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vii Introduction Wang Ping It can be hard to be a woman, but it’s even harder to be a Chinese woman poet who has survived drastically different eras in Chinese modern history : the Cultural Revolution, “educated youth” in the countryside, post Cultural Revolution, Misty School (Menglongshi), New York City diaspora, and China’s current economic reform and boom. Zhai Yongming has lived through all these historical eras, and her poetry vibrates with an energy born out of the tumult. My first encounter with Zhai Yongming’s poems came when I was studying at Beijing University in the early 1980s. At that time, Beijing University was launching waves of heated debates on freedom of speech in relation to the “Democracy Wall” in Beijing, and the “Star” salon launched China’s contemporary art movement. Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Yang Lian, Jiang He, Mang Ke and Yan Li (also a Star member), started Jintian (Today) poetry magazine in the late ’70s, which pushed Chinese poetry into a new movement with its “misty” or “obscure” imagery and new voices. After Jintian was banned in 1980, their poems spread even more quickly among college students and poetry lovers. Zhai’s poems were perhaps the most representative of this school: dark, heavy, collage-like imagery that reflected the influence of French Imagism. But what made Zhai’s poetry really stand out was the fluidity and persistence through the complex maze of her interior world—a world filled with darkness, water, moon, mystery, courage and a will to live with dignity, grace, and beauty. In 1989, Allen Ginsberg brought a group of poets to New York for the first Chinese-American Poetry Festival. When he recruited me as a translator and interpreter for the event, I was excited about the opportunity to translate the works of Bei Dao, Yang Lian, Gu Cheng, and especially Zhai Yongming, but for some reason her name wasn’t on the program list. Only Shu Ting was there to represent all women poets from China. Changing Room(fintxt).indd 7 9/21/11 12:22 PM viii Soon after this event I started my own translation project: New Generation : Poetry from China Today, an anthology of contemporary Chinese poets . I originally planned on including the earliest Misty School poets, but met with great difficulties for a number of reasons, so I instead began with the Post-misty school writers, also known as the New Generation or Third Generation. Zhai Yongming was my first choice. I paired her with Anne Waldman, a poet and performer from the so-called New York School. If Zhai Yongming represented the yin—feminine, moon, water, then Ann Waldman would be the yang—fire, sun . . . Though I had never met Zhai, I sensed the power lurking between and within her words, and Anne, a true Leo, could amplify this energy while her own yin side was released through translating Zhai’s work. I made a first draft, sent it to Anne, then met with Anne in New York to work out the details. It was invariably a hot and humid summer afternoon. Perhaps Zhai’s mystical images and fluid sounds were simply too complex to be conveyed into English. Anne was completely frustrated throughout the session, and it took several rounds of follow-up emails before we finally reached a version that began to satisfy us both. I finally met Zhai in 1993 in Chengdu, on my way to Lhasa with poet Lewis Warsh. Her beauty and grace were truly shocking, but what struck me the most was the power that graced her face and body, the spirit that sprang from her eyes. Lewis had an instant crush on her, and didn’t stop talking about her for the entire trip all the way back to New York. She was very quiet, listening with a smile as her friends, the other poets from Chengdu (Ouyang Jianghe, Xiaoxiao, Wan Xia) chattered and argued loudly over spicy Sichuan hotpot. When she did speak, everyone stopped and listened . Her words were few, but precise and layered with many aftertastes, just like her poetry. This encounter confirmed every impression I had gathered from reading her poetry. Zhai Yongming later moved to New York City with her husband, the painter He Duoling. We were able to meet and talk at quite a few gatherings at Yihang events—a poetry journal founded by Yan Li. She was even Changing Room(fintxt).indd 8 9/21/11 12:22 PM ix quieter at these...


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