The DFG Center for Advanced Studies “Russian-Language Poetry in Transition” (FOR 2603) cordially invites you to a lecture with Joanna Krenz streamed live via Zoom. Please register by e-mail with Anna Fees (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than January 11th, 2022, to receive the stream’s access data.
Swatting Mosquitoes: Contemporary Child-Authored Poetry from China
“Writing poetry is like swatting mosquitoes / Sometimes I smash one / by accident / Sometimes / I swat and swat / And can’t reach it / I think writing poetry / is just like this” – reads the definition of poetry formulated by the then 7-year-old girl Li Yurong 李雨融 (b. 2010) in a poem that opens the 2017 anthology Poetry Written by Children (孩子们写的诗) edited by Guo Mai 果麦, featuring works of over sixty authors of 3 to 13 years of age. Advertised with the catchy motto Child You Were Born a Poet (孩子你是天生的诗人) printed on the cover, sometimes also treated as its subtitle, the anthology gathers the crème de la crème of children’s poetic output which has massively circulated on the Chinese Internet and in social media for around two decades, attracting growing attention of mass and specialist audiences alike. The beginnings of the increased interest in the phenomenon of children’s writing date back to the early 2000s, which witnessed the release of an individual collection of the then 13-year-old Chen Ang 陈昂 (b. 1991) titled The End of the World (天崖, 2003) followed by other publications and artistic activities of the young author who was enthusiastically hailed as “Poetry Prince” (诗歌王子), including his substantial contribution to “earthquake poetry” (地震诗歌) after the natural disaster that hit Sichuan in 2008. Since then, the Internet has seen the emergence of a good dozen of other “princes” and “princesses”, some of them still at pre-school age, and, technically, not even capable of writing poetry, whose creations were first simply jotted down by parents who happily assumed the role of “poetry secretaries” (诗歌秘书), in the words of Jiang Puyuan 姜普元,the father of the today already widely recognized Jiang sisters, Xinhe 馨贺 (b. 2003) and Erman 二嫚 (b. 2007), who started their adventure with poetry at the age 1 year 7 months and 2 years 5 months, respectively. Meanwhile, the year 2016 witnessed an unprecedented success of Kang Yu’s 康瑜 initiative “Poetry Is Light” (是光诗歌) addressed to children from rural and mountainous areas, including mostly orphans and abandoned children of rural migrant workers, with its self-suggestive motto “Children who write poetry don’t smash windows” (会写诗的孩子不砸玻璃), which since then has already reached around 70,000 pupils, and has attracted attention of media and prominent sponsors.
Although readers across the world are not unfamiliar with the phenomenon of child-authored verse which manifests itself for instance in the huge number of literary contests for little poets available online and dozens of academic papers discussing the advantages of poetry writing at school classes, the scale and dynamism of this phenomenon in China, a country that is widely believed to be suppressing children’s creativity at every step with its ossified education system, may appear surprising to the Western reader. Yet, suffice it to scan the initial pages of the 2017 anthology or an anthology that emerged from “Poetry Is Light” initiative to make sure that its contributors are not only anything but uncreative but are endowed with astonishing self-awareness as human beings and meta-literary awareness as poets, as epitomized by the poem cited in the introductory paragraph which unceremoniously tackles a question that many adult authors struggle with and some do not even dare to raise.
In my talk, I will try to discuss the phenomenon of children’s poetry from three angles, asking respectively:
- (1) what poetry can do for children = what psychological, educational, social, and other benefits may bring poetry writing to young authors
- (2) what children can do for poetry = how children’s writing may influence our thinking of poetry, what critical and theoretical concepts and approaches it may inspire, and how it complicates and/or refreshens certain notions
- (3) what can adults do for/to children’s poetry, for/to children through poetry, and for/to poetry through children = different ways of “adulthandling” of children’s creativity
* poetry teaching as a humane education, manifestation of concern, form of therapy, a method of tightening bonds between generations
* ways in which adults attempt to transmit certain values to children through stimulating and navigating their esthetic sensibility and manipulations that are often perpetrated in this process
* commodification and monetization of children’s sensibilities
* ideological uses of children’s poetry in the shaping of general structures of feeling of the society
* inspirations drawn by adult poets (and not only poets) from their work with youngest authors and the problem of authorship and “(un)fair use”
Joanna Krenz (PhD 2018, Leiden University) is an assistant professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and a guest scholar at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on contemporary (Chinese) literature in intercultural and interdisciplinary contexts, in particular on its interactions with natural sciences, technology, and philosophy. Her monograph In Search of Singularity: Poetry in Poland and China Since 1989 written as part of the “Lyric in Transition” project based on the University of Trier is forthcoming from Brill. She is also an active translator of Chinese literature in prose and in verse into Polish. Her book-length translations include Polish-language collections of Yu Jian’s poetry Świecie wejdź / 世界啊 你进来吧 (Come In World) and Li Hao’s poetry Powrót do domu / 还乡 (Homecoming), Yan Lianke’s novels: Kroniki Eksplozji / 炸裂志(Explosion Chronicles), Sen wioski Ding / 丁庄梦 (Dream of Ding Village), Dzień, w którym umarło słońce / 日熄 (The Day the Sun Died), Sheng Keyi’s novel Tęczujący popiół / 锦辉 (Metaphor Detox Center), and Harry Wu’s non-fiction Zimny wiatr (Bitter Winds).