Poems Are the Mark of the Everyday: Xiang Yang at the Fourth Sing Chu Literature Lecture (Part 2)
By Quek See Ling
In 1985, at the age of 30, Xiang Yang participated in the “International Writing Program” at the University of Iowa, entering the second major phase of his creative life. During his travels, he thought constantly about the distinctive characteristics of Taiwanese poetry, as well as how he could contribute to world literature. He decided to draw on the 24 Solar Terms in his 1986 book Four Seasons, thoroughly expressing the distinctive qualities of Taiwan. In 2005, he published the collection Chaos, which represented a shift into the third phase of his creative career, no longer insisting on the linguistic “purity” of composing in Mandarin or Taiwanese Hokkien, but using the everyday creole language of postcolonial Taiwan instead, presenting social realities of Taiwan post martial law, in an attempt to engage with the disorder in Taiwanese society.
Making excellent use of video and music, there was hardly a dull moment in Xiang Yang’s lecture. He also recited a number of his poems, and when he read from “Tongue-Tying Poem”, the humorous verses and the blend of Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien imbued the reading with such force that it had everyone in stitches.
In the dialogue segment, Prof Tan Chee Lay explained that he began reading the poetry of Xiang Yang in the 1990s during his university days, and still looks up to him reverently. He then presented Xiang Yang with a calligraphic work featuring the Taiwanese poet’s “Jingzhe”, and referred to a fourth space in addition to time, space, and the human world – the space between the lines. When asked which of the these spaces was the most difficult to tackle, Xiang Yang responded that it was the human world, because it contains the greatest suffering, and is too full of emotions and perils – good literature “engages with the human world at its deepest level”.
Passing it On: Sing Chu Student Poetry Competition
In conjunction with this year’s lecture, Chou Sing Chu Foundation organised the inaugural Sing Chu Student Poetry Competition. The theme of the competition was based on the lecture, and it was hoped that students would “use their imagination to compose poems that capture their insights about the everyday, expressing the philosophical dimensions of the intersection between time, space, and the human world”. Through the competition, the Foundation aimed to encourage these young literary talents to continue in their creative writing, keeping the fire burning for Singaporean literature. In his comments to the students, Xiang Yang encouraged them to create their own language and style, such that they could light the way for others.
At the end of her speech, Ms Ruth Cao, Executive Director of Chou Sing Chu Foundation, stated: “Mr Chou Sing Chu is the founder of World Book Company, which is the predecessor to Popular Holdings. As such, Chou Sing Chu Foundation’s work is entangled with the book industry, bookstores, and literature. We work tirelessly to create a beautiful cultural landscape. As Xiang Yang has written, the years will prove that entanglements are time’s most beautiful name.” We look forward to further chapters in the Sing Chu Literature Lectures series, as we continue to bring the unique charm of each writer out from the page and onto the stage.
(Translated by Daryl Li)