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Chief Editor
Dr Mike Ellis
Email: mindquest@
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Publisher
Lesley Pocock

Contact details
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Ouyang Yu
Australian poet, novelist and critic

 


Ouyang Yu - Australian poet, novelist and critic has published 43 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary criticism and literary translation in both english and chinese. he is now professor of australian literature in the english department, wuhan university, wuhan, china. his latest publication is 'on the smell of an oily rag: speaking english, thinking chinese and living australian', a book of creative non-fiction

Born in Huangzhou, Hubei, in the People's Republic of China, Ouyang Yu completed an MA in English and Australian Literature in Shanghai and worked as an interpreter, translator and lecturer in China. He came to Australia in 1991 to complete a PhD at La Trobe University, Melbourne, on the representation of the Chinese in Australian fiction (awarded 1995). He writes in both English and Chinese. Best known for his poetry, he has also written fiction and criticism in both languages, and has translated over a dozen major Australian literary texts into Chinese.

Ouyang's best-known works in English are his poetry collections Moon Over Melbourne and Other Poems (1995), Songs of the Last Chinese Poet (1997), short-listed for the 1999 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards) and Two Hearts, Two Tongues and Rain-Coloured Eyes (2002). His first novel, The Eastern Slope Chronicle, was published in 2002. On 29/02/2004, this book won the Festival Award for Innovation in Writing at the 2004 Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts, apart from being short-listed for the Community Relations Commission Award, NSW Premier's Literary Awards in 2003. The book is now put on the syllabus in the English Department, University of Sydney. He is the founding editor of Otherland, the first (and only) bilingual journal of Chinese-Australian writing. He has won a number of major grants for fiction, non-fiction, poetry and translation.

Ouyang is a controversial figure within Australian literature, sometimes characterised as 'the angry Chinese poet.' His work captures the frustrations (personal, social, professional and sexual) of the migrant experience and hits out at the indifference and hostility with which Australia has greeted recent waves of Asian immigration. He writes with insight about the dilemmas of transnational artists and intellectuals caught between different literary, cultural and linguistic traditions. His raw, uncompromising style (according to one critic, the 'deliberate unloveliness' of his language) challenges literary as well as social establishments at the same time as it engages in courageous acts of introspection and self-criticism. Ouyang typifies the new generation of post-colonial writers and intellectuals who can write with detachment about the forces of globalisation and their impact on East-West relations and at the same time acknowledge their complex and often painful impact on their own life and work.

(By Wenche Ommundsen)


Su Shi (1037-1101)

Listening to the River

Translated from Chinese by Ouyang Yu
i wake up and get drunk again, drinking at eastern slope
it's near midnight on my return home
my houseboy is snoring like thunder
unresponsive to my knocks on the door
leaning on my stick, i listen to the river
for long i resent the fact that I'm not master of my fate
why can't i just forget about it all?
on this quiet night with no wind, all ripples erased from the river
i wish i could disappear in my tiny little boat
and spend the rest of my life with rivers and seas


The Creek Runs West

Translated from Chinese by Ouyang Yu
below the hill, the short orchid shoots are soaked in the creek
a sandy path among pines is so clean there is no mud
in the fine evening rain, cuckoos are singing
who says one can't return to one's young age?
even the creek before the door runs west
why can't a white-haired man crow at dawn the way a young rooster does?

Translator's note: Chinese believe rivers in China run east and most of them do so, physically. A river that runs west in China is a very rare thing.
Janus Head, 7(1), 50-52. Copyright © 2004 by Trivium Publications, Amherst, NY
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America


Listening to the ex-Chinese-woman-soldier

The way she looks at my teeth is a bit unnerving
As I take down her details
Regarding incident after incident of
Domestic violence
And other matters of substance:

I used to be in the Chinese navy
Then I became a real estate agent
With a good income till we met
He habitually beats me up on a monthly basis
But I have never been beaten by anyone
Not even by my parents
All my life
It gets to a degree where we don't speak
Any more, if we do, if I comment on anything, anything
I have commented on
Will emerge in later conversations as something
Against me, so it's best we shut our mouths and say nothing
What have I become now?
A cooking wife, a laundry woman, a do-everything
It's best this way
He keeps to him, I to myself
Each going down our own single-wood bridge

I notice that she is a woman
Who says yes to every one of my questions
Even though she wears plain clothes


Listening to the Pakistani Taxi-driver

You'd never know who you'd run into when you catch a cab
To the airport, in Melbourne, you'd have dozens of ethnics such as Somalis
Indians, sri lankans, Iraqis, even Chinese
This guy whose name is, vaguely, rizwan
Tells me that he's from Pakistan and is going to get his master's degree
While driving this taxi and he says:

I mean I can easily get 385 dollars, not a week, but a fortnight
From the centralink but I don't like the idea
Because we don't have the habit of falling back on the government
As some aussies do whose habit it is to always get it whenever they can
Generation after generation

For me, I work, my mind work, my hands work, and I am happy
And when I get my degree I may go elsewhere for a job
What they should do here is get you a job, not money for nothing
This friend of mine, a sheik from Saudi Arabia, who's invested millions
In Australia but is pulling out because it's such a shit country
If you do business these days you do with china, its economy is so strong
Not even America can catch up and what democracy are you talking about
Every country every people have their own cultures systems religions and beliefs
If you import American democracy you end up with iraq and
The kind of destruction we daily see

It's not good enough
I don't worship anyone these days except what's his name in north korea
Who's got the guts and dares stand up against the American bullcrap
You have to be strong in this world and do your own thing
And not let others run all over you
So you are going to denmark?
I've got an uncle there although I've never been there
Hopefully, one of these days


Listening to the Big Bus Guy in London

He said he'd come along with us
To the underground
And tell us how to get to Wembley Park or Central
As he lurched along the Marble Arch
I asked: Are you Indian?
He said:

I was born here
My parents are Indian
But you know what?
If I go to India where I have never been
They'd call me a foreigner
Even when I am here
They call me a foreigner
Because of my skin color
Funny it is that when I was in Brazil where I was a month ago
They thought I was a local
Again because of my skin color
It is the identity, very confusing
I don't know who I am or what I am
I've been on this job
For only six weeks
Already I think of giving up
You know it's tiring, talking like that every day
And nobody noticing you
Where are you from? Australia?
Oh, I know, you have great food there
And great variety
I'd love to go there one day
If only for the food

At Baker Street
We said goodbye
I on my way to Wembley Stadium
He on his to an undisclosed destination
"quite far from the city"
his paler than an Indian skin
his big brooding eyes
struck me fleetingly as an academic
who went home
having just delivered a speech
on unthinkable confusions of contemporary identity


Listening to the poet talk about himself

Sitting in his kitchen-washroom in Vauxhall, London
Under a sky of low clouds
I was amazed by the number of windows on the opposite building
Across a yard with a bicycle hanging, upside down, on an iron rack
When he said:

And the number of eyes behind those windows, mostly closed
But I won't see them for I draw my curtains
Against a world of sane madness
I didn't know who I was, English or Chinese
But I go beyond that now, I rise above
Nationalities, I am bound by no boundaries
My father was murdered when I was six
Having just woken up in a train station, in northern China
I have since adopted my mother's surname
Hell is London, not exactly the way you say Australia is
For you at least have sunshine which I'm sure will cure me of my disease
Here my face is a sky that smiles no smiles
My face, if anything, is a history turned inside out
With wrongly written characters
Newly put down in English letters
I speak not
To the old world where my love can't root
I speak to
Poets only
Stephen, Peter, Joseph
Have another glass of this
Marc Xero
A lovely white
Wine from italy
In a little while
I'll walk you to Victoria
Where you can take the Victoria Line
To Blackfriars
And see Tate Modern
Right on the other side of the Thames
Hopefully, one day when you come back again
We could meet for the pekin duck again
In Vauxhall, of all the places, and I'm sure I'll remain poor
And love poetry as a most beautiful thing
Despite what you say
About its fascinating ugliness

Listening to my woman patient

She comes striding into my clinic
Wearing a dark pair of glasses
Over her white-skinned face
A dark pair of high-heeled boots
Below her white-skinned legs
I notice these things because they are there
For me, possibly others, to notice
Or perhaps there is no because, just cause of an effect
The minute she shows her teeth through her open mouth
She turns me, a psychologist, into her reader
Gazing away from her, her impact, at the gathering thoughts
Of darkness out the window:

Perhaps I should never have loved him in the first place
A rubbish, but I did, he was rich and much older than me
We bumped into each other one fine day as we never should
Like Pan Jinlian and Ximen Qing
Then he got my number after I got his money, which I refused to take
In vain, life developed into love into love made into love hate
Ah well, it's a long story of love betrayed love twisted love with Chinese burn
Love with Australian meat pie whatever that means
I can't live with this life I have to go
Oh yes he can be so abusive he heaps all the dirty words in the world on you
Calling me Yellow Skin telling me to go home
I never attack back, remembering my Mom's life motto:
Give people understanding, tolerance and love
You'll have the same even though this seems hardly true in Australia
No, I must go and find a place to stay, I have got nothing left with me

I look away from the white-skinned girl with white-skinned legs
Once again
And hear myself murmur: perhaps you should go back to where you came from
Where at least love was something you could keep repeating
Without having to believe its sound


Listening to the 80 year old telling me a story

Just imagine you are also one of a dozen white patients
Sitting in this tiny little waiting room, with me and with Mr Xu
A patient of mine who is telling me his story in Chinese
While you, along with this old white woman, frown on me and Mr Xu
A few times and exchange a few glaring glances until I say to all of you
"Listen to this man for I'll interpret for you, white Australians, for free":

In that medical form I've got nothing to fill I never suffer from any illnesses
Be they diabetes arthritis heart trouble epilepsy I am 80 and have 8 children
4 sons and 4 daughters some in Australia some in China some in Canada
At 15 I went to Shanghai by water our boat took 6 days 6 nights it had to be hauled
With a rope by people on the bank I did an apprentice in a company under Japanese
Occupation in the English settlement I lived in the French settlement in a house
I rented for 100 taels of gold for life that's why we didn't suffer much after
New China I had to be extremely careful in all those political campaigns
sanfan, wufan, fanyou, qingdui, wenge, so many of my friends had died or were
sent to Qinghai some committed suicide I was extra cautious even then my name
was mentioned in a struggle meeting when they said I had traveled more frequently
by plane before liberation than a lot of people who could only travel by rickshaw
when my sons grew up they blamed me for being timid how would they know
what I had gone through if I had dared to be critical I would have put them in danger
I would not have seen them through to universities when Deng Xiaoping came
I've managed to live to 80 I'm fine I exercise everyday

Australia is good fresh air clean environment
People are nice in the morning you go out they say hello you say hello
But no communications today is like this tomorrow is like this the day after
Is always like this I don't like going to old people's clubs
They ask you to take free buses to the casino ask you to get lunches for 2 bucks
I don't like casinos cheap food

I think I suggested the idea of writing his life story
I heard him laughing but making no comments
I must admit this was the worst hospital I had ever been to
The doctor was dismissive and curt
The nurse showed no respect for neither of us
The receptionist cut me short
The patients sitting around us hated us like dirt
I could empathize with them for if two Arabs were sitting there
And talking in Arabic I'd probably resent that, too
Lastly, I don't think I'll let this detail go

The nurse first called a man to go: Mr Mastroianni
Then, she called my 80-year-old: Xu, Xu, Xu!


Listening to the Chinese audience

After I finished reading
At don bank museum
In napier street, north Sydney
That cost me 18 bucks to taxi to
From soho galleries
In cathedral street
That had cost me 20-odd minutes in my search
This Chinese woman stood up in the audience
And spoke:

Your poetry is so dark, depressive
So pessimistic
Poetry is meant to be enlightening, uplifting
It should be beautiful, about beautiful things
Life already misery enough
You should give us some light, more light
With your poetry
You should, in a word
Write something to make us feel better
About ourselves, about the world around us
You should avoid using abusive language

She kept talking without giving me a chance to
Defend, offend, myself
So I stood there, in front of the listening audience
Watching the light burning
With smoke on a standing lamp
Which drew everyone's attention
But hers
Finally, I said
To myself
Looking around the well-lit poetry reading room
And well-lit faces
"there is enough light
outside my book"