China - UK Poetry Dialogue: A Look Back...
The moon's light shines on us all...
The moon shone high in the night sky as our English language poets and Chinese poets and musicians gathered together at the University Arms pub in Sheffield for this one-of-a-kind evening event. Delivered on the evening of the 9th of September, we tasked four Chinese poets and four English language poets to write in poetic dialogue with each other and the process went like this:
- First, the Chinese poets wrote a poem inspired by the Mid-Autumn Festival.
- Then CI Teacher Li Jia and CI staff, Olivia Hodson-Barnes and Matthew Byrne worked together, with the translations provided by the Chinese poets, to create English translations of the original Chinese poems.
- Finally, the English language poets produced a poem response, inspired by the prompt of the translated Chinese poem.
These poet partnerships went along with Chinese music performances, delivered by Mingwei Guo (singing the famous song, 'Jiangnan') and Yingchen Guan and Lingxi Zang, who delivered beautiful guzheng performances. Event attendees also enjoyed a gift in the form of mooncakes, given by the CI staff, a warm reminder of home for the Chinese and a wonderful taste of Chinese culture for non-Chinese.
We are delighted to share these performances with you in this article, together with photos of the event. A special thank you goes to the wonderful members of the CSSA (Chinese Students and Scholars Association), who aided us in finding the Chinese poets and promoting the event.
The following videos and photos are delivered as they were in the order of the event. The poem videos will contain the poems written in Chinese, translated to English and then the poetic response in English. We hope you enjoy!
YingChen Guan - Guzheng Performance - When will the moon be bright again (明月几时有）and Spring morning (雪山春晓）
Matthew Byrne and Jiongsheng Hu
- Jiongsheng Hu
依旧 贲育卸甲吴钩锈 秋霜染尘青袍皱
又闻杜宇啼芍药 残钩 残钩
Mid-autumn Night rain to Jiangnan
- Jiongsheng Hu
The wind is so light, it cannot disperse the heavy rain,
this dream is so light; it is hard to avoid strong wine.
I asked God why this was so,
and he answered that the truth is always the same.
I was once the bravest of warriors, but now I have shed my armour, my sword is rusty,
my temples are as white as autumn frost, my once straight robes, now wrinkled.
I used to play the flute for so long,
that blood flowed down it.
Now, all that plays is a single, endless note.
How could the ever-victorious general Chen and I,
learn from the ever-losing general Li?
I held the emperor’s tiger talisman to guard the Dragon City -
the blood of warriors nourished the desert, grew strange trees,
a battlefield of old soldiers fought until their hair greyed.
This was painful enough, but then Du Yu called from the peony bush:
‘O waning moon, o waning moon,’
the tall buildings hook the waning moon,
the waning moon hooks the autumn.
Now, the autumn rain only penetrates autumn clothes,
under the umbrella, her shoulders are thin, autumn is on her mind.
The moon holds up the shadow of the clouds,
the curtain of flowers falling from the sky grows thinner,
the guqin plays sadder than before,
my tears on the strings harshen the sound.
- Matthew Byrne
The window sweats in the shower room,
the night is black liquor.
Droplets flint against the basin, that crackles
like a bonfire. The door is locked.
The common song of the showerhead
is the language of falling water,
within it, great men and low men,
the flight path of flies – the glint of steel
from the dragon gate, meld
beneath the shimmering.
Water is a portal – an autumn dress,
slick to the skin, drips with Beijing rain,
the child grasps his ghost by the hands
as he washes them for supper -
understood by all, taken for granted by all,
forgotten by all. Take a handful,
let it fall – the sound of lives
clattering on the floor.
Xiaozhi Yang and Michael Burton
- Xiaozhi Yang
Good Things Are Near – Mid-Autumn Festival
- Xiaozhi Yang
You and I are far apart,
but enjoy the same moon in this moment.
The colour of autumn dyes the water and mountains.
In this drinking cup, and in your eyes,
three bright moons shine around us.
Chang’e,* the soul of the sweet-scented osmanthus,
is looking at earth from the moon.
All things here are her guests, she says –
It is a joyous festival, in this human world.
*嫦娥 - the Lady in the Moon
- Michael Burton
One moon, yes, true
but two rude skies stand between us
no matter how inseparable we’d be, were it otherwise.
I see yours through my phone screen
The white wisping Beijing autumn clouds
You lean to the side to see mine, ask me again how often
the sun shines in Manchester? Indeed, does it ever?
In a few hours time, your night arrives and we
celebrate this day, this festival of the pain
it takes to drive us back together.
Mingwei Guo - Chinese song performance - Jiangnan (江南)
Qixuan Gao and Abigail Weathers (read by Ophelié Baudoin)
- Qixuan Gao
- Qixuan Gao
The moon rises like white jade,
from a pitch-black sky.
In these clouds, undulating like a tide,
I see the reflection of green pines, of home.
The moon is always so full and bright,
this time of year - as people change.
My lover is like Chang'e* in the Guanghan Palace*,
I can't wait to meet her, in a dream -
a garden of Eden, flush with osmanthus. *
Never say the red beans* are bitter to taste,
our love is even stronger than the branches of Lian and Li.*
*The Moon god in China who never gets old
*Where Chang'e lives
*The flower that Chang'e planted on the Moon
*Symbol of acacia
*Trees whose branches join together
But some little certainty whispers in,
smelling of moon-flowers and sweet wine
shifting through changeless shadows, and the brooding hare
marks how truth, serpentine, splits into being
and being, and how—though ageless—it wanes
as dreams do
beyond the low, honeying light of lanterns,
ground down into fine grey sand.
Wenjun Zhu and Karl Riordan
- Wenjun Zhu
Five Laws – Mid-Autumn Festival
- Wenjun Zhu
The moon is high above the sky,
a few ravens tell of Autumn.
Dew wets the sycamores,
the mayflies' *dream breaks at sunset.
I am thinking of Su Shi* as I drink.
I look, towards the buildings,
over the sea to the east, and I sing.
What comfort is there for the lonely
in a foreign country? I have so many words,
but it all ends in silence.
*Chinese poet in the Song dynasty, famous for his mid-autumn poem
蜉蝣(Mayfly, Chinese believe this insect only live for one day, indicates tiny creature that live vivid and burn their life for a short time.)
- Karl Riordan
You strike a blue-capped safety match
in our dark dorm room.
The sulphurous flame makes you look old
as if about to go on, stage left
in the make-up of the villain,
teeth stained by tannins of cheap Malbec.
It burns down to the cuticle.
We’d snuck up to the gate on a tricycle
the full moon of headlight, tick of engine,
as we whispered and counted out coins
into the calloused palm of our driver -
a rosary swayed in the neon lit cab
Salamat Po *– Shush.
My birthday has just tipped up and over
There’s a feeling the Welsh call hiraeth.*
I toss five pesos,
slap to back of hand and ponder.
The tang of currency on my fingers,
Aguinaldo’s bust gazing into space,
what’s left, is a kind of silence.
Over the sea to the east someone sings.
*Hiraeth is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. The University of Wales, Lampeter, likens it to a homesickness tinged with grief and sadness over the lost or departed, especially in the context of Wales and Welsh culture. It is a mixture of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness. or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past.
One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.”
*Salamat Po – Tagalog for thankyou sir / ma’am.
*Whist – hush.
Lingxi Zang - Guzheng performance - Xiao Xiao Zhu Pai and Station Tycoon
Thanks again to all contributors for a truly lovely and special dialogue event. We can't wait to create other dialogues between local and Chinese friends, where our shared humanity and experiences can shine through together.
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