Poetry Reading: The Work of Yun Wang31 May 2017, Posted by Poetry in
POETRY READING: THE WORK OF YUN WANG
AM: Let us hear a little bit about what your inspirations are and how you end up with a poem.
YW: My greatest inspiration has always been nature. A good fraction of my poems came to me while I was enjoying the beauty and peace of nature. Many of my poems were triggered by strong emotions that I experienced, some based on personal experiences, others on what I read in the news. My empathy is so strong that I could get really upset just reading about terrible things that happened to other people. I am so busy these days that I don’t write a lot of poems, usually only several a year. I can say that I only write a poem if I feel compelled to write it.
AM: You mentioned in the reading that you “had Buddhist leanings”; could you say a little more about that, and does it have a bearing on your poems?
YW: My late father was the biggest influence on my life. He began teaching me classical Chinese poetry when I was just a toddler, and we discussed classical poetry and world news as equals when I was in middle school. He was also the one who told me to become a scientist so that I would be less vulnerable to political persecution in China. My father was brutally persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, as I’ve written about in some of my poems. He became a Buddhist in the last three decades of his life, which made me take Buddhism seriously. As I grow more mature, I’ve come to understand the teachings of Buddhism in more depth, and begun to comprehend the meaning of enlightenment. This has helped me in my life’s journey, and has influenced my poetry as well.
AM: Does it help your ideal reader to know your background in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or not?
YW: I don’t think knowledge of the Cultural Revolution is essential to a reader’s understanding of my poetry, but those who do have that knowledge may find a stronger resonance with my poems that involve the Cultural Revolution. However, only a small fraction of my poems are in that category. On the other hand, the Cultural Revolution was such a painful, long, and traumatic experience to a large fraction of the world’s population, we should all learn from that so that it never happens again, in China or anywhere else.
AM: What advice would you share with other younger writers, artists & scientists that you have learned?
YW: My advice is to never give up on your dream, and to work as hard as you can to achieve that dream. A dreamer who does not work hard to make the dream come true is destined to failure and disillusionment. When one is young, there may be times when things seem impossibly difficult and hopeless; those are the times when perseverance is the key and the bridge to future success, or at least fulfillment. Success may not always come in the form that is expected. In my view, being good at doing what one loves is success and fulfillment, independent of external recognition. Support of like-minded friends is very important. So, don’t sulk alone, find your own flock of birds of the same feather.
AM: Who are some of your favorite (go-to) writers. The ones you return to over and again?
YW: I never tire of the classical Chinese masters: Li Bai, Du Fu, Su Dong-Po, Li Shang-Yin, etc. Among modern and contemporary poets, Yeats and Tranströmer are my favorites. I can return to their poems again and again, and find new meaning each time. I value depth, subtlety, and music in poetry — all qualities abundant in poetry by classical Chinese masters but harder to find in contemporary poetry.
About the Author:
Poet and cosmologist Yun Wang grew up in rural southwest China. Her father was a political dissident and her mother was a teacher. She began writing poetry when she was 12, and she majored in physics at Tsinghua University when she was 16. She came to the United States for graduate school in Physics in 1985 and earned her PhD in physics from Carnegie Mellon University. She is the author of two poetry books: The Book of Totality (Salmon Poetry Press, 2015) and The Book of Jade (Story Line Press, 2002), winner of the 15th Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Her two poetry chapbooks are Horse by the Mountain Stream (Word Palace Press, 2016) and The Carp (Bull Thistle Press, 1994), and is the translator of Dreaming of Fallen Blossoms: Tune Poems of Su Dong-Po (White Pine Press, forthcoming 2018). Wang’s poems have been published in numerous literary journals, including the Kenyon Review, Cimarron Review, Salamander Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and International Quarterly. Her translations of classical Chinese poetry have been published in Poetry Canada Review, Willow Springs, Connotation Press, and elsewhere.
Yun Wang is a Senior Research Scientist at California Institute of Technology & Professor of Astronomy at the University of Oklahoma.
Art Credit: Cagri Yilmaz, Istanbul, @resifdesign