Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry by Michelle Yeh, N. G. D. Malmqvist

By Michelle Yeh, N. G. D. Malmqvist

Taiwan has advanced dramatically from a little-known island to an the world over acclaimed fiscal miracle and thriving democracy. The historical past of recent Taiwanese poetry parallels and tells the tale of this change from outer edge to frontier. Containing translations of approximately four hundred poems from 50 poets spanning the total 20th century, this anthology unearths Taiwan in a vast spectrum of topics, types, and kinds: from lyrical meditation to political satire, haiku to concrete poetry, surrealism to postmodernism. The in-depth advent outlines the advance of contemporary poetry within the precise historic and cultural context of Taiwan. accomplished in either intensity and scope, Frontier Taiwan superbly captures the achievements of the nation's sleek poetic traditions.

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In the editorial in the second issue of Modern Poetry Quarterly (Xiandaishi jikan), Ji Xian laments: ‘‘There is no need to conceal the fact that New Poetry is looked down on by most people’’ (August 20, 1953). This and other comments show that those who wrote classical poetry tended to belong to the cultural establishment: In view of the huge gathering that Old Poetry organized on Poet’s Day, some [fellow modern poets] become nervous, worrying that New Poetry might get trampled on and die an early death.

15:81) Emulating the Literary Revolution of 1917, Ji Xian declared a second revolution whose goal was to further modern poetry. Responding to the still frequent use of rhyme and regular form at the time, he made a sharp distinction between ‘‘poetry’’ and ‘‘song,’’ rejecting the latter as a remnant of antiquated tradition. Also implicit in his discourse is the dissociation of modern poetry from state-endorsed, politically oriented verse, which closely resembled anticommunist songs. Once freed from the conventions of song, poetry is no longer bound by a predetermined form but is free to develop its own; the content determines the form, not the other way around.

Under the capable leadership of Shen and succeeding administrators, most notably the first governor of Taiwan, Liu Mingchuan (1836–96), a series of innovative measures were implemented, including building railways, establishing postal service, installing electric streetlights and telegraph lines, and founding modern public schools with an emphasis on Western learning. By the end of Liu’s gubernatorial tenure (1885–91), Taiwan had become a prosperous agricultural export province. Compared with the rest of the empire, which had been in decline since mid-century and did not get a reform movement off the ground till 1898, Taiwan was ‘‘a generation ahead’’ (Goddard 1966:xiv) and was even considered the ‘‘most advanced province of China,’’ with Taipei as its political, economic, and cultural center (Kuo 1973:237).

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