X is always tough; and I did think of some poetic forms (the couple that are there for this letter) but thinking back on my resolve to stay away from specific poetic forms for this poetic potpourri, I tried to find something else. And between a weird series of searches (you will read about it below), and my daughter’s reminder that I did want to talk about poets at some point in this AtoZ journey, I ended with the ‘X’ Poet and something eXtra too… maybe ordinary, maybe not. But it is there anyways..
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The ‘X’ Poet and Something eXtra -Ordinary?!
The ‘X’ Poet
So I found Gao Xingjian through a series of searches; I was looking for poetic movements from the letter X. Well, I could not find any of those, but I did see that the Absurdist Movement had among its notable writers – Gia Xingjian! I decided that I would have a look at his poetic journey and write about it. Well, this is what I discovered about him.
A Quick Introduction to my ‘X’ Poet!
Gao Xingjian, born January 4, 1940 in Ganzhou in Eastern China, is amongst the best-known of Chinese émigré writers today. He is an accomplished novelist, playwright, translator, painter, director, and critic. In 2000, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity.”
Today, Xingjian is a French citizen and his plays are no longer performed in his native country (all his works were banned in China after the publication of his 1989 political drama titled Fugitives that made reference to the Tiananmen Square protests).
What About Poetry, You Ask?
His plays and novels continue to earn acclaim, as do his ink-and-wash paintings. You might be wondering why I make no reference to his poetry. In the 1970s, Xingjian wrote many pieces of work including poetry during the time he spent as a peasant as part of a form of ‘education’ under the Cultural Revolution. But he had to destroy them to avoid the consequences in the event that they would be found.
And in later years of writing, he did not publish poetry. However, there is a reason I included him here as part of my PoeticPotpourri’s letter ‘X’. One short poem that Xingjian wrote and that bears his distinctively modern style exists!
[note: the image on the left below is the table of contents on Wikipedia’s page for him; observe the word Poem. The lone poem itself titled Sky Burial is on the right]
Sky Burial (April 13, 1986, Beijing)
Cut / Scalped / Pounded into pieces / Light an incense / Blow the whistle / Come / Gone / Out and out
I am glad to have discovered him. And considering these words that the Swedish Nobel committee said about his work Soul Mountain — “one of those singular literary creations that seem impossible to compare with anything but themselves.” — I do want to try to read it at some point in the future.
Something eXtra – Ordinary?!
Some quick facts that I found earlier.
- German poet Gottlob Burmann so despised the letter R that he avoided using it in his poetry – and in everyday conversation.
- On the other hand, I discovered that Amanda Gorman had a speech impediment, that until as recently as a couple of years ago, she “couldn’t say the letter ‘r’.” Writing, and practicing spoken word, along with a song from Hamilton, were some of the things that helped her overcome her issues. [Source]
For Poem in Your Pocket Day – April 29th, 2021 🙂
h/t, References, and Further Reading
- Wikipedia’s Gao Xingjian page
- Gao Xingjian – Biographical (NobelPrize.org)
- Gao Xingjian: The Quiet Literary Nobel Laureate of China (CultureTrip)
XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century
Title: XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century
Editor: Campbell McGrath
Length: 240 pages
Genre: American Poetry
Publisher: Ecco (March 22nd 2016)
Source: Library copy
Description: XX is award-winning poet Campbell McGrath’s astonishing sequence of one hundred poems—one per year—written in a vast range of forms, and in the voices of figures as varied as Picasso and Mao, Frida Kahlo and Elvis Presley. Based on years of historical research and cultural investigation, XX turns poetry into an archival inquiry and a choral documentary. Hollywood and Hiroshima, Modernism and propaganda, Bob Dylan and Walter Benjamin—its range of interest encompasses the entire century of art and culture, invention and struggle
I am yet to read all hundred poems in this book (and again, I discovered this just a couple of days ago!) But I did read enough of them to be able to give you my thoughts on this book. Don’t ask me for a favorite though (it is tough to pick one out from any collection of poems, actually).
First, I love the concept! A poem for each year of the twentieth century that either takes on the voice of someone (and somethings too) who lived then (many well known, and others I learned of through this book); or about an event that occurred that year (like, the cloning of the sheep Dolly, or Apollo’s historic flight, Hiroshima or Voyager I and II). And then there are list poems, that take you on a quick rundown of events of the year; like these first lines from The Ticking Clock (1971):
Snoop Dogg is born, Julian Assange is born. Already it is coming,
already the new century—-though we have hardly begun
to imagine the death of the old—is taking shape around us.
Babies are crying in nurseries, toddlers are shaking their rattles.
A tennis star is born in Germany, a footballer in Nigeria.
Second, I loved the variety of tones, emotions, and forms across the poems. There are list poems (like the one I mentioned above), free verse (of course), shape poems (Hiroshima just overpowers with its simplicity and its power in the same breath), and so much more. And the voices of the people, places, events, and even things portrayed give each of the poems distinct voices and shapes.
Those Opportunities for Readers
Third, I realized as I read through the poems that this book is one that will make readers pause, think, and reflect. It can also inspire them to read more about the people, places and events, as well as inspire them to write in a similar vein (perhaps!)
And then the Rest
The book is divided into five sections (Books One through Five), each one taking readers through a poetic journey of twenty years. We zoom through the century: from Henry Ford’s Model B roadster in 1904 to the Voyager space missions and the Hubble Space Telescope peering into galaxies far beyond in 1990; from Freud to Gates; and everything in between; and leave ourselves a little more learned and better for having read and lived the century through these pages. Granted that like any other collection of poems (a hundred in this one, no less), there are some poems that speak to the reader more than others; and some that might/will not appeal as much. But overall, this book is a cool and wonderful read that I am so glad to have picked.
My only quibble with this book is the number of times Picasso (and Mao) seem to make an appearance here; but maybe McGrath had his own reasons for doing so. And I might just be able to figure out why once I read all the poems and read them all over a few times again.
My other quibble is with myself. How did I not know about Campbell McGrath before this? So thank you to the letter X that led me to him. I know I will be reading more books by him in the future.
A super cool way to explore the twentieth century…and one that you should read. I know I will be reading it many times over myself
Get It Here
- Other anthologies I talked about: African American Anthology for one.
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured books or any similar reads? And what about the featured poet? Have you read his works before? Any other suggestions you can give me for the letter X?
The AtoZ Challenges
You can find all my A2Z Challenge Posts here.