~ Nationality: China ~

Subtleties of Shanghai by Angela Kong

A lovingly crafted, gentle and touching film set during lockdown, Subtleties of Shanghai is by Chinese-American writer and artist Angela Kong. It was a finalist in the 2023 Spoken Word Competition at The Artists Forum in New York, and winner of the international category in the 2022 Button Video Contest.

Angela Kong is a Chinese American writer and activist committed to social change and awareness through photography, videography, and spoken word addressing issues such as experiences of racism, injustice, and privilege. A 2017 graduate of Colorado College, Kong currently works and lives in Shanghai. (source)

You Still Have Something of The Ghost About You by JinJin Xu

For International Women’s Day, here’s a cento videopoem by JinJin Xu 徐今今, a poet and filmmaker from Shanghai. Here’s the Vimeo description:

The cento-film “You Still Have Something of the Ghost About You” was shot in the hauntingly empty casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic in Macau, China after I left mandatory government quarantine and realized I’d stumbled into the underworld. The polyvocal collage slips the viewer into an otherworldly, post-COVID globalized hypnosis: interweaving strangely prescient texts from Chinese and Western epics such as Dream of the Red Chamber, Journey to the West, Beastiary, Dante’s Inferno, and contemporary texts such as John Cage’s X, and Gu Cheng’s Ying’er, to journey into the afterlife of forgetfulness.

As a former comparative literature major, I love this blend! And I’m always excited to see up-and-coming poets integrating filmmaking into their practice. Xu’s bio notes that after getting her BA at Amherst College, she “traveled for a year as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow recording docu-poems with women dislocated across nine countries.” She’s currently in the MFA program at NYU, and her chapbook There Is Still Singing in the Afterlife just came out in November, after winning the inaugural Own Voices Chapbook Prize from Radix Media. Be sure to follow her on Vimeo.

Two poems by Liu Xia

To celebrate yesterday’s release of Liu Xia from detention, here’s a video of her reading two poems while in captivity, “Untitled” (translated by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern) and “Drinking” (translated by Yu Zhang). A 2015 post on the PEN America website has the text of both translations, as well as the back-story:

October 8, 2015, will mark five years that Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Chinese writer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, has been under extralegal house arrest in her Beijing apartment. It was on this date in 2010 that Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland announced from Oslo that her husband was to receive the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and nonviolent struggle for human rights in China.” Within hours, police descended on her apartment complex, cut her phone lines, and barred friends and family from entry.

In this rare video, shot in December 2013 after friends ripped past the guards to her apartment, Liu Xia is seen reading two of her own poems in her apartment. Liu casually sits at her desk just outside the soft glow of a reading lamp, smoking a cigarette and reading from her notebook. After she finishes reading the second poem, “Drinking,” she gives a hasty thumbs up to the unidentified camera operator heard whistling in approval.

On December 1, 2015, PEN will host a reading of Liu Xia’s poems from a new translation of her poetry, Empty Chairs—forthcoming on November 3 from Graywolf Press—at Book Court in New York City. Stay tuned for details to come.

水调歌头 (Water Music Song) by Su Shi / Su Tung-P’o

The great Song Dynasty poet, statesman and intellectual Su Shi or Su Dongpo (Wade-Giles: Su Shih, Su Tung-P’o) wrote this poem in the song-like ci form in 1076, one of several poems about the autumn moon that remain among his most often anthologized works. Beijing artist Hong Huo, currently a student in the Department of Kinetic Imaging at VCUarts in Virginia, notes on Vimeo that this is

A video poem I made recently that is related to the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival couple weeks ago. I chose this Chinese poem that describes the nostalgic feeling of a person that is away from home and family during this time for family and friends to get together and celebrate. Poem written by Su Shi from the Song Dynasty, which still remains popular today. I want to address not just my passion for my culture but also the sense of belonging and loneliness in part of me about how I have passed a journey to become who I am today. Special thanks to my dearest friend Jiaxin Zeng as she has been such a great model for this project.

The English translation in the subtitles is certainly adequate, and it’s a pleasure to hear the poem in Mandarin while reading it. I found another translation online included as apart of an essay by A. R. Davis, “On Such a Night: A Consideration of the Antecedents of the Moon in Su Shih’s Writings,” which is worth reading to learn about the greater cultural milieu as well as the direct influences and allusions at play here. (The translation itself is rather wooden and not worth reproducing here.)

Three Hundred Tang Poems: “water” fragments

Another video of an interactive video-art installation involving poetry. The artist is Yan Da (see also his Vimeo profile), and the piece is titled Water Poem. To say this is high-concept would be a bit of an understatement. Here’s how Yan describes it:

Water Poem is an interactive video installation. The audiences are encouraged to interact with the projector by simply moving it and project wherever they want. The projected content is texts coming from English website of 300 most famous ancient Chinese poems from Tang dynasty. Water Poem will search any sentence that contains the word “water” and randomly display each sentence based on a pre-designed condition. If the projector is not moved, the text will change in a random interval from 30 to 45 seconds, if it is moved, based on the strength of the motion, when it reach a certain threshold, the text will change immediately. The visual of the text is in a constant fluid status, the more motion applied to the projector, the more fluid the text will appear until it totally become illegible. Once the motion become subtle, the text will gradually turn back into a relatively stable mode that makes itself legible again.

Water Poem tries to express a sense of dislocation. By this dislocation of space, time and meaning, Water Poem tends to reflect the artist’s current experience and feelings, a dislocation of life in a foreign country with different culture and way of understanding. By inviting the audience to control and to transform the text in space, time and meaning, Water Poem also hopes to dislocate the audience into their own floating memory and imagination.

The poetic meaning related to water that the text reflects and the fluidity of the visual are embodied into the space, transforming its concrete character of the space into a constant flux, a liquid skin. Meanwhile, the difference between the meaning of English translation and the original Chinese text, the fragmented phrases from randomly chosen poem all contributes to the dislocation of the meaning, making it ambiguous and fluctuating. Water Poem encourage the audience to control the projection of the text thus to embody the literal and visual content onto anything they want, the de-construction of the meaning might be enhanced. By encountering the thousand years old content of the poem to the modern technology of Internet is another way of dislocating the time.

Read the rest of the description on Vimeo to learn about the technical aspects of the installation.

Three Hundred Tang Poems (Tang Shi San Bai Shou) is one of the most famous and widely read of all Chinese poetry anthologies. See the Classical Chinese Poetry website for English translations of all 300 poems by Innes Herdan, or the Wengu website for translations by Witter Bynner and the Chinese texts supplemented with character-by-character definitions on mouseover that allow one to attempt one’s own translations.

Cold Mountain (Han Shan)

A while back I posted another excerpt from this documentary, featuring three animations. This is the opening 5+ minutes of the half-hour documentary by Mike Hazard and Deb Wallwork, with animations by John Akre.

Three by Han Shan (Cold Mountain)

Video animation of three Han Shan poems by John Akre.

How refreshing to see this modern interpretation of Han Shan, and with a reading in Mandarin Chinese on the sountrack! This is apparently an excerpt from a half-hour-long film produced by the Center for International Education, directed by Mike Hazard:

COLD MOUNTAIN, a half hour film portrait of the Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Han Shan (a.k.a. Cold Mountain), will play with OH, SAIGON at 5pm on Sunday May 3, 2009 at the Oak Street Theater, 309 Oak Street SE, Minneapolis, during the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. Cold Mountain plays first.

Recorded on location in America, China and Japan, Burton Watson, Red Pine, Jim Lenfestey and the legendary Gary Snyder describe the poet’s life and recite poems.

Co-directed by Mike Hazard and Deb Wallwork, the music is by the internationally renowned pipa player Gao Hong and animations are by John Akre. A project of The Center for International Education, the film has been supported by the Outagamie Foundation, the family of John W. Brower and the Bush Foundation.

Deb Wallwork writes, “Cold Mountain is a rollicking, tasty film filled with poetry, colorful characters, Zen wisdom, and witty commentary. The film gives us glimpses of that mysterious–some say crazy, some say enlightened–figure, Han Shan, who left the dusty world to become a hermit and a poet, and in so doing wrote the intimate and inspired lines that speak to us today.”

Mike Hazard adds, “One way to look at the film is to see that literally everyone in the film is channeling the spirit of Han Shan: the Mandarin of Jin Hua, the trickster animations of John Akre, the street singer, the rice thrashers, the Butterfly Woman, the four poetical guides, the monks in the temple kitchen, the bats in the cave, Gao Hong’s pipa, even the cicadas compose a richly layered portrait of Cold Mountain.”