Friday, April 27, 2012

Poem: Qiu Xiaolong

Qiu Xiaolong
(Confucius Institute, UNSW)
This morning in the New York Times I came across an Op-Ed essay entitled "Intrigue in Chongqing," on the rise and precipitous fall of former "princeling" Bo Xilai, whose alleged corruption and spying activities doomed him, as did his wife's alleged involvement in the murder of a British citizen. I had read several stories on this case, which calls for novelistic, dramaturgical and operatic treatment, but I'd never heard of its author, who'd once suffered the indignity of having Bo steal his ping-pong racquet and, who, based on the details in his essay, is the son of a "capitalist" who'd been punished as a "counterrevolutionary"; writes detective novels; and is planning to include some of Bo's story in a future book, but also knows enough Chinese literature to quote from the ancient Chinese classic, The Book of Songs.  According to the Times, Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龙 1953-), "author of the forthcoming novel Don’t Cry, Tai Lake," penned this piece, and I learned via his byline that he's a resident of St. Louis. That made me even more curious, naturally.

So I searched and in seconds found his website, which announces that he is a "NOVELIST AND POET." I kept reading. The site offers a brief, thorough introduction:

Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T'ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu's books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.
Wikipedia additionally informed he had raised money for the students who participated in the Tiananmen Square Revolution of 1989, thus he thought better of returning to China after a trip to the US for research on a book on St. Louisan T. S. Eliot.  Qiu has, it's clear, received a great deal of praise for novels, and at least one has been made into a movie. I checked out his poems. One of the first I came across is the one below; it's unclear whether he wrote it initially in English or it's a translation, but either way, it's pretty tight. (I would say that as hard as it is to write proper prose in another language, it's even harder to write do so with poetry.)  On the back cover of Lines Around China, republished now as Lines Around China: Lines Out of China, he even sports a blurb from Mona Van Duyn (1921-2004), the former Poet Laureate of the United States in 1992, and a highly lauded writer, who received the 1971 National Book Award for her collection To See, To Take (Atheneum, 1970), and the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection The Near Changes (Knopf, 1990).  I also know of her because when I was growing up, she was one of the famous writers living in St. Louis (the other local bigwigs of that era were William Gass, Stanley Elkin, Howard Nemerov, and Donald Finkel, most of them associated with Washington University in St. Louis, which is also where Van Duyn taught too).

I can't tell whether Qiu is affiliated with Washington University (though he did receive his MA and PhD in Comparative Literature from there, which makes me think he must have had some direct contact with Gass, at least), but a Mona Van Duyn blurb is the biz, and I do like this poem, which is a lighthearted poem about poetry, so I'm posting it. When I get the opportunity, I'll also read one of his mysteries. They do sound worth the while.

(Bonus: The Browser's "FiveBooks Interviews" with Qiu Xiaolong on Classical Chinese Poetry)


Back home at 8:30
with five or six small fish in the pail
including the baby blue gill
which could hardly count,
a water snake, its triangular head smashed
into a rotten persimmon--still, not
a too bad day, I have to say, a sunburned nose
peeling under the scrutiny of my wife
who, discovering a China-like map
of mosquito bites on my bare back, snaps:
What's the point--nine hours
under the scorching sun, you have
to buy the gasoline, the drink, the bait,
two hot dogs, half a pack of Camels, and
now these tiny fish, three bucks' worth
in a market, you are really hooked.

An accountant, she sees no point
calculating a split-second
of catching the golden sun
in silver scales.

Copyright © Qiu Xiaolong, "Poetry," from Lines Around China: Lines Out of China, Saint Louis: CreateSpace, 2008. All rights reserved.

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