Poetry as Insurgent Art

I had wanted to do two posts this week, but time constraints leave me combining them into one.  Spring is finally here!  Yeah I know it’s May, but the flowers didn’t start blooming until last week as you may have seen in my pictures from the previous post.  As a result, campus is amazingly fragrant and I love it.  It’s like the whole city’s putting on perfume.  As a result, I went over to Harbin Medical University, which backs onto my apartment and is often where I go to walk after a counseling shift, to take pictures.  This was my first time going through it during the day, and I have to say I love it.  They have the most nature I’ve seen on any college campus in Harbin, and perhaps the most unadulturated nature I’ve seen in any campus in China.  Trees, bushes, real dirt paths, it gave me a sense that he groundskeepers actually respect nature and don’t feel the need to twist it to the students’ ends or dumb it down to make it more accessible.  I missed the peak bloom season by a smaaaaall bit, but still got some nice pics, hope you enjoy.  Their campus has some cool architecture too.  And swings!

Speaking of spring, one accomplishment that I forgot to mention last week was I survived winter in Harbin!  It was less cold than normal, but it was a part of the Fulbright experience I was a bit worried about, and ended up not being all too bad!  I kind of miss snow-capped Harbin already, at least when the air is good.

Speaking of which, the other highlight from the week was going to a poetry reading at the opera house courtesy of my friend’s professor.  It featured a lot of poems about Harbin, one of which focused on snow, one on the importance of trains in Harbin’s history, and one that used the motif “I collect” over and over again.  That was the one line that actually stuck with me, “I collect bullets, so that one day they might disappear from the earth, just like the dinosaurs.”

After that they had a Dutch Sinologist speak on poetry for a while, and damn is his Chinese good.  The details of his talk escape me for the moment, but I will share some of my takeaways from the event as a whole if you’d like to hear.

“When a poem is read aloud, it no longer solely belongs to the author, but to the reader as well.”  This was a another of my favorite quotes from the night, and I think it’s quite accurate.  It ties into another thing that was said, that people today allegedly only care about writing poetry if they can get it published, if they can get some sort of benefit from it.  Taking the above sentence as fact though, I feel like you can’t do that.  Writing poetry purely for profit just ain’t gonna work out I feel, and while whatever you write will always be partly yours, it will never wholly be, and to intentionally profit from something that is not wholly yours just feels a bit wrong.  No everyone really got it though, as there were a lot of people in the audience, who invariably were studying to be announcers, that asked, “how do you write good poetry?”  As a very amateur, very personal writer, I feel poetry has to be natural and come from the self, and if other people end up liking it and allowing you to make it your career, then good for you.  But aiming for that without a backup plan or realistic expectations, or trying to crank out good poetry according to a formula, ain’t gonna end well I feel.  That said, it ain’t gonna end well without passion either so it’s a rare breed that can do poetry professionally.

I’ll share some quotes from “Poetry as Insurgent Art” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, cofounder of City Lights Books in San Francisco.  Love this little book, and again an amazing Christmas present that just feels good for the soul to read.

On topic with the above, “Think long thoughts in short sentences.”  The poetry reading was all modern poetry, so of course the debate between modern and classical came up a bit.  In Chinese, as in English I feel, going modern gives you more freedom with the language, you get more tools to work with, get to show off a bit more if possible.  With classical on the other hand, one character has a huge amount of meaning, and fits in with this quote.

Also, “Remember that, ‘The night, a few stars,’ has more poetic force than a whole catalog of the heavens.”

“If you would be a poet, don’t think that quirks of thought are poetry.”  This is me, I do this.  Oh well.  Speaking of which, writing and reading about poetry is no good if you don’t actually read poetry.  So I should do more of that.

“Don’t cater to the Middle Mind of America nor to consumer society.  Be a poet, not a huckster.”  See above, poetry for profit’s no good.

And lastly, “Poetry is the underwear of the soul.”

Seriously, this books is full of amazing quotes of such a caliber, I could go on forever, but I’ll stop here.  I have to say though, I had a moment at the reading too.  I want to thank all of you out there who have supported and helped me learn Chinese.  To be able to experience such an intimate event, yes it was intimate despite the backing track and overproduction that accompanies a lot of Chinese poetry reading and kind of kills the mood, in another language was one of those “wow” moments.  So thanks y’all.

Two funny pictures, one of a spoon that I assume once said “I ❤ Hello or Hello Kitty,” and now is just, “I ❤ Hell”.  Hehehe.  Also someone said these dividers look like Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama, and now I can’t unsee it.

And here’s some pictures from my own campus and two from a while ago that only now got uploaded.  Thatnks for reading through my musings, sorry I don’t have more interesting news.  Take care!

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