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Poetic Voices: Art that Unites Pleasure with Truth

The Inaugural EU-China International Literary Festival

Poetic Voices: Art that Unites Pleasure with Truth

One Way Street Library (Huajiadi venue), November 22, 6pm

Guy Helminger (Luxembourg), Yi Lei (China),Marius Burokas(Lithuania),  Liu Liduo (China)

Article by Poornima Weerasekara


What makes poetry the most potent surgical tool that writers can use to lacerate malignant tumors plaguing society? According to award-winning Chinese poet Yi Lei, the “mysterious nature” of poetry, makes it possible to hide several layers of meaning in a single line, allows you to dissect social ills more freely without being censored.

Yi Lei first grabbed the national spotlight in the late 80’s with a poem called “A Single Woman’s Bedroom.” It tells the story of an unmarried couple living together, an act considered immoral and even illegal at the time.

“I was criticized harshly in the 1980’s for some of the pieces I wrote,” Yi Lei told a packed audience that had come to listen to a poetry panel, which was part of the EU-China Literary festival on Nov 22.

“Some poetry collections deleted some of the work I had written in 1989. In most collections they’ve had to delete the very works that have made me famous,” she said.

Yi Lei has published eight collections of poetry and some of her work is being translated into English by U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith.

For Marius Burokas, a poet from Lithuania, his art is also a way to break free, from the mundaneness of life, and the limits imposed by our senses when experiencing the world.

He shared a poem titled “By Holy Lake,” written for his daughter Ugne

I wait
Until the small bright head
Emerges from the water
Eyes shut
As if born again
Tearing her away to the surface
Again – when all her strength
Thirsting to drink
Of this world
This light

The first-ever EU-China Literary festival running from Nov 21. to 24 in Beijing and from Nov. 25-27 in Chengdu, gives Chinese audiences a chance to hear writers like Marius who haven’t yet been translated into Chinese. At first it seemed very few in the audience have been exposed to the literature or the language of this tiny Balkan state with little over 2.3 million people. But what came as a surprise was a group of Chinese students from Beijing Foreign Language University – who said they were the first batch to enroll in the only Lithuanian language course in China – and their enthusiastic questions about classical Lithuanian literature and the possibilities to translate these works.

“I chose to study Lithuanian because it is a language with a long history and because Lithuanians are known to be very creative people,” said one student named Zhang Yitong.

While China has had a long tradition of translating works from major languages such as Russian, French, German or Spanish, a lot of emphasis has been put on translating classics and works from a few countries, another audience member said. But Chinese readers have an appetite for translations of contemporary works and literature from diverse places, he added.

For Guy Helminger, a poet, playwright and novelist from Luxembourg, his first trip to China has helped him breakaway from the traditional European tour circuit.

“One of my short stories has been translated into Chinese… and given the massive market here it will be good to have more,” he said.