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xi translator’s foreword Andrea Lingenfelter Zhai Yongming’s poetry first came to me around 1990 in a manila envelope , bundled with poems by a handful of other writers. The other poems in the group didn’t leave a deep impression on me, but Zhai Yongming’s poems (“Premonition,” “Longing,” and “Abandoned House,” all from her 1984 sequence, “Woman”) were a revelation. The only post-Mao poetry by a woman that I’d seen at that point was Shu Ting’s. Moody, full of hurt, and tender, Shu Ting’s work challenged the relentlessly extroverted political boosterism of Socialist Realism; and yet the poet’s persona fit neatly into a traditional feminine mold: the long-suffering, melancholy victim of Fate. But when I read Zhai Yongming, I was struck by the acuity of her perceptions and the intensity of her voice. Zhai’s persona projected anger and self-assertion, as if she were reclaiming for herself something that had long been denied to her and other women. She closed the original version of “Abandoned House” with this declaration: “I am a woman.” I translated the three poems I had, one of which was soon published in the Chicago Review, but I had no other information on Zhai and few ideas, in the pre-Internet age, of how to find out more. Then I read Michelle Yeh’s Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (1994) and was delighted to find Zhai’s work included. I learned that she lived in Chengdu, Sichuan, and through a friend I obtained a copy of one her books, which became a primary source for a chapter of my dissertation. Michael Day’s pioneering work was also helpful. From the very outset, I knew I wanted to translate a book-length collection of Zhai’s work, but until I could contact her and meet her, it would be hard to proceed. The opportunity to meet Zhai Yongming arrived in the early spring of 2006, when she came to the US for a conference. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and she readily granted me permission to translate her work. The next step was to find a publisher, and another friend and fellow translator introduced me to Christopher Mattison at Zephyr Press, who responded enthusiastically to the sample poems I showed him. The book you are holding in your hands was on its way. Changing Room(fintxt).indd 11 9/21/11 12:22 PM xii * * * Zhai Yongming was born to a military family in Chengdu, Sichuan in 1955 and began publishing poetry in 1981. In the 1970s, she spent time in the countryside as a sent-down youth, a formative experience that is a powerful presence in her early work, in sequences such as “Woman” and “Tranquil Village” (1985). Even now, decades on, the experience has lost little of its immediacy for her. She has also written about the trials of coming of age under Maoism in the essay, “Helpless Youth” (forthcoming in English from Renditions). Although a contemporary of the Misty Poets, she is generally thought of as a member of the Newborn Generation, the Misty Poets ’ successors. Zhai Yongming has also been categorized as a “stream of consciousness” poet by Michelle Yeh.1 Like others in this group, she drew inspiration from the American confessional poets, especially Sylvia Plath. Plath’s early influence is palpable, particularly in the groundbreaking 20poem sequence “Woman,” in which Zhai forcefully articulates women’s subjective physical and social experiences of life. While Zhai Yongming’s poems from the 1980s owed much to Anglophone Confessional poets, even then Zhai’s voice was unmistakably her own. With imagery dominated by night, darkness, blood, sex, and death, those early poems also directly engaged traditional Chinese cultural paradigms. Zhai’s recasting of Chinese yin and yang cosmology along feminist lines was a dominant thread in a body of work that was otherwise intensely personal and contemporary. Over time, she has continued to go back to China’s literary and historical past, using it as a source of inspiration, as a counterpoint to modern experience, and as part of an ongoing dialogue with patriarchal Confucian historiography. These lines from “Premonition” illustrate her reframing of yin and yang: Enormous birds peer down at me from the sky With human eyes 1 Along with Lu Yimin 陆忆敏 (b. 1962), Zhang Zhen 张真 (b. 1961), Yi Lei 伊蕾 (b. 1951), Tang Yaping 唐亚平 (b. 1962), Wang Xiaoni 王小妮 (b. 1955), Liu Manliu 刘漫流 (b. 1962), Meng Lang 孟浪 (b. 1961), Bei Ling 贝岭 (b. 1959...


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