Poetry is a wonderful light in life. Like art, it is an important companion and friend for a journey into the unknown. If you don’t read poetry, I dare say you have never loved in your life. Fortunately, those who participated for the first time in the 4th Shanghai International Poetry Festival’s open day at the West Bund Museum have promised to embark on a long-term love affair with the beautiful art form.
The museum on the Huangpu riverfront is showcasing a series of exhibitions in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou as part of the West Bund Art and Design fair. More than 100 leading galleries from Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America are showcasing the finest quality of modern and contemporary art in Shanghai.
“All art is interlinked at the highest level. The colors, lines, composition and imagination of art are equivalent to the vocabulary, image, rhetoric and artistic conception of poetry. Every poem is like a painting,” said famous Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esbar, better known for his pen name Adonis.
The Syrian scribe was in Shanghai last week at a reading event dedicated to him at the Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum.
The newly opened West Bund Museum provided the ideal venue to host the poetry festival’s opening ceremony, and 60 celebrated poets from more than 20 countries and regions in the world attended the Golden Magnolia poetry award ceremony to Chinese poet Zhai Yongming.
“Ms Zhai Yongming has created an amazing landscape for China’s new poetry with her remarkable independent, free-style and unbridled creation,” said Zhao Lihong, director of the judges’ committee of the Shanghai International Poetry Festival. “For decades, she has never stopped pursuing and creating her own poems, and has always been among the most iconic poets of our time.
“She takes a unique vision from a female standpoint, constantly asking questions, ready for change and innovation. She is a strong speaker for women in terms of equal rights, feminism and entrepreneurship — a diligent scribe who defines challenges of our time. Her works not only touch the moment of reality and the future, but also trace back to the origin of history and culture, showing great compassion.
“Her rich and varied poems show an unparalleled linguistic charm, which penetrates the body of the readers and extends many feet beyond it, providing a beautiful and profound model for contemporary Chinese writing.”
On behalf of the Shanghai International Poetry Festival, Adonis, the first Golden Magnolia poetry award winner in 2017, presented this year’s trophy and diploma to Zhai, who said she was doubly surprised for the arrangement.
“Chinese contemporary poetry has witnessed profound changes in China’s economic development and rapid modernization that began in the 1980s,” Zhai said, taking the Golden Magnolia award in hand. “Being from a generation who was born and living through the era, I am a participant, and hopefully, a small driving force in this long process of transformation and maturity.
“Winning the Golden Magnolia poetry award, so to speak, is the greatest harvest in my 40 years’ writing career. This is indeed an additional benefit and reward, which makes me deeply moved. I hope my next work will be worthy of this award and meet expectations from all of you.”
The 64-year-old poet hails from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and began publishing her poems in 1981.
Her first book “Women,” a total of 20 copies, was all written by hand. Zhai’s unique linguistic features from a female point-of-view shocked the Chinese literature circle.
In 1986, this poem series was published in a poetry magazine called “Youth Poetry Club,” which brought her to the attention of the literary fraternity for being one of the most intriguing and challenging contemporary Chinese feminist poets — giving not only voice to Chinese women but feminine sonic mysteriousness on the poetic landscape.
In 1998, Zhai quit her job as a physics institute engineer and opened a bar on Yulin Road W. Combining the functions of a bar and a bookstore, Zhai said she aimed to “do something that doesn’t require a task-based schedule, yet still could make a living by her own skills and hard work.”
Relocating to Chengdu’s historic street at 32 Narrow Alley in 2008, the bar, which she named White Night, has now become a notable gathering place for writers, poets, photographers, artists and designers from across the country. Among them are famous filmmaker Jia Zhangke, Chinese writer Ma Yuan and poets Han Dong, Yu Jian and Jie Chen.
Zhai hosts poetry readings, film screenings and other cultural activities in a world of her own — a culture center in Chengdu.
“The White Night (bar) has greatly opened my mind to daily mundane affairs, from those who haunted local alleyways to those high in royal favor, from the quiet domestic communities to the austere mountain recluse,” the poet said. “There isn’t anything that can’t get into the language of poetry. I can express my thoughts in any fillable forms or rhyming, be it poetic, musical or oblique.”
The prolific poet has scooped a multitude of honors, including the Zhongkun International Poetry Prize (one of China’s most prestigious literary awards), the Best Ten Women Poets of China Award, the Italian Ceppo Pistoia International Literary Prize and the Chinese Media Awards.
Among her many poetry collections are “Jing’an Village,” a sequence to her “Women,” and experimental works, such as “Above All the Rose,” “Collected Poems of Zhai Yongming” and “Fourteen Plain Songs.”
Her poetry has been translated into English, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and German. She has also published six collections of essays and literary criticism.
“Today we need more, not less, feminist awareness to describe our female situation. Therefore, I don’t mind being identified as a feminist poet,’” Zhai told Shanghai Daily. “I hope my female identity can be a distinguished feature of my ideas and thoughts, with more space for growth for better or worse.”
The opening ceremony also sees the launch of special issue of “Shanghai Literature,” featuring poems and prose works from 19 participating poets from home and abroad.
During the following four days, which ends on November 19, a series of poetry readings, forums and workshops will be held at the city’s universities, libraries, cultural centers, plus a joyful cross-cultural gathering of music and dance at the Gucun Long Museum of Modern Art, in suburban Baoshan District, to attract the youth and meet the artistic needs of Shanghai.