Review Short: Yan Jun’s You Jump to Another Dream

By | 6 August 2013

You Jump to Another Dream

This era’s most magnificent exhaustion

You Jump to Another Dream by Yan Jun
Vagabond, 2013

As I was flicking past
burning with an incandescent lamp
you turned off the switch
Like youth   will I not drop away?

Yan Jun’s poetry works through his experience of contemporary China by employing an aesthetic that is traditionally grounded in observation of the momentarily significant. He is captivated by the dazzle of a new consumerist culture only when that dazzle is spectral and fleeting. In an interview with Cristen Cornell (‘Lost in the Supermarket with Yan Jun’, Artspace China blog, University of Sydney) he decries the consumption culture’s take on art as a ‘production process’ which removes ’the possibility for uncertainty’ and what is ‘unknowable in individuals’. He comments on the inextricable logic of cultural monuments such as the Forbidden Palace being preserved while the traditional living areas, the Beijing hutongs, are pulled down, symptomatic of a daily life becoming ‘more and more deprived’.

This experimental sound artist and poet, who has performed in Beijing clubs for many years, is a master of juxtaposition of image, using his vision of the contemporary, of nature and of mood, in an exciting new way:

Life permits narcissism
and sings it out
using all of the speakers     on the entire street
but it should allow me to be folded into the background
to bring in new autumn      rotting like fire
                                                                                (Spiritual Life)

Jan Yun prises apart contemporary modes of connection to bring nature in, as in ‘Material Life’:

There should be swallows in emails
and there should be air

In ‘We’, spatial transpositioning overwrites what is seen as ‘fantasies of prosperity’ where ‘The whole world is shivering’, with a kind of Imagist trace hanging over, re-creating the world:

I will be you in the water
deep blue     economically developed you
I’ve come from us    become lightning-quick
Now I can only remember the burning traces of blood on lips

The poet does some exciting work with flight and air, demonstrating his interest in, and mastery of form, whether it is in response to the contemporary in the same poem:

We are melting
soon to be swallowed by honey
We can fly     We can issue an IPO
can become the one grain of light at midnight

or as a variation on Buddhist imagery in ‘October 9th’:

Those weary angels are dying
and so are we    Every day
ten thousand secretaries     disappear inside our bodies

or as depiction of the purely formal in ‘September 12th’:

Inside the steamed corn
a Bodhisattva is only a Bodhisattva

white porcelain bowl    black porcelain bowl
water dripped on his forehead
it seems light yellow     a moving dune
an ear of corn has how many kernels
a sand dune has how much water
becoming droplets

Yan Jun also creates a sense of continental space on a large canvass in ‘August 10th’,

In Norway     seabirds return from the polar daylight
shouting toward the bike in the early morning
There’s no rain     no words     I suddenly wake up

but also draws us into an apprehension of the mood of landscape in ‘November 20th, Watching the Rain in Taipei.’

On occasion, in pieces designed for performance, the poet moves away to declarative but finely wrought poems reminiscent of Ginsberg as in ‘Against All Organised Deception’. The contemporary world and what Yan Jun refers to as ‘the supermarket of language’ resounds in You Jump to Another Dream as fleeting phenomena. I’ll conclude this brief survey of this volume, brought out in translation by Vagabond Press, with the poet’s preferred mode, as seen in the classical detachment and swift movement of ‘July 7th’:

These few days      holding books
wandering in the air     and staring at it
I watch how the crows hide themselves

One afternoon the other day
I watched the Lancang River take shape and slacken
The fog broke free of the temple     the courtyard

My friends      no matter what you’ve seen
these days are no longer mine
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