Chinese poet defies classicism

Duo Duo read from his book of poetry, ‘The Boy Who Captures Wasps’ on Thursday, Oct. 28. (Abby Hocking / Photo Assistant)

By Julia Corbett
Correspondent

According to Chinese poet Duo Duo, a divine force dictates a poet’s actions and decisions.

Duo Duo, a well-known contemporary Chinese poets, read poems from his book “The Boy Who Captures Wasps” at the College on Thursday, Oct. 28, in the Social Sciences building.

Duo Duo insisted on having the English version of his poetry read first, reading the poems in Chinese afterward. Professor Michael Robertson read the poetry in English.

Selections included “Night,” “The Sun,” “Wishful Thinking is the Master of Reality,” “Farewell,” “Language is Made in the Kitchen,” “The Rivers of Amsterdam,” “Never Being a Dreamer” and “The Patient.” These poems were written in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The Boy Who Captures Wasps” won the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Duo Duo is the first Chinese writer to receive this recognition.

“Writing poetry is not about whether it’s fun or interesting. I do it to keep a particular inspiring moment to write,” Duo Duo said.

As a child growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Duo Duo, born Li Shizheng, began writing poetry in 1973, when he was 18 years old.

He said he is inspired by contemporary poets instead of classical Chinese poets. His poetry is meant to break away from the classics and reinvent poetry.

“As children we had to read all classical Chinese poetry before age of 20,” he said. “These poets (contemporary poets) now want to reinvent and take a new position.”

His contemporary poetry related to the Cultural Revolution. The first time he traveled to the West, he wrote “The Rivers of Amsterdam.” This poem is about the various new places that he saw, such as Spain and England.

During an open discussion after the readings, several students wanted to know Duo Duo’s favorite poem and his favorite place to write. Duo Duo refused to answer these questions.

Duo Duo said that a poet is powerless. He has no control over his moods or desires. An inspiring moment requires discipline and training.

Yibing Huang, a poet and professor at Connecticut College and Duo Duo’s friend, travel companion and translator, met Duo Duo at a reading in the 1980s. In 1997, Ming was studying in Beijing as a University of California, Los Angeles graduate student and was formally introduced to the poet through a mutual friend. The two spent three days and nights talking.

“I liked his poetry because his portrait is so different from the others. Duo Duo is the first (of his kind) and I consider him the best,” Huang said.