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Carl Norac x Huang Lihai: Echoes asking Shadows to Dance: Poets take the Floor


At 7:30 p.m. on November 19th, 2020, the eighth event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was held online. The Belgian writer Carl Norac, together with the Chinese writer Huang Lihai, had a discussion under the topic of “Echoes asking Shadows to Dance: Poets take the Floor”.


Carl Norac is the National Poet (Dichter of the Vaderlands) of Belgium. He is the author of mor than 80 children’s story books and poems, translated to date around the world into 47 languages. His works have won many awards, including the Grand Prix of the Société des gens de Letters in Paris in 2009, and the 2019 Albert Mockel Grand Prix.


Huang Lihai is a famous poet in China. His poetry collections include I Don’t Know Much about Destiny. His poems have been translated into many foreign languages. At the end of 1999, he founded the poetry periodical Poetry and People, known as the “the first people’s magazine of Chinese poetry”.


The conversation started with Carl. Children’s books written by Carl have been popular among the world, but he still regards himself as a poet. He claimed to have had a fascination for becoming a poet since childhood. When he was young, he lived in the forest and his father was also a famous poet, so from a young age, he was familiar with the poems and nature. In his opinion, poetry is like calligraphy, which has its own characters and patterns. Besides, with no brothers or sisters, Carl always took a walk in the forest alone to get inspirations from nature in his childhood, so he soon developed a good relationship with nature.


Carl never took any professional lessons about poetry or writing. What he did most, he said, was backpacking around, observing various unconventional landscapes and incorporating those observations towards human and life into the poems. In his previous life, he had touched many other careers, but becoming a poet was his unchangeable dream. In his eyes, literature for children is quite similar to poetry, which contains rich connotations in simple words.


From Carl’s perspective, now some writers or poets prefer keeping their distance from the society, observing and writing from their own perspectives, but other writers would like to get close to the reality and crowds. There are some phenomena in today’s society that make people unable to think from the same perspective, but writing and communication can bring people together, and literature can cross the language barrier to carry out more inclusive and homogeneous communication.


In Belgium, people’s habit of reading poetry is waning. In Carl’s mind, poets should devote to attracting more people to read poems. He hoped poetry could appear in shop windows, on buses, anywhere, anytime. For example, his poems can be read in the metro station in Paris. “If people are not willing to read poems, we can lead more poems to readers.” He hoped poetry was not limited to so-called intellectuals or in certain cultural circles. “Poetry can help open up a journey of imagination, especially for children.”


There are many ways for adults to start a poetry journey as well, like putting one’s own poems on the social media, publishing selected poems on the mainstream publications, and even adding poets’ voices to the newspapers. During the pandemic period, Carl called on 90 Belgian poets to launch a campaign named “flowers for funeral”, using the power of poetry to offer a song for the dead.


During the pandemic, with the number of death increasing, Carl noticed that few people could have a decent funeral. “one of the differences between human beings and animals is that a person needs a dignity when he leaves the world.” So Carl wanted to help those people who died in the pandemic to complete this ceremony and he was not willing to make the dead only as a number, but lively personalities. Each one’s life should be seriously treated.


“Poetry should not only be used as an aesthetic enjoyment, it is also a tool for us to feel and comprehend life.” After the campaign was hold, Carl received the similar requirements from hospitals in other cities. Poetry can indeed lift people’s spirit and soul, and clear people’s heart in difficulties. So in Carl’s mind, poetry means opening, striding across and connecting.


Carl believes writing poetry is like boarding a train whose next station is unknown. “It is like a bird. When we try to catch it, it flies away.” Except beautiful words, poetry gives us richer reflections, like “dancing with the shadow”. “I think dancing is quite similar to the poetry writing, especially on its process.” Carl wrote poems with a pen instead of a computer because with a pen, it gave him an distinct power and rhythm.


When talking about “what kind of poetry is a good poetry”, Huang Lihai pointed out that human culture was the best choice as the theme of a poem for poets. Besides, poetry is an art of language, and the ability of renewing the language is necessary in poetry writing. Finally, he hoped awarded poets should offer their experience to other writers as reference, and the local experience sometimes can provide different texts.


In addition, Huang Lihai also mentioned that although poetry seemed to be dispensable sometimes in life, but he hoped poetry could influence common people in life. “For a poet, writing a good poem is the most important thing.”


Carl also thought that a good poem depended on an acute observation. Rather than writing at home, he preferred going out to observe the reality. In addition, “poetry should be left blank”, and it should exist in a quiet place, like the music with clear rhythm. At the same time, the interaction between poetry and people should be back and forth. Sometimes people are waiting for the inspirations to fall down, but it fails at last. So Carl recommended a situational method – in which situation do you tend to have inspirations and desire to write poetry.


During the Q&A session, both of the poets were invited to talk about “musicality” in poetry. Huang Lihai thought that today, many countries in the world no longer pursued rhyming in poetry writing. In China, it shared the same condition that more poems were made into ballads. For example, some musicians today prefer using structured verse instead of rhyming words. “It means that poetry itself is inherently rhythmic and melodic, but it needs readers to find out.”


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been hold 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 the writers from 27 European countries will continue the literary conversation between China and Europe.


At the end of the event, both of the writers showed their satisfaction to the conversation, and extended their greetings to each other. They also expressed their expectations for the poetry to play its role to offer comforts and stimulations to the changing world.


By Xiao Yao

Translated into English by Sarah Sa