Saturday, 12 December 2009


Days 16-18
Wed-Fri 18-20 Nov


With the evening comes translation and Chinese calligraphy, usually embodied in the person of Wang Jun who hurtles into the writing with force that uplifts me from my glooms. He also brings alcohol, snacks, and humour.

The poems are made from fragments of poetry, and textworks, disparate idea streams crossing East and West and crossing time too. Each pair of separate fragments fits together to germ an idea. Juxtaposition like this is called parataxis - common in Japanese haiku, and in contemporary Western text art too, tho unrecognised as a literary manoeuvre. (Think of Jenny Holzer’s famous neon ‘Protect me from what I want’ installed in Times Square, in which the text is one half of a proposition and the neon adverts of Times Square itself the other half. I once asked Holzer whether she might consider herself a poet and she dodged the issue – Weiner flatly refutes it.)

We argue the ideas across language, Deng Chuan, Wang Jun and myself, with Yan Yan as the voice of reason refereeing (and often providing the most elegant translation ideas). It’s easy to lose the poem in all of this and I feel it slide from my understanding. Perhaps it should be elude me, like the Yangtze, after all it is shaping to be a poem about absence and the missing. In it, the figure of Hai Zi becomes more and more foregrounded: he is a Chinese poet who committed suicide 20 years ago and has become a postmortem celebrity. He is a fogged face for the word pictures we are making in English and Chinese.

My pieces are about separation, apart-ness, they are measurements of human distance. This shared loneliness is of course the human condition, we are divided by our own skins – and yet crave contact. I find pieces of text that can riff this theme, using translation to crowbar the gap wider. I scoop material from Pound (I like the idea of retranslating his translations back to Chinese) Olson, Sophie Calle, Holzer, Beckett, HD, Fiona Banner, Yves Klein and others - people who might be said in several senses to write images. I try on a new title, a quote from Yves Klein – My Paintings are Invisible.

English originals are processed by me, then translated into four Chinese characters by my collaborators and then written out by them onto the tracing paper sheets. Each helper transmutes the text doubly thru language, first translating, then rewriting. My four-character rule breaks the common usage, which more often pairs characters - a general ‘radical’ and a specific. Because I only allow four Chinese characters and four English words or part-words, the radicals have to be dropped, which cracks open some new possibilities in the perfection of the Chinese tradition. As for myself, I start to find myself thinking in unfamiliar new categories, which are second nature to everyone else in the room:

Xing shu – personal handwriting, a strong, fast torrent
Song ti – script for officialese
Zhuan shu – ancient script, closer to hieroglyphics than contemporary Chinese and with a female undercurrent
Ni shu – writing that is painting, a soft riverfall
Shui mo – water/ink combinations
Wen zi – written communication
Han zi – single character

Han zu – nation, derived from period of unity when China became a whole
Han Chao – dynasty
Han ren – Han people/nationality)

The above are massacred regularly in my pronunciation. I offer mental apologies to my patient Mandarin teacher Zhu Xun after these discussions.

I work til gone midnight, sometimes one or two in the morning. It seems I’m simultaneously cramming for an exam, composing a poem and learning how to make lettering by hand on a far bigger scale than ever before. The technicalities are blinding me to the poem itself and I know I need a new course, but can’t guess what it is.

When I get back to the flat I dry some washing, put some more into the basin and pummel it.

Reading this back now, my ideas sound over-complicated, full of holes – and smart arsed, when the experience of loneliness is simply raw. I’m swimming thru doubts again and it’s late again.

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