Originally published in Jacket 27 (2005), this provocative abecedarian essay, by Kate Fagan and Peter Minter, explores John Tranter’s self-selected, internationalist poetic-cultural heritage, particularly as it is formulated through his long poem The Alphabet Murders. We reprint the essay now, to acknowledge and celebrate “the outward or extra-national turn” that organized John Tranter’s Jacket and continues to inform his work.
It is impossible to convey the baffling complexity of the Chinese poetry scene, or rather scenes, for China is a huge and fragmented country with thousands of poets spread across millions of square miles. Further, China is but one of several countries or “renegade states” (as some Chinese politicians refer to Taiwan) in which poetry is composed in the Chinese language. It is nonetheless possible to observe some general trends, of which the most salient, in my view, is the impact of the Internet. While many scholars have described the Internet’s influence on the publishing and consumption of Chinese poetry, I have yet to see anyone discuss the profound influence that it has had on the form and content of Chinese poetry.
At the risk of sounding cynical, most poems written in China today aspire to the condition of an elevated blog entry. The poster child for this trend is Yin Lichuan, the most prominent and influential member of the still controversial (but no longer active) Beijing-based Lower Body Movement, which was the first poetic movement to write about sex, adultery, drugs, crime, bar life, lowlifes, and other unsightly blemishes on the grimy underbelly of China’s new urban culture. Now, however, she is but one of hundreds and possibly thousands of Chinese poets who write in a similar vein.
Where do we go from here? We are in uncharted waters, or maybe in familiar waters, unable to recognize the signs that show the way. Am I a navigator? Am I the navigator? Are we moving? Are the islands moving? Have we been following the navigator, so well-guided we don’t even know the navigator is here?
— Cecilia C. T. Perez, Signs of Being
Located in the northwest Pacific Ocean, the Mariana archipelago consists of fifteen islands, including Rota, Tinian, Saipan, and Guam, and is the homeland of the Chamoru people. For an introduction to the literature of the archipelago, the scholarship of Robert Tenorio Torres is a good place to start. His three essays, “Pre-Contact Mariana Folklore, Legends, and Literature” (2003), “Colonial and Conquest Lore of the Marianas” (2003), and “Post-Colonial and Modern Literature of the Marianas” (2004), stand as the most sustained critical commentaries in the field and the first serious attempts to articulate a Marianas literature.