Thomas Möhlmann, Staff member Dutch Foundation for Literature
Poetry is all about life
What an evening the poets and the approximately 200 onlookers present had experienced after the Chinese-Dutch poetry programme in the hip Fangjia Hutong! The lower and upper floor of the restaurant/theatre Trainspotting were crammed with an enthusiastic audience (average age estimated at around 25) and those unable to get in made themselves comfortable on the lawn outside, where they could follow on a screen what was going on inside. (And for all those unable at all to be present, the evening could be following via the website of the Chinese co-organiser Sohu (http://cul.sohu.com/), where it was streamed live.)
It’s about what it is to be a human being!
Inside, six poets - accompanied by the hostess Yan Zhongfan and interpreter/chairman Canaan Morse - read in pairs from their work and subsequently sought to enter into conversation with each other and the audience. Between the performances, Chinese versions of Dutch digital poems were displayed that were the result of a cooperation between poets and digital artists, by Jan Baeke and Alfred Marseille, and Rozalie Hirs and Harm van den Dorpel respectively.
The poets Xi Chuan and Bernlef started things off, followed by Yan Jun and Ramsey Nasr and finally by Wang Jiaxin and Anna Enquist. The audience listened with bated breath to the poems, but sprang up after each reading to confront the poets with their own impressions and questions. After the first pair, the questions were initially somewhat cautiously related to technical aspects of the poetry, which caused Bernlef to sigh: ‘We shouldn’t only talk about that sort of thing: poetry is not all about that, it’s about what it is to be a human being!’. His hint was to a certain extent taken up after Yan Jun made use of a megaphone during his performance, and Ramsey Nasr, with the same megaphone in his hand, outlined his own ideas concerning autonomy, asking himself by precisely what ideals the members of the audience allowed themselves to be led. During the performances by Wang Jiaxin and Anna Enquist too, various - and not always exactly cheering - aspects of human existence were gradually brought out, which, after a long and quite animated evening led to the conclusion that ‘life isn’t just about poetry, but poetry is all about life, and it tries to talk about that in a specific and refined way’. And this brought us back to Bernlef, and the conclusion might well sound somewhat general, but the path travelled in the two hours or so in order to reach it was exceptionally instructive and exciting for all those present.
The poetry evening came about as a cooperation between Sohu, BIBF and the Dutch Foundation for Literature.
A number of impressions in images and in Chinese can be found at: http://cul.sohu.com/20110903/n318235804.shtml