The Operating System

4th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 19 :: Chia-Lun Chang on Qiong Hong, Modernism and Sexism

Students, like myself, are required to read well-known modern poetry in Taiwan. World War II and the period that followed introduced a new age of poetry in the country. Poetry had a

strict rule and was about patriotism, religion and for a study purpose. After the World War II, one of the foci of these poets was to write about land, home and space. Of those subjects, there are two popular themes:

There are those Chinese-born poets who write about objects and scenes in Mainland China, the nostalgic, and the sorrow of being separated from their home and land. On the other hand, poets who were born in Taiwan write about farming and cultivated life.

The languages and styles are both beautiful; however, there’s a distance between the identities in these poems and my own modern life. This gap cannot be fully expressed.

On a night when I went to Vietnam with one of my friends, she introduced me to Qiong Hong’s “Remember”. We had just graduated and were young and ignorant about our future. Without knowing any background, location or theme, we both felt a sharp empathy for this expression of remembering someone far away. Compared to the poems I had read in school, this was the first one that transcended time, language and country, speaking to a broader human experience. Several years later, when I learned about modernism, this poem stayed strong in my mind, and reflected to what I’ve learned. Modern and fresh.

In many traditional cultures, obedience and loyalty are basic moral principles, specifically for women. Gender inequality remains a problem, but society still encourages women to be passive and submissive at times. However, even men can feel a pressure towards submissiveness under society’s shadow. These rules and pressures come from nowhere and yet, they hang in the air, encouraged by personal issues, awkward and private reasons – the type that have caused me to lose touch with friends over the years. I feel guilty for not taking the initiative to reach out to people who I’ve missed, wanted to call or get in touch with, and this poem has comforted me.

Expressing feelings can be discouraged, but there is evidence of these intangible things, and as long as women feel it, it is there. I translated the poem as follows:

Remember

Qiong Hong
[translation, Chia-Lun Chang]

1

You if
If you had told me
sentence by sentence
purely
I woke up in the morning
I remembered it

Young times
easy life
If you had said
sentence by sentence
from deep to shallow
snow flying and falling

2

Caring is to ask
But sometimes
caring
is
not to ask

as if there is no news
like a boat quietly sinking
the surface of the sea, actually is also
remembering quietly

3

If the end of summer
the beginning of autumn
I wrote once or twice
obscure words
suggesting the random
such as random
rain
—- also remembering

敻虹 goes with Qiong Hong in Hanyu Pinyin system and Chiung Hung in Tongyong Pinyin. I couldn’t find much info about her in English. She was born in Taitung, Taiwan and is currently living in the USA. She has worked as a high school teacher, interior designer and painter. Her early poems are romantic, tender and mellowed, mostly descriptive of family, love and Taitung. Other poets regarded her as the most beloved daughter of Muse. Qiong Hong’s work was influenced by Zen and Buddhism after she was ordained Buddhist in midlife.

The 30/30/30 project is terrific — thoughtful, focusing on poets who I have never heard of and who have now changed my life in America. No matter how many languages you speak, reading poems from other languages or trying to translate them is also an option. If you can, read from women writers or any group which isn’t what you would naturally read.  It will also blow your mind and feel special, like finding a treasure which no one else can see….unless you are generous enough to share with them.

Chia-Lun Chang was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. She is a poet, writer, visual artist and an events coordinator for Belladonna* Collaborative. Her work has appeared or forthcoming in The Brooklyn RailBone Bouquet, Chaplet #172, Internal Combustion (Belladonna*, 2015), Cloudy City Press and Keep This Bag Away From Children among others.

Thanks to Maryam Parhizkar for passing the torch to Chia-Lun for this year — you can read Maryam’s piece on Paul Violi…day 9 of our very first year!

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