new zealand electronic poetry centre


YA N G   L I A N    

Tapa Notebooks




In a radio station studio, Yang Lian and I
Face off like warriors. But this meeting
Is an embrace, not death. And his words:
Before I came to Auckland, the sea was a distant
Idea. When I came to Auckland, I put my hand
In the sea and felt only the points of separation.
It took five years for me to find the sea inside my body

This is true: words are bridges linking people
Defeating the abrupt betrayal of piers.

Chris Abani. Auckland: Some notations of value

In July 2003 during the Poetics of Exile conference Yang Lian and Chris Abani walked down to the Cook St studio to be interviewed for National Radio. As Chris looked across to Stanley Point Norfolk pines appeared as pagodas in the company of the Chinese New Zealand poet. The embrace of recognition in the studio occurred as Chris sat in on Yang’s interview and willingly contributed his voice to read the English translations of Yang’s poems after Yang’s Chinese originals. Words are bridges. For the poet hailing from the aridness of northern China, this city of dead volcanoes, with the sea so close on all sides was a landscape of exile. The arch of Grafton Bridge extending gossamer protection to Chris Abani in 2003 enacted the interminable anguished present of exillic death for Yang in 1990. See Grafton Bridge.

Returning ten years later to the now familar lushness of Auckland, Yang Lian’s poetic exchange with the city continued from the vantage point of North Head. This meditation on the island seascape of the Hauraki Gulf in the darkening colours of a winter evening was Yang’s chosen entry in the tapa notebook presented to him upon his departure from Auckland last year.

for Michele Leggott

you see clearer than anyone how this city disappears
this ocean slowly freezing, becoming a museum window
with beating wings on either side of your house
water storing downward steps to walk once from the battery
feeling down worn steps like twilight
six o’clock grass hidden in soaking green
you stand in evening’s colours earlier than anyone
with a blast on the mouth organ exhausting the setting sun
the very last aural comprehension

what landscape waits for is never eyes
islands always reflect the image of an island in the inverted heart
lamps’ light recorded on a poem’s silver plate
night chasing a predestined logic like a dog chasing eccentricity
barking madly the side of darkness is the starting point there
what was long buried by sunlight retrieves you first
eyes beautifully staring have at last a pure loneliness

Translator: Brian Holton, tweaked by Hilary Chung


The notebook was inscribed by Yang Lian in his London flat in December 2003. 


Photos Hilary Chung

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Last updated July 16, 2004