On Mar 7, 2010, I presented the “Sea of Desire” cycle of poetry and images at the Inheritance-Shenzhen art space in Baishizhou.
The performance was designed to encourage interaction between the audience and the works; indeed, i hoped that the images and poetry would encourage reflection on land reclamation in houhai. I am grateful to all who came and participated.
The performance and presentation were quite simple. Four images (迁海，芒种，塘，and 天) were laid on a table with calligraphy pens and markers. Members of the audience were asked to read the poems, alternating between the English and Chinese versions. When the reading concluded, the audience was invited to respond to the poems and images directly on the images. At the end of the day, i dedicated and signed the images over to four members of the audience. The four recipients will now grow each image-poem into a new work of art. Images and recipients, here.
The Sea of Desire is Never Filled
You ask what came before –
Before Backwaters were reclaimed,
Before Reforms unmade the Revolution,
Before Shenzhen Market was peacefully liberated,
Before South China Sea huaqiao built the Illustrious Ancestor School,
Before Li Hongzhang established China Merchants and Lin Zexu’s disgrace,
Before the Red Feather Barbarians occupied Tiger’s Gate,
Before gentle waves delivered Zhao Bing’s unblemished corpse to Tianhou at Chiwan,
Before divisions and revisions of prefectures and counties, villages and saltfields, oyster racks and pearls,
Before rope figures – delicate exemplars of the Middle Neolithic – danced on storage pots at Salt Head,
Let us be precise.
Before all this, there was what there is now – silt deposits, the twice-daily rhythm of the tide, weakening summer monsoons, phytoplankton, fish and shellfish, migratory birds, kandelia candel flourishing inflorescence, white, in ball-like clusters above the mud.
II. A Lexicon of Estuarine Desire
– dare I swallow?
III. American I wend
an unfamiliar coast, where oyster beds and buried toys, litter and despair thicken deltan arteries – the Shahe, Futian and Buji
Rivers channelized and redirected become bloated, choking runoff drains.
American I crash
on desiccated shores, which crumble as through dust I wander from Shekou east to Houhai, through western district landfill and village reconstruction
Zones appropriated and promoted do not a new world make.
American I sing
an unrequited (and yes) unwelcome dirge, when passport status trumps lament and unskilled, unclaimed teens drift in globalizing storms;
Meiguoren they say and neatly change the topic, what big guns you have.
On the edge of the known world
The previous barbarians swam and ate raw fish
Lived on boats and were forbidden land
They secured their young with ropes and threw them overboard.
Technical advances might have made it safer
– thin pipes for breathing, grease to keep small bodies warm –
But the shoals were just too deep and the harvest that uncertain
Children dove for pearls
And children were the reason
Savage, dangerous, naked like otters
They cast their offerings to the sea.
V. The Grammar of Evolution
The mind is not a mountain
Desire is not a sea
Yet each can be likened to each and in our likeness joined in thought through deeds, inherited habits of conjugation and decline –
We say, “The sea of desire is never filled.”
We also say, “Move mountains, fill the sea.”
When words become relentlessly literal
– As if language were mere talk
When metaphor becomes compulsion
– As if wishes could be commands
When articulation becomes unmediated truth
– As if poetry ought be research and design
When our lives are reduced to disfigured speech, then we level mountains to reclaim actual seas and call it progress. Full stop.
and in Chinese (translated by Yang Qian):
当 生活 缩到没有了想象力的语言存在时，我们移山去填真正的海，为之进步。句号。