Archive for the Posts by poets Category


19 June

The old lady asked me about my crows after my reading: do they have any political meaning? I say no.

I mean yes.

How can I practise my politics if I don’t say no to her? Like a crow: how can it sing without breaking the silence?

I open the window of hotel room for . . . anything . . . something out of my knowledge. Can’t be expected. Ordinary as usual. Gone with perception. No value.

There is a black crow sitting on a roof. A heavy spot. A substantiality I can touch by staring at it. I have been touched by its shining black and breathless heaviness many times. I know it acknowldeges my touching by being still.

My teacher: it only sing when it can breaks silence. This is the art of timing. But also axe through air: the art of sounding space.

Crows don’t move at all when they aren’t moving. And I wrote: crows have no eyes.

Something many people don’t know: the crow is the sun itself. It has three legs. It is one of our gods from not that long ago.

But in my memories they were just a group of black birds flying above, singing to make everything quiet. Sometimes I heard their wings moving. That means it was really quiet: nothing happening around and me doing nothing as well: still life.

This is better than god.

When I was a little kid I knew only three kind of birds: crow, eagle and sparrow. And I was always sitting behind the window, staring and waiting for something.

Sometimes an eagle passed high above. I looked at it as today I look at a plane. It makes the whole world slow down.

Peace for the world: we need an eagle flying above.

Politics for the Netherlands: I heard there are no more Smart shops. And soon the coffee shops will say no to foreigners.

On the first evening of the festival a poet raised his hand on stage: Free Tibet!

Free the crow!

Or, how about this? Smart people, break the system!

Does that sound sharp enough? Shall we put it on a flag? A tattoo?

I don’t really need a Smart shop. It’s better to keep it far away from tourists. Sometimes headless people also make the right decisions. Just as idiots also need human rights.

© Yan Jun

The Ukrainian poet [Serhiy Zhadan] read a poem about mushrooms. I know it’s not about mushrooms. Nor about politics. The one from Kazakhstan [Bakhyt Kenzjejev] said he hates China as he hates Russia. I know it’s not about poetry, Chinese or Russian.

The Austrian one who lives in Berlin [Ann Cotten] told the audience that she and her friends became communists. This reminded me of Godard’s Film Socialism. He said: this is nothing to do with socialism.

Sixteen years ago a friend and I ran a music store called Crow. Something funny: the logo designer forgot to draw enough legs for it. It’s a one-legged crow!

12 June 2011: Forgetting

I forgot my toothbrush. But I brought two shavers: I knew I had forgotten something and
now I know what it is. But I didn’t know I had something extra that I didn’t need. But now
I know, and the strange feeling of knowing I had forgotten something has ended. Like a
watermelon with a heavy and sharp knife! Kaaaaaaa! With the beautiful sound I jump out
from the orbicular unknown. The sound is abstracted from the chaos: there was not even
darkness . . . what a sweet chaos . . . and now the watermelon has lost one of its possibilities.
You can never cut into it as a whole and make this heavenly sound again.

That’s what I feel myself now: I was thinking and checking a lot to make sure I had
everything in my luggage. Have you seen an electron? I felt like it: moving my mind from
one point to another. Moving my body from the bedroom to living room . . .

Ok, you haven’t seen an electron. Me neither.

Anyway, now I’m like a core of the atom. Let the electron run. I don’t care. I’m enjoying my
wine under the blue sky. And I have so many options for my dear teeth.

I watch the street: this is a colourful country.

A colourful man is passing by. His honey face, green t-shirt, blue pants and grey hat.
I realise that I forget something else: a hat! It’s cold, right? A different forgetting, right? A
mellow watermelon break itself with a faint aka . . . It looks sweeter.

Many Dutch people look strong, simple and healthy. Their skin is honey-coloured, as if
made up of ocean wind, sunshine and clean air . . . warm and beefy people. Can I say they
look delicious?

Man! What are you saying? There are some people who think the muscle guys on magazine
covers are good for cooking bouillon. Are you one of them?

Yes, I am. I’m sorry. I will never cook a human being. I promise.

I’m sorry about this dark mind that also escaped from the crack in the watermelon. I have
been a human for about 40 years and I think I have already forgotten it . . . What jetlag! It’s
pulling my leg. And my legs are still weak after 10 hours’ flight . . .

Was I a tiger? Or worse: am I a lizard man?

The two shavers: what should I do with them?
My hat: made of animal skin.
A watermelon: once I invited people to eat watermelon together with the rule that there was
to be no talking so we could listen to its last possibility: to be eaten.
A flight: from one half to another half of the globe.
Something happened on the way.

© Andrew F. Jones


© Yan Jun

I write a poem on my laptop. Leave it on the bed. Then go eat breakfast: go downstairs, past the cleaning lady, tiny yellow flowers and dandelions, grit and dust and garbage on the small path between two communities, wind on my face and the sunshine too, with dust and insects; of one of them ends its life in my right eye . . .

And the poem is continuously dragging me back: I haven’t finished it yet. I’m going out of its margin.

“Give me a frame before your stupid breakfast!” the world shouts to me, in the impolite sunshine.

I’m trying to describe. The margin of a day. In my diary.

Why not start from yesterday afternoon 4 pm and end it now? Who needs the stupid 24-hour-separated day? I’m not sure what happened at my last 4 pm. I guess something must have happened. But who needs to know?

Some moments of yesterday afternoon I was sitting in a taxi with three friends from Switzerland and Japan. The right hand of the driver  was moving up and down, genteelly, with its white glove, dirty, to the rhythm of the music: a waltz!

And a huge, soft, almost still American guy riding his petite electric bike just to the right of the taxi. A waltz for people who drink too much Coca Cola. A waltz for a silent taxi driver. And for four black T-shirt guys going to a noise concert. Oh glorious adenomas and final climaxes sound in the cowed cabin one after another . . .

Wait, sorry: this was in the afternoon of the day before yesterday.

So hard to frame anything.

But actually, I saw the same American guy from another taxi again, yesterday afternoon!

He might be a Swiss guy. Or German. But from the ocean of possibilities he rises up with an American reflection. A body framed immediately! A still body on a tiny moving electric bike: extracted from hundred of cars, bikes and everything in a city of noise.

Sure, I’m trying to cut my diary away from its margin. And I don’t know where that is. The way I’m trying to escape my poem that’s dragging me back.

After breakfast I go to a pet shop to buy food for my cat. My friends are still sleeping when I return. My laptop is still on the bed. I evoke the aftertaste of the concert last night: the sounds were so weak that they could barely be heard. So many sounds emerging with them from the environment.

Actually, one of my friends is already awake. He sits on the rocking chair with his laptop, entirely still. He did not exist when I opened the door of this still room.

And the room is no longer still.

Read more about Yan Jun on PIW.

May 23, 2011: Green

© Yan Jun

How about this: green on the dirty ground, green in the dusty air?
How about green within the murmur of noise from the power generator in front of the embassy?

I go to the embassy to try my luck. On the website they said you have to bring this and that. But I don’t quite have all the documents.

On the bus, I think: Oh! Again! Wrong! Why don’t I ride my bike? Finally I see it as a welcome-back message from my city after my 3 months of travelling: nobody can drive faster than a bike. You may know that all idiots in Beijing have bought a car. Last year, they sold one million of them in this city. So, what can I say? At least I’m not in a stupid car.

And I’m wearing green pants.

Green uniforms of the armed police, green juice from broken leaves of grass, green paint of a small wall . . . I feel like spring. It is early summer, but I prefer to think it’s spring because I am just back from nowhere.

A year has to start with spring.

And I have a CD with green sleeve on my table now: Kato Hideki and James Fei, Sieves. It looks like a small piece of grassland. But this grassland is not real. The real one is full of insects, dirt, cow droppings, and it’s far away from my table.

And as for the green: which is the real one?

In front of the embassy, where I sit with a girl whose selling unauthorised visa services, I am surrounded by green trees, green grass and green uniforms. I have to wait for 3 hours. There is no such thing as ‘green’ itself.

There is an Orange Carpet for diplomatic personnel. But in Chinese, literally, it’s the Green Channel.

But green grass never knows it’s green.

None of the idiots in Beijing ever know they are idiots. They are driving to the theatre, which is green, low-carbon and mother-earth friendly.

And I am sitting on a stone in front of the embassy. Looking like another idiot: do you also want to visit another shore? Have you seen this scene: all the doors of all the embassies are blocked by people who are going to another shore. They have no queue. Anxious. Busy for nothing. Like pollen molecules in Brownian motion.

And the armed policeman in green stands like a plant. And, like a plant, he has never been to another country.

James Fei lives on the campus of Mills College, Oakland. A lovely house, surrounded by beautiful trees and grasses. Real ones.

Read more about Yan Jun 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.