great one in my life. I felt happy, as though I had been liberated from something. These diary poems are something I write for myself.

Yan Jun © Qiao Qiao

I enjoy the process of writing as I enjoy all the quiet but energetic moments I have in this mediocre life. Sometimes my writing is autobiographical, but mostly it’s autobiographical in terms of my daily perceptions.

To what extent is your work influenced by classical Chinese poetry? And who are your contemporary influences? To what extent do you see yourself as a Chinese poet?

Sometimes people see me as a Chinese poet, or musician. But I can’t see anything special in the mirror. I’ve almost forgotten all of the few classical Chinese poems I have read. And I haven’t read much contemporary poetry for years either. I’m trying to be a contemporary person. I guess ancient Chinese poets also enjoyed being in their time.

Does a reader of your poetry need to have knowledge of Chinese literary and cultural allusions to fully appreciate your work?

No, not at all. Every poet has his or her secrets, whether personal or cultural. It’s fine if we keep them. A reader is not a lawyer. But I agree that a translator has to know as much as possible. Maybe I’m wrong, but I learn from reading, rather than needing knowledge to read.

You mention on your own blog,, that “writing poetry is a political act in itself”. Do you think this is even more true for poets writing in a country with censorship? (If a Dutch poet writes a poem, for instance, is that as political an act as a Chinese poet writing a poem?)

I don’t think there is any difference. Censorship is everywhere: mentally. Everybody knows censorship in China is terrible. But how? And why? And what should we do with it? Play the role of a hero and lead people to a Hollywood movie? I don’t think this is politics. When I say politics is something beyond black and white, I realise that there is a strong censorship in the West in that nobody would dare to doubt this movie. And as you know, both Dutch poets and Chinese poets eat McDonald’s sometimes.

You are a musician as well as a poet – did music or poetry come first for you? Could you tell us a bit about your musical background and training?

I started to write poems in middle school. After university I started to write music reviews. About 7 years ago I started to make music without any skill of it. I don’t read music and I don’t play instruments in a ‘musical’ way. And I don’t deal with tones or rhythms. My first instrument was a MD recorder and a small microphone. All my training is in listening to noises and following them. My electronics and computer skills are both very basic.

How does your music influence your poetry, and how does your poetry influence your music?

Ten years ago, I wrote and read poems in an intensive way and full of groove. They sounded like free jazz and I read very loudly. Just like a rock critic  which I was. Now I don’t work on rock music any more. Both my music and poetry have changed. I don’t know how they influence each other but I believe they all come from me and build myself. My eye and ear changed and my works followed.

Will you be playing any music at the Poetry International Festival?

I guess not. Reading is musical enough. But I will work with WORM artists to perform an experimental sound piece based on my poem. I will read and play some sound in this project.

Read more about Yan Jun on PIW.