Posts tagged music

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.