Oyster Boy Review 19  
  Fall 2010
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» Levee 67


Writing, A Timeless Relief

Zheng Danyi


To me and to those who know me, Wings of Summer is inconceivable as a book. It's much like an anthology, a personal anthology of smaller collections, each with a life of its own. These smaller volumes appeared at different times and locations over the past 15 years. They each have a name of their own, a body of their own, independent from each other, representing my craftsmanship at a given time, as well as a chapter of my life. Originally, they were not printed for the reading public. They were grown, like potatoes, greens and flowers in the garden. I picked them, harvested them, and delivered them by mail, by hand, or by following friends to wherever they go . . . That was my distribution system. And my products were not so much books, but handicrafts (printed, made, or perhaps built).

You decided to put what you considered your best poems into a thin volume. Sometimes ten poems, or twenty-five . . . sometimes ten copies, twenty-five copies, or a hundred . . . But there were times when, after making a single copy, you suddenly gave up and shelved the project. It's a familiar story. Many poets have had such a single-copy volume. Some of us have even developed a private passion for these aborted projects. They are collected and valued. Memories begin and grow with them as time goes by.

In each life, we demand something from the world and from ourselves (for example, formal perfection). To some of us, there is nothing more perfect than transforming life to poetry. Looking back on the writing of my generation, or on waves of literary movements, we see numerous printers working at high speed, in different corners of the country, producing single-copy collections of poetry. That was our tradition of the 1980s, our rite of passage.

I fell in love with that tradition. It gave us something, something to chew on—some source of energy that sustained us—poetry, our inner homeland. A homeland we built through language. Through language, we discovered that valuable heritage—the perfect meeting of soul and artistry. Outside the homeland is reality, where a poet is always in exile. A foreign land, not home.

In our mind, homeland is not a birthright. It has to be found in language and built with language. It is not a geographical location; it is a product.


Now, let me remember. First, events, events resembling public spaces. But where shall I put them, these familiar yet strange occurrences? In the vessel of language, private matters can be magnified to public dimensions, and someone else's business might eventually become your own. That magnifying glass, planted in language, is perhaps what we call "conscience." Conscience, even a three-minute one, can create a whole era, shared by all, or belonging to just one. Conscience appears through events. It takes place in or away from your homeland.

But my experiences were not even events. They were merely fragments of my daydream. Magnified by an oversensitive imagination, these fragments became a violent succession of "events of the heart." How shall I put it—I was mostly an observer, a limited participant, a partial victim of these events.

Through pessimism and a continual abandonment of reality, I maintain a level of self-sufficiency and absoluteness. The core of my inner life is a tranquil self, silent, solitary. It's my private source of comfort; it manages my fanatic vocabulary and keeps it in order; it collects bits and pieces of my daydream, makes writing possible and sustains it. My relation with literary movements is also an internal one. To my tranquil self, the world at large is full of suspicion. My associations in life are limited to a few friends. Few enough to not to make a movement. Being alone is good for introspection. A lonely heart accumulates energy until it becomes an arrow on the bow, aiming, in secret, at a place called: faraway.

But the shadows of tranquility breed imagination. It grows, secretly and rapidly, like a plant that has just found the right soil. It branches out untamed, expanding with the urgent speed of language, filling, taking over my not-so-stable frame of reason. It sucks up energy from each minute of everyday life, making me anxious, impatient, torturing me with a nameless despair. It demands from me a different life, a life stretching upward and infinitely outward, resisting, pulling up my loneliness by its root . . . This inner conflict forms the basis of my tragic take on everyday life. I am caught between two extremes, looking for a balance. For a long time, a similar pattern duplicated itself in my external existence: an endless cycle of departures, runaways, and coming back. My living quarters took after an underground ammunition factory: day and night, verbal cannons and rockets were produced, and the railway was my launching pad. Each danger alert had to be diffused by a long journey. Without an overnight train trip, without taking the poems and the body that produced them to ears faraway, I would have become my own victim. Imagination depends on loneliness but tires of its musty smell. Like two opposite ends of my mind, they rely on each other. Where I stand between them determines my outward action. I interfere with these two ends, negotiate with them, make compromises, then tear up the contract.

In 1985, the tranquil part of me found for itself a dwelling place—a lonely spot in the country, on a beautiful college campus. There, the fervent, imaginative part of myself also found a legitimate reason for itself, a reason to depart and to return. For the imagination, the physical body is a burden, a burden often rationalized by the motto—life must live in reality.

I also have a motto—life never lives in reality. The only reality is writing, not life.

Events cut time into fragments, and memory into incoherent words and phrases.

Incoherent as they are, words and phrases are my quickest way to get in touch with the past and to enter language. Words grow from words. They patch the fragments of time into more or less integral episodes, then go on to explore the crevices between the episodes. Language, indeed, language is the ultimate destination. While fingering the remnants of my daydream, or pressing down the irrepressible imaginative passion, my hands are demanding a different perpetuation—in language, a time and space not temporal but infinite; whereas to survive is easy. It only requires the perpetuation of the body.

In language, the role of reason is to guard the ones that may run away anytime, to protect the roots and branches of imagination, to listen to their words, their desires, and to establish an order among words. Words test the future like the tip of our foot. Words acquire meaning when they can perpetuate from within. And reason guides the direction of this internal growth, from perpetuation to extension, to expansion, to perfection. Perfection, in my mind, is order.

Perpetuate, in accordance with your external perpetuation, Reason says to itself.

When imagination becomes strong enough, when it breaks into its own kingdom where it obeys no one but itself, the miracle of language begins, and poetic passion is born. It's a heroic passion, a passion that reason has to deal with through language. As reason captures those burning words one by one, external events are transformed, one by one, into the internal. Thus, order is achieved through writing. And through writing, the poet escapes from the foreign land, by way of a powerful (or at least, accurate, precise) means of expression.

Whoever loses speech will be homeless; whoever expresses will find a homeland, now and here.

Translated by Luo Hui