Hsu Chicheng. Blooming Flowers of Poetry: Selected Poems of Hsu Chicheng (Chinese – English). Translated by Zhang Zhizhong. Chongqing City: The Earth Culture Press (USA), 2012. Pages 382. Price CNY 50.00, US$25.00. ISBN 978-0-9637599-6-2/E.009

The volume of Selected Poems of Hsu Chicheng seeks to present his poetic excellence or, as the poet would like to say, “a new starting point” in his life after 70. Hsu Chicheng has been writing poetry for the past five decades, celebrating nature and humanity: his poems represent the native landscape, idyllic life and human values ​​with respect for Chinese tradition and culture:

“I am determined to dedicate myself to human beings.
And I don’t care if you eat my flesh or drink my blood.” (p.361)
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“The fire of strength will never be extinguished
And it will burn more wildly, wildly…” (p. 359)

Since I don’t know Chinese, I can’t say if he too follows traditional Chinese poetic forms and styles, but he is modern in his outlook and true to his personal experiences and vision. As he points out in his foreword:

“My pieces are written with more blood than ink. Humanism is the basic point of my writing; with the usual themes of the countryside, landscape and nature, to praise the sunny side of human life and encourage people to keep going.” finally bring benefit to my readers… In the past 50 years, Taiwan’s poetry forum has been a lively scene: various styles and various schools of poems. But I don’t follow any other school than my own pastoral school. I go my own way cultivating my own land, planting my own seeds and growing my own crops…” (p. 13)

Obviously, Hsu Chicheng writes with a commitment. His poetic sensibility is rooted in nature, the sea and the rivers, the hills and mountains, the winds and the rains, the fields and agricultural activities, the docile birds and domestic animals, the sincerity and simplicity of the country people, their honesty and tolerance, and the hardships of rural and urban life, etc. He is also aware of the transitions experienced at various points in his career as a teacher, journalist, military judge, and his post-retirement activities as a poet, translator, and editor. His poetic imagination exudes a sense of history.

Although he faces challenges of a diverse socio-political nature and ups and downs in his own life, his visionary orientation is ‘self’ despite the disappointing political and economic climate abroad. The fighter in it urges: “Hold on to the will / Never let go of the target / No fear of bitterness / No fear of loneliness / Will go his own way alone / Tread even roughness / Dispel the mist / Walk of the winds and the rains/To embrace the sunlight” p. 357), just as the meditator rejoices in it: “Sitting in silence/The stillness is here/The stillness accompanies me/Only two: she and I” (p. 369). Hsu yearns for peace and enjoys it through inner stillness “in the depth of the night.” In fact, poetry is his spiritual aspiration and fulfillment.

At 73, Hsu rejoices in hope and faith:

“There is nothing wrong with retirement
There is nothing wrong with sunset.
i can still paint
–Though it’s painting the glow
You can paint better” (p. 165)

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“Now it is evening! The twilight is gathering
What is the length of the long lane ahead?
Is the lane smooth or hard to walk on?
Despite the uncertainty
Despite tiredness and difficulty walking
without stopping and without rest
The value of one has to be taken in both hands
To appreciate and draw the colorful glow of sunset” (p. 475)

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“He hasn’t given up his hope yet.
He is on the search sparing no effort
… (p. 367)

Hsu loves the brightness (p. 355) and sees hope in the winter, “Never lose your faith/And wait patiently” (p. 353), as he puts it. For him, growing old is a joy, a new opportunity:

“This time to be more constant and firmer
Spiritually oneself must be completely remodeled
To overcome body aging
To bear the burden of the years
Walking in scorching heat, severe cold, and winds and rain
Overcome myriads of hills and streams, as well as bumpy roads…”
(‘Seventy Years Like Spring’, p. 351)

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“We lift our heads and overlook, expecting another world
We raise our heads and look, hoping for another spring”
(‘Reappearance’, p. 347)
Hsu Chicheng, as a sensitive observer of himself, others and nature, expresses a free spirit with awareness of the cycle of changes and memories of childhood, growth and aging. His poems are as genuine as his silver hair and keep the fire of hope and faith burning (cf. pp. 333, 299, 271, 257).

It seems to me that poet editor Zhang Zhizhong’s verbatim word-for-word translation successfully shows the growth of Hsu’s mind and personality and places him at the forefront of contemporary Chinese poetry. He is ably joined by a couple of other poet translators, namely Yang Zongze, Yang Xu, and Hsu Chicheng himself, who translates some of the best poems in the collection. I also feel that by their close reading of Hsu’s poetic texts and/or their presentation in real contexts, Zhang Zhizhong and others have helped open up new spaces in Chinese poetry, whether from mainland China or from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The translators deserve kudos for their expert interpretation of Hsu’s inspiring and refreshing texts and contexts.

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