In recent years, the poet and musician Yan Jun has been writing mainly diary poems and explications of aspects of contemporary China, along with allusions to classical subject matter. One feature of Yan Jun’s poetry is its vitality and rapid turnover of images, one following on rhythmically from the other. In ‘Charter Sonnet’, for instance, each line begins urgently with the repeated phrase “I demand”: “I demand that you and I be together, never to be separated; / I demand memories, black flowers, stars that shine above bicycles and turn into kids’ faces; / I demand the release of imprisoned words like ‘your mother’s cunt’ and ‘Jiang Zemin’.”
These “imprisoned words” undoubtedly relate to censorship, especially Internet censorship; in China, lists of forbidden words, including expletives, but also names of high officials, are in circulation. Regarding the political element in his poetry, Yan Jun says in his blog, “In terms of politics, I regard poems like ‘Charter Sonnet’ and ‘Against all Organised Deception’, as political acts, not political poems. Either all poems are political or else there is no such thing as a political poem. That’s because writing poetry is a political act in itself.”
Yan Jun was born in Lanzhou in north-west China and he studied Chinese literature at the university there. He worked as an editor before moving to Beijing in 1999. Under the label SubJam, Yan has been creating ‘hypnotic noise’ in his live performances since 1998, and in 2004 he became the co-founder of KwanYin, a label for experimental music and sound explorations. He is an organiser of music events, gives concerts in China and abroad and also writes critical essays about music.
Music also plays a considerable role in his poetry performances. “In the past they were extremely loud, but in recent years they have been somewhat quieter,” he comments. Poems by Yan Jun have appeared in three collections Sishijiu shou (49 Poems, 1996), Ci shengbo (Infrasonic Sound, 2001) and Bu keneng (Impossible, 2006). Many of his more recent poems have not yet been published in China, even though interest in his work abroad has been on the rise, with a number of his poems translated into English, German, French and Dutch.
Bu keneng (Impossible), SubJam, Beijing, 2006
Bu keneng (Impossible; CD recording of reading, with music by FM3), SubJam, Beijing, 2003
Ci shengbo (Infrasonic Sound), SubJam, Beijing, 2001
Sishijiu shou (49 Poems), Photocopy, 1996
Critical essays on music
Huifei yanmie (Gone in Dust), Huacheng chubanshe, Canton, 2006
Ranshao de zaoyin (Burning Noise), Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, Nanjing, 2004
Boximiya Zhongguo (Bohemian China), Oxford University Press, Hong Kong, 2004
Didixia (Under-underground), Wenhua yishu chubanshe, Beijing, 2002
Neixin de zaoyin (Noises Inside), Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 2001
Beijing xinsheng (New Sound of Beijing), Hunan Wenyi chubanshe, Changsha, 1999
Tiexue yaogun (Iron Blood Rock), Chengdu yinxiang chubanshe, Chengdu, 1999
Yan Jun also publishes CDs with music and sound explorations and writes a blog, www.yanjun.org.
At the Poetry International Festival in 2011, Yan Jun recorded a sound piece based on his poems ‘New York Revolution Plan’ and ‘New York Counterrevolution Plan’. Listen to the piece here