One of the things Paula found while she was new and alone in Shanghai was a literary group, who meet every month or so and discuss a chosen topic. Since I’ve arrived they’ve had a spooky Halloween poems night, an evening of Russian literature, and a screening of the 1992 Wuthering Heights (with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche) and discussion to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth. Unfortunately, I was only able to make it to the Wuthering Heights event due to either gigs conflicting or being in Hong Kong. However, they announced they would be doing a winter poetry special, and I immediately signed up.
Generally the events are small and sometimes with a cap on spaces, because it’s hard to have a coherent discussion with more than say a dozen people around one table. The venues vary, but tend to be in the back of a restaurant or teahouse. This evening was no different, taking place at a small pierogi restaurant in a trendy part of town. (Pierogi are Polish fried dumplings, and different to Chinese dumplings in terms of pastry. They also have a huge range of flavours, with mine being sauerkraut and kiełbasa sausage).
As a general rule, for poetry events, each person chooses a poem, reads it to the group, and then everyone discusses the text. It takes me back to my university seminars, excect without a lecturer guiding the conversation. The group is a 5:4 mix of western and Chinese people, and the order of poems is simply determined by one person volunteering to start, and then subsequently taking it in turns around the table.
Poems covered (each title is a link):
Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams
Winter by Billy Collins
Horses by Pablo Neruda (translated from Spanish)
Winter in the Boulevard by D.H. Lawrence
There’s a Certain Slant of Light by Emily Dickinson
A Suggestion to My Friend, Liu by Bai Juyi (《问刘十九》白居易)
Winter Poem by Robert Bly
The Sky is Low, the Clouds are Mean by Emily Dickinson
River Snow by Liu Zongyuan (《江雪》柳宗元)
I’m not going to even try and explain all that we covered over the evening, but have a look at the poems and see if there are any that particularly stand out to you. You’ll notice that the Chinese poems have far more conciseness and brevity, which is often at odds with the western ‘poetic’ language. Not conveyed however is the calligraphy and visual artistry involved with the writing, which is something also considered when appreciating a poet.