The Rainbow Bridge at Slender West Lake Poetry Festival

It was not possible to post while away as WordPress is one of those sites that the Chinese government quietly, politely and firmly declines access to. No matter… It didn’t change the fact that the Slender West Lake festival was a truly unforgettable 4 day banquet of friendship, poetry and hospitality. It was also a triumph of cultural diplomacy for Yang Lian, who devised and led the whole thing.

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Here we all are, including international poets Arthur Sze, Joachim Sartorius, Sean O’Brien and Bill Herbert and Chinese poets Xichuan, Xiaodu, Zhai Yongming, Yang Lian, Yang Xiaobin. This photo, eight years on from the one in my last post, was taken in the garden at Slender West lake, after a poetry exchange like no other. As we travelled down the canal in a decorative boat, groups of school children gathered on the banks and we stopped to read them our poems and hear great Chinese classic poems recited back to us. To say it was moving is an understatement. I have never seen such a passionate engagement with poetry among all ages and types of people. In Yangzhou, poetry is as much the art of the common people as the literati, and the appetite for it was enormous.

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The opening ceremony was an impressive event, involving a water ceremony and balloons released over the pavilion, as well as poems linking this first international poetry festival to the timeless poetic heritage of the city.

Here the little children gathered and paid rapt attention to my rendition of Cheng Du Massage! I was then rewarded with a beautiful chorus of a classic Chinese poem.

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Yang Lian recites a poem to his fans on Rainbow Bridge

We went on to work on translations of Li Bo and each other’s poems in a shady pavilion in the gardens. Many of these poems will appear in anthology edited by Bill Herbert and Yang Lian. There was also an intensive dialogue on the meaning of the local in a globalised world, a hefty topic which developed our appetites for the daily amazing banquet of local food, mostly based around the fresh fish of the river.

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After Slender West Lake we travelled on the Nanjing, for a very different sort of gathering. More photos will follow in a new post.

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