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  Chinese Way>Life

Life in poetry

2013-12-18 17:13:44

(China Daily) By Mei Jia


Ya Hsien believes poets emerge when writing is fully respected and valued. He is the kind of writer that if he places a letter in the mailbox and then realizes there are two misplaced words, he will circle the box anxiously several times, trying to retrieve his letter and correct it.

Besides writing poems, Ya Hsien has been a successful drama actor and media editor in Taiwan.

"Whatever I do, I never betray the god of poetry," he says.

He calls himself a "poet in action", who scatters poetic romance into social life, manages magazines and newspapers with poetic aesthetics, and also scouts and cultivates a younger generation of poets.

Born Wang Qinglin to a rural family, Ya Hsien's earliest literary inspiration was the tiny moving "library" of children's books on an oxcart his father drove to spread knowledge among villages in Henan.

After arriving in Taiwan, he started publishing poems in 1953. He then joined two other renowned poets to create a nonprofit poetry magazine, The Epoch Poetry Quarterly, which is still published today and marks its 60th anniversary next year.

"In the 1950s, we published works of Chinese poets written in the 1930s, which was banned at that time by the Chiang government for ideological reasons. It's a miracle that the magazine survives to this day and has made itself a place in contemporary Taiwan," Ya Hsien says.

In the 1970s, Ya Hsien became involved in the management of a supplement of Taiwan newspaper United Daily News. Over more than 20 years he turned the supplement into an incubator of young writers like Xi Murong.

Ya has a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, and has taken part in the prestigious International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He now resides in Canada with his family.

He collects lots of old items as decorations in his house in Canada, such as abacuses, window frames from old houses, and different types of gongs, to remind himself of his hometown.

"Gongs remind me of the days I traveled with my father on the oxcart. Once we arrived at a village, I hammered the gong, and attracted the villagers to come to read," he says.

"I still hold that the best way to refine poetry is to refine the poet's mind and behavior," Ya Hsien says.

Contact the writer at


In the years of the last emperor the wind kept blowing

blowing on a string of red corn

It was actually right beneath the eaves

that it was hung

as if the whole North

the sadness of the whole North

were hanging there

Recalling those afternoons when we played truant

snow had chilled the private schoolmaster's ruler

my cousin's donkey was tied beneath the mulberry tree

Recalling the time when the suona began to sound

and the Taoist priests kept chanting

Grandfather's spirit had not yet returned from the capital

Recalling the cricket's calabash stacked away in the padded jacket

a tiny bit of cold, a tiny bit of warmth

and the copper hoops rolling over the knoll

in the distance we saw grandma's buckwheat field

and burst into tears

It was actually that kind of red corn

that was hanging there for a long long time

right beneath the eaves

when the wind was blowing, in the years of the last emperor

You will never understand

that string of red corn

the way it was hanging there

and its color

not even my daughter who was born in the South will understand

not even Verhaeren

Recalling the present

I have already grown old

strings of red corn are hanging

under the eaves of memory

the winds of 1958 will keep blowing

strings of red corn will keep hanging there.

—Translated by N.G.D. Malmqvist

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