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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Poetry Gets An Audience

Two amazing poets read some of their works, Wednesday, December 4, 2002 in the teachers lounge on the sixth floor of the Wheatley building. An unexpectedly large audience showed up for refreshments and to hear the inspiring words from the established poets.

Ha Jin and Xi Chuan were the stars of this event. Faculty, students, and friends poured in, filling the room and spilling into the hallway. Thankfully, the floor had carpeting, so those sitting on it were a little more comfortable. I started to become a bit skeptical whether this event was so packed because of the refreshments or the poetry. Either way I was shocked at the amount of people who kept streaming in.

The University’s, Creative Writing Department, Asian American Studies Program, Hanging Loose Press, The William Joiner Center, and The Watermark are all responsible for organizing the event and they contributed to the success of the reading. The Watermark supplied the refreshments, which ranged from coffee and teas to pastries.

China’s leading poet Xi Chuan flew in that day from Iowa and was flying out of Boston that night, but jet lag and fatigue did not interfere with his reading. He captivated the audience with his poems. The first to be read was, “In The Dark Room.” It was a humorous poem that got many giggles from the audience, yet his tone stayed serious while he read. He stood solid and serene.

He read four in total; “Of My Intimate Appearance” was one I especially liked. In the poem he changed with each line, personifying himself as different things, from a man who smelled a stench, to the actual stench and so forth. It was excellent. Best of all was his exciting lines read from one of his long poems, “Salute.” Chuan read each line, one at a time, first in Chinese then in English. It was a brilliant way to end his reading. Hearing the lines in two different languages back-to-back made it much more interesting. His poetry commanded the attention of the audience.

Xi Chuan’s poetry has been translated in to over ten languages and he has won the prestigious Lu Xun Prize for literature. He has published four collections of poetry most recently, Water Stains in 1991. He was humble and grateful to be at UMass, “Thank you so much. It is a great opportunity for me to be here…and it is a great honor for me to meet and read together with Ha Jin.”

Ha Jin is the author of the international bestseller Waiting. He has won two awards, the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Jin came to the United States at the age of twenty-nine to study at Brandeis University. With encouragement from his professors, he began writing poems in English. Currently, he is a professor of creative writing at Boston University. An interview with Ha Jin will be in the next publication of The Watermark.

“All these poems are historical poems, for me there was kind of a psychological need to understand.” Jin read seven different poems, profoundly, although he was a little hard to hear. As he admitted this himself, ” I am soft spoken.” After fixing the microphone, which allowed the room to finally hear him, he began reading a poem named “Trade.” This poem was the first read and it was the shortest. The last poem to be read was my favorite called, “Departure.” The piece discussed having all the knowledge of the West and some philosophy on life.

Jin read seven different poems. Each poem told a story sharing a theme about Chinese history. Some poems focused on soldiers and weapons, wisdom, courage, territory, advice to children, and empires, while others were focused on philosophy and law. His moral awareness shines through his poetry. The works gave the audience a look at communist China that is sensitive to both China and Western cultures.

Jin ended with a reading from his latest book Craved. He read a chapter that involved a character dying, playing the roles of each character as he read and changing his tone of voice with each setting. After his reading, applause lasted for a few minutes and the smiling audience was a sign of approval. Professor Saunders, one of the many English professors on the scene, sums up the experience, “I thought it was so evocative, so mysterious. I sort of did not know where I was, but I loved it.”

Both authors lingered for a while after, signing books and chatting with their admirers. Clearly, the majority of the English department was thrilled to have such an event held in their lounge. Listening to both writers I have decided that the huge turnout was due to their skill and not the refreshments.