Chinese Feminism in English Translation
Introducing Yu Xiuhua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
“I have claimed to be a woman without a story. Still, I have experienced much of life,” writes Yu Xiuhua in “My Crazy Love Feels More Like Despair,” the opening essay of Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm, a hybrid collection of poetry and prose, translated from the Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. A poet from rural China who gained notoriety when her poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You” appeared online in 2014, Yu Xiuhua has cerebral palsy and is a survivor of domestic violence. Less confessional than dreamy, Yu Xiuhua’s writing is steeped in the imagination: “I have invented a lover in a faraway place,” she informs us, while elsewhere she compares the act of “fucking” to a “fictional spring we mistake for a renewed life.”
Many of the poems included in this work are moving precisely because of how they register the limits of the imagination, rather than its transformative capacities. Addressing her lover, the speaker in “Those Secrets Suddenly Dignified” says, “I imagine the candles that you light, but ask that you omit my imagination.” Rather than dwell on her hopeless love, the speaker turns to “the excessive sun in Hengdian Village, chrysanthemums on a wound.” It is a beautiful image, like so many that are scattered throughout these poems in which words are stand-ins only for themselves: “Today for instance, an abrupt wind grows on my way home / Water in a fish pond flaps against the bank, spouting white ripples.” Rejecting the poetics of metaphor, lines like these call on us to look closely, listen carefully, and notice the world around us.
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