The Cork Spring Literary festival opened in style, with a stunning setting in the Douglas Vance room of the Metropole hotel.
To start the evening, congratulations went out to Sandra Ann Winters, winner of the Gregory O’Donoghue prize, for her poem “Death of Alaska”. Selected and awarded by Leanne O’Sullivan, Sandra’s elegant poem resonated with loss and longing – a truly beautiful poem that lingers, one that you’d want to return to time and again. Hopefully I’ll be able to link you up to a copy within the next few days.
The award was followed by the launch of Zhao Lihong’s poetry collection A Boat to Heaven. This is the first time that Zhao Lihong has been published in English – which is pretty astounding seeing as he occupies a place in China analogous to Seamus Heaney. In fact, I have it on good authority that the majority of Chinese school children would be able to recite his works by heart (especially Street Lamp, which you can read on p33 of his collection).
So I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a real treat to be able to listen to Zhao Lihong read his poetry in the original language, followed by English translations read by Tom McCarthy. In his address to the audience, Zhao Lihong stated that he used to have the opinion that poetry could not be translated; that it could only be enjoyed properly in its original language. However, his experience working with the Munster Literature Centre and attending the festival has shown him that his poetry could be understood by speakers of other languages.
After listening to the passionate battle against fear in The Flame (p22), the torturous loneliness of Lotus Seed (p34) and the beautiful solemnity of The Pledge (p35), I thoroughly agree. Subtle insights into the politics of ages, untamed landscapes and vulnerable passions fill every poem. But to best describe Zhao Lihong’s poetry, I shall use his own words:
“At my back, is the history and splendid culture, and at my feet, the splendid landscape; I have lots to say about my motherland…My poems are flowers from my soul. My poems have made me special. My poems mean I am not lonely during difficult times. I hope you will be able to appreciate the little flowers from my soul.”
To finish the event, Zhao Lihong discussed how even though Ireland is a small country, it has a vast literary heritage which has now been widely translated and made available in China. However, Chinese writers remain unknown in Ireland, and he hopes that this is the beginning of a change in approach. I hope also that we see more works from other countries appearing in translation in Ireland – Munster Literature Centre has certainly given us a glimpse of the quality that is out there.
Luckily, I got to meet with Zhao Lihong afterwards and he recommended some of his contemporaries…so if you’d like to read more Chinese poetry, look out for Beidao, Yang Lian, Gu Cheng and Shu Ting.