‘You think this is poetry’: Liang Luscombe in Conversation with Chunxiao Qu

By and | 15 February 2023

Chunxiao Qu at Latrobe Art Institute, Bendigo, 2022. Photograph by AJ Taylor.

LL: Yeah, I completely understand the desire to get a response from the audience in relation to one’s work. I’m interested in how you shift between Mandarin and English in your poems. For example, in the book Popcorn, porn of poetry, the poems are written in Mandarin and then you translated them to English. How has that kind of translation affected your most recent book?

CQ: The poetry book Popcorn, porn of poetry has both English and Mandarin, because I wrote that since 2017, and during that time my English is much worse than now, and I wrote some of my poems in Mandarin first, then translated to English, and that’s why I want to keep both in the first book because I didn’t want to lose the best version. For some of them the best version is the Chinese version. For some of them maybe the English, depends on which one I wrote first. A translation always feels like a poor copy. But maybe I am wasting paper. We are almost the end of the world. We do the best so we can save things.

LL: It’s very funny for a writer to think their book might be a waste of paper.

CQ: I was feeling bad because I thought: oh my God, my poems are so short they’re kind of a waste of paper because there’s so much space.

LL: I often make artworks when provoked – often angered – by an event or encounter. I then create an alter ego and versions of myself in the works. The character Fran in my most recent videos is not exactly me but there are elements that are similar. But then there’s the voiceover in my films, which are often is very autobiographical in content. For instance, there’s a section in the video where the voiceover says: ‘Fran’s grandma told everyone that she was a matriarch now that my grandpa was dead.’ My grandma did announce that over lunch last year (laughs).

CQ: Yeah, I totally understand what you mean. That’s why I wrote:

art is just I want to be myself

I think our creations are difficult to escape from our own life experiences, so just like an old saying: ‘Art came from life’. I mean they can be made up, but also some of them are real, just like your examples of how you create the structure and story of your own film by your real experiences. Also, I feel similar as you do, when I am angry or disappointed with something, I feel more productive. I feel lazy when I just feel life is so wonderful and perfect, I mean I am too busy enjoying my life rather than to create.

LL: I have been thinking of the phrase in one of your poems where you say, ‘Google Translate is wrong and I’m right.’ What interests me about your voice as a poet is its defiant quality: ‘no no I’m right’ you say. I’m curious about the tone when you’re writing a poem like that.

CQ: It is wrong at least many times when I was using it. But also, it is not always wrong, and I am not always wrong or right. I think that’s why I like defiant. It makes me think about Jin Yong’s Wuxia novel The Return of the Condor Heroes. There is a man in the novel who has practiced very powerful Kungfu by using his left hand to fight with his right hand.

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