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Albert Marshall x Zheng Xiaoqiong: Poetic Voices: Art that Unites Pleasure with Truth


At 7:30 p.m. on November 18th, 2020, the seventh event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was held online. The Maltese writer Albert Marshall, together with the Chinese writer Zheng Xiaoqiong, had a discussion under the topic of “Poetic Voices: Art that Unites Pleasure with Truth”.


In this online conversation, both of the writers shared their opinions on poetry. Poetry is regarded as an art which combines happiness together with truth: internal and rhythmic creation can convey questions, ideas and emotions around the world. The writers introduced some of their works to readers and discussed the charm of poetry and its role played in the 21st century. The moderator of the conversation was Dai Weina.


Albert Marshall has distinguished himself as a theatre and television director, playwright, poet and TV presenter. In 1980, he, together with his family, emigrated to Australia. In Melbourne, he spent 15 years working in Australian radio, theatre and television. He is the first Maltese national to direct at the Sydney Opera House. On his return to Malta in 1996, Marshall was engaged by the University of Malta as a lecturer in Communication Studies and led the Distance Learning Programme at University Radio. Marshall’s literary works have been extensively published in Australia, Canada and Malta. In 2019, he published Poeziji 1964-2019, a collection of his best poetry written over a span of 55 years. He is currently working on a collection of his works for the theatre.


Zheng Xiaoqiong is a prestigious poet born in Sichuan Province. Her works have been translated into many languages and published abroad. Her poems and essays have appeared widely in the journals such as Poetry, Mountain Flowers, Stars, and so on. Her works have been selected as the best anthology of the year for many times. She participated in the 3rd National Prose and Poetry Pen Club and the 21st Youth Poetry Meeting. She has won many grand prizes such as the Liqun People’s Literature Prize and Zhuang Zhongwen Literature Prize.


It was a highly anticipated poetry event of the festival. At the beginning of the conversation, Marshall first introduced his new poetry collection Six Chinese Lanterns, inspired by a stay in Guangxi province. Marshall said, “my tour to Guangxi was a fantastic experience. At that time, I came to China with my colleagues. It was a tough trip at times, because fo the terrain, but it was still an unforgettable journey, which gave me the chance to appreciate the unique ethnic and natural beauty of the southwest China.”


Then, the Chinese poet Zheng Xiaoqiong introduced her poems written about the migrant workers. She talked about her working experience in Guangdong and the influence of those hard-working workers on her poetry. In 2001, Zheng Xiaoqiong as a member among millions of migrant workers graduated from a health school in Sichuan, came to a hardware factory in Dongguan where her working number was 245, as a part of the assembly line. Later, Zheng Xiaoqiong created a lot of poems about her working life. The representative of her works – Women’s Works – focuses on female workers in the manufacturing industry under the background of industrialization. When talking about the inspirations of this poetry collection, she said, “one thing I’ve been noticing from 2014 is the large number of female migrant workers.”


She also mentioned her another work The Rose Garden. From Women’s Works, Huang Maling to The Rose Garden, Zheng Xiaoqiong paid attention to the weak voices at the bottom of the society. She said, “I have been thinking how to find the poems in the industry, how to transfer the human wisdom into the image and tradition in the poems. Although modern literature originated in the city, it still haven’t digested the city. So adding the industry into poems is my theme.


Marshall mentioned some similarities shared in his works and Zheng Xiaoqiong’s. Both of them focused on the immigration issues – not only on the cross-border immigration but also on the inland immigration. He introduced the immigration phenomenon in Malta, and he thought that reflecting the social issues in literature creation was necessary. Another common point he shared with Zheng was that both of them paid attention to the protection of culture tradition and eco-environment.


During the conversation, Marshall shared his understanding of the Chinese civilization and inspiration he got from the nature during his stay in Guangxi. Together with Zheng Xiaoqiong, they discussed the charm of poetry and its role played in the 21st century. They also have a discussion on the feminine consciousness and dramatic spirit in the poems, and they recited their favorite poems as well.


During the Q&A session, a reader Zong Cheng asked the two writers, “during the pandemic period, did you create any poem about the pandemic? Or do you have your own opinions on the pandemic?” Zheng Xiaoqiong answered, “during the pandemic, my friends and I tried our best to help those people around us. For the writings about the pandemic, I have my own considerations. I want to first observe it deeply, and then write down the difficulties we faced with.” While Marshall said, “I want to use the words said by Chapuis, the Ambassador of the European Union to China – ‘Literature helps us better understand the world around us. Books reminds us not to lose sight of our values in hard times. Reading makes us reflect on how we can turn a crisis to an opportunity, how we can safely navigate a ship in a storm, and move on to a brighter future.’ I think all the artists and poets deeply understand this moment of crisis. Today, solidarity becomes more and more important. All the writers around the world should together memorize those who died in the crisis, record and reflect this tragedy, keep brave and innovative to face the dilemma.”


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been held for 4 years. Every year, the Chinese writers, together with the writers from Europe, discussed a variety of topics on life and society. Once more, in the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival, excellent Chinese writers and 27 European writers will continue the literary conversation between China and Europe.


At the end of the discussion, both of the writers extended their greetings to each other, and expressed their pleasure to attend this conversation. They hoped that poetry could give people some comfort during the pandemic, and they wished all people who loved literature could united once again in the near future.


By Zong Cheng

Translated into English by Sarah Sa