Steve Bradbury writes that Shang Qin was too busy to answer any of the questions we posed him, but he thought we might be interested in knowing the rather surreal circumstances under which this 75 year-old Chinese poet first encountered the prose poem and acquired the name Shang Qin (a homonym for “wounded bird”). This the poet recounts in the preface to the revised edition of his volume Dream or the Dawn, which is also where the three prose poems Steve has translated for this issue of Double Room were first collected.
The year I turned 15, I was press-ganged by Chinese soldiers in the streets of Chengdu and locked up in an old barn of a warehouse. After a week's incarceration I was pretty much broken in, but I discovered the place was filled with books the like of which I'd never seen before; it was my first exposure to the New Literature. It was there I read Lu Xun's Weeds and Bing Xin's Stars [two seminal works in the genealogy of the Chinese prose poem].
After a month, I set out with the troops for Chongqing, but before we reached it I engineered the first of my escapes and thus began my fugitive existence. Even now I can vividly recall the lights of the fishing boats on the Jialing River and the murmur of the water as it flows to the sea. . . . My intention was to return to the old family home in Sichuan, but I was captured by one troop detachment after another only to escape each time. In total I must have escaped half a dozen times, and in the process tramped through every corner of southern China without ever reaching my destination . . .
In the end, however, the Kuomintang troops that caught me last engineered their own escape and took me with them to Taiwan. There the barriers of language and the miniscule distances between towns and villages took the pleasure out of flight, and before long I no longer had the physical energy to run away, and thus the only escape left me was to flee into another name, and so I fled from one name to another. But no matter which name I took, I could not escape from myself, and thus I am ever on the verge of Dream or the Dawn. . .
Shang Qin (Shang Ch’in) was born in China in 1930, but has lived in Taiwan since
the late forties. The author of four volumes of verse, he is one of the first Chinese poets to have become seriously interested in surrealism and to have made the prose poem his métier. His poetry has been translated into English, Dutch, French, and Swedish.
Steve Bradbury has published poems, translations, and essays in boundary 2, Jacket, and elsewhere; and two volumes of translation: Fusion Kitsch: Poems from the Chinese of Hsia Yü (Zephyr Press, 2001) and Poems from the Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh (Tinfish 2003).