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Manoa 15.1 (2003) 27-36
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Three Interviews on Contemporary Poetry in Taiwan
Arthur Sze and Michelle Yeh
During the past five decades, Taiwan has evolved dramatically, from a little-known island into a nation-state with twenty-three million people and one of the largest economies in the world. Some of the best modern Chinese poetry comes from Taiwan, and the evolution of modern Taiwanese poetry is the story of how the periphery has transformed itself into the frontier—an open, cosmopolitan zone where experimental leaps are possible and boundaries easily crossed to create a poetry "in the wild." Michelle Yeh and I interviewed three major poets—Yang Mu, Ya Xian, and Luo Fu—to provide varied perspectives on the context and state of poetry in Taiwan. Each poet offers different insights, and through their differing perspectives and thoughtful and cogent responses, readers will gain a better understanding of a complex situation. In each interview, Michelle Yeh presented the questions we drafted.—A.S.
Wang Ching-hsien, who writes as Yang Mu, was born in Hualian on the east coast of Taiwan in 1940. After majoring in English at Christian Tung-hal University, he earned a master's degree from the University of Iowa and a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Washington in Seattle and has served as the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at National Dong Hwa University. He has published thirteen books of poetry, and his poems are available in English in No Trace of the Gardener: Poems of Yang Mu, translated by Lawrence R. Smith and Michelle Yeh (Yale University Press,1998). The following interview was conducted by telephone with Yang Mu in Taipei, on 14 July 2002.—A.S.
MY I'd like to start with a few thoughts and questions that relate to a general overview.The history of Taiwan is complex: exploited first by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, then colonized by the Dutch and Spanish, [End Page 27] annexed as a province of China during the Ch'ing dynasty, ceded to Japan in 1895 after the Sino-Japanese War, and retroceded to China at the end of World War ii.I wonder how this history has made modern poetry in Taiwan unique and complex?
YM The poetry of Taiwan is bound to be different from poetry in mainland China.Not only does Taiwan have the memory of European colonialization, but Japan, a country with a fine culture, has exerted an influence also.Though in earlier times Taiwanese poets were not as concerned with aboriginal culture, they had some contact with it and had a degree of understanding and appreciation.That has had an impact on Taiwan's poetry too. In contrast to post-1949 mainland China, where politics has dominated poetry for decades, Taiwan has developed a strong poetic tradition.
MY For many years, you have gone back and forth between Taiwan and the United States.You currently teach at the University of Washington and have just completed your term as dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan.In terms of your own work, is it possible to think of Taiwan and the United States as forming a poetic axis?What effect has this back-and-forth motion had on your poetry?
YM I don't see any direct relationship between where I live and how I express myself artistically.In general, geographical location has little impact on me, since for many years I have not written about that kind of external reality.Any response I have to external reality takes a long time tosediment, so to speak, before I can write about it.Of course, living in different countries gives you a different perspective, psychologically and intellectually, and I think it plays a positive role in my writing. When I do write about locations, they tend to be smaller countries, such as Chechnya...