Saturday, 8 December 2012

[archived]: Changming Interviewed by Silver Blade

[this is changming's first interview]
Interviewer: Prof. John C. Mannone, Editor of Silver Blade
Date Posted: 6 December 2012

Changming Yuan: An Introduction of our Featured Poet

Changming Yuan
Changming Yuan grew up in an impoverished village in central southern China and did not start to learn the English alphabet until he became an ESL student at Shanghai Jiaotong University at the age of nineteen. After getting his first master’s degree from Tianjin Teachers’ University, he worked as a lecturer and administrator at Tianjin Institute of Foreign Trade (now part of Nankai University), and authored three monographs as well as a dozen journal articles on translation and the English language. While studying at the University of Saskatchewan, where he received his MA and PhD in English, Yuan founded the Saskatchewan Chinese Times and was its editor for two years. Yuan began to write poetry in English during a family trip to Banff in 2004. Since 2005, he has published more than 650 poems in nearly 600 literary journals and anthologies across 23 countries, which include Asia Literary Review, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, London Magazine, Paris/Atlantic, Poetry Kanto, Poetry Salzburg, SAND and Taj Mahal Review. He has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. Together with his younger son, he is the coeditor of the newly formed literary journal, Poetry Pacific.
Currently, he works as a private tutor in Vancouver, where he lives with his wife and younger son. His interests are reading, writing poetry, walking, sightseeing, and meditating.

JCM (John C. Mannone)
CY (Changming Yuan)

JCM: First, let me thank you and tell you how pleased we are that you are sharing your life and work with us at Silver Blade. I first learned about you while I was the guest poetry editor for the London-based magazine, Inkspill, where I was delighted to publish your work in 2010. You are an extremely prolific writer. Can you share with us your writing process, including how you keep the Muse recharged to inspire you? What is a typical writing day like, as well as what is your revision strategy? If you would also like to comment on your publication strategy, I am sure our readers would be enlightened.
CY: It is both a great pleasure and a true honor for me to have this opportunity to talk about my poetic work! Ever since the publication of my first poem in 2005, I have become so addicted to poetry writing that my greatest fear is not the loss of my health, not the demise of my physical being, but the drying up of my poetic inspirations. Haunted by this fear, I have been trying my best to keep my creative spirit alive, mainly by reading and meditating or concentrating on poetry scribbling. Luckily, during the past eight years, I have managed to compose about one or two dozen poems every month, except for the three one-month short stays in my native place in China, where I somehow could neither write any poetry nor even speak any English.  Although I typically spend only five to ten minutes drafting a piece on a writing pad, I would wait for a few weeks before beginning to revise and refine each group of poems on the computer. At the outset of each month, I would make several hundreds of submissions to various publications, a process I find particularly demanding and hateful.  I know this is a necessary evil: without sending the poems out, they will remain dead words in my poetry pool. While receiving rejections is the order of the day, I get one or two dozen acceptances on a monthly basis in recent years. Like John Keats, I hope that I will be able to write poetry for at least ten years. For me, the most important thing to do in life is to write while I still can.

JCM: One of your first Pushcart nominations is “Chansons of a Chinaman” (Leaf Garden Press 2009), a collection of poems that speaks of classic traditions in modern vernacular, portrays the metaphysical in the witty and aesthetic terms, and shares China’s wisdom and tradition. I looked up what a chanson is to learn it’s a French song, such as a satirical cabaret song of the 20th century or it might be a Renaissance song similar to the madrigal (an English part song, a medieval Italian song, or a lyric poem) (adapted from the Encarta Dictionary). I find those poems quite revealing (Chansons of Chinaman by Changming Yuan). For example, “Secret Spirit” seems to capture something you said elsewhere: that after many years of pursuing spirituality in the West, as well as in the East, you have discovered “happiness [is] at the very bottom of my heart, and I have found the secret of how to live a ghost or god’s life after death.”

Secret Spirit

for years I sought light in darkness
with my eyes open wide as my mouth
I called, I sang, I prayed, I pleaded
for rays that might come down from above
now I seek darkness in light instead
with my ears closed tight as my eyes
yet I cannot find a shred of my soul’s
shadow, even in a midnight dream
What metaphysical poets have inspired you?
CY: Frankly, I do not have any specific metaphysical poet as my source of inspiration. While I have read little metaphysical work either in English or in Chinese, I developed a keen interest in Buddhism as a philosophy rather than as a religion before starting to scribble poetry. It is this interest that has led me to discover my own version of chan meditation (zen),  and explore the inner reality in terms of light and darkness as one of the most recurrent themes in my poetry as well as in my thought. Yes, I am happy that I have finally found where true happiness lies and how one can attain it, but I need more time to articulate my findings in poetry or prose.

JCM: Is there more you would like to share about this collection? Can you tell us about your other collections that you would like to promote as well as those you might be working on?
CY: Insofar as this first collections goes, I certainly put tremendous effort into it. While most of the chansons are deeply rooted in one of the few earliest music traditions in human civilization, I organize the poems according to the ancient Chinese Principle of Five Element, which can supposedly add a mythic overtone or significance to the collection as a whole. In content, it is highly ambitious – for instance, the mini-epic is the first coherent poetic representation of the most ancient Chinese myths in any language including Chinese, to the best of my knowledge; in form, it is obviously unique. Be that as it may, this collection has received little critical attention. Profoundly disappointed, I have now become less enthusiastic or hopeful about getting my poems published in the book form. On the one hand, it is already hard enough to find a press house willing enough to publish poetry books by someone like me, who has seldom participated in any poetry contests and therefore won no prestigious awards. On the other hand, even if I manage to get some more collections published, it would only make me feel worse if critics continue to turn a deaf ear to them. That’s why I have been trying hard to get my poetic work published individually rather than as collections, although I have at least 10 book manuscripts ready for submission. As I put it in one of my hundreds of published monolines or maxims, “[l]ike a silk worm, I have contributed my best to the world; if it does not care, why should I?”

JCM: I see that you are diverse in your work. Tell us how you got interested in speculative poetry.
CY: I like to challenge myself to write as many sub genres of poetry as I can. In the beginning, I had no idea about speculative poetry, but after publishing several poems exploring certain fantastic, science-fictional and mythological themes, I became not only aware of but also interested in the genre.

JCM: Can you share any back story to the poems published in this issue?
CY: There is actually little back story to the poems, except that “Rioting” and “Morning Mists” were composed as a response to the occupy movement in North America in 2011. Every once in a while, I would like to write something in my favorite genres, such as speculative poetry, nature poetry, reflective poetry and experimental poetry. In other words, all such poems were written on different occasions, but grouped together for Silver Blade. I call some pieces ‘parallel poems’ because they are meant to emulate the poems I find inspiring, as in the case of “On a Recycling Day,” which is written in response to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Dragon’s Teeth” published together with two of my poems in Left Curve, 34 (2010). Similarly, “Expanding” is inspired by Ye Chuan’s “Conniving,” a Chinese poem I happened to read while surfing online. [It is in Chinese—the top poem here] My translation is


         Night wraps the city up
         like an old newspaper. Words shining like stars
         some affairs are not finished yet. The slowly moving moon
         looks like a hole burned with a cigarette
         some sounds drift down
         like medical powder, covering the restless objects
         calm and obedient, conniving dreams traveling between north and south
I found the first two lines particularly inspiring.

JCM: You have two sons: George Lai Yuan (a senior platform architect working in California), who enjoys reading poetry, and Allen Qing Yuan (a high school student), who has published poetry in twelve countries. You must be very proud. Have you mentored them? Sometimes our students become the teacher. Have you learned something poetic from them?
CY: Yes, I am truly proud of my two sons, thanks to my wife, who has been my only committed publisher thus far. While my George was recognized as a highly gifted student in school and is now a very happy achiever in life, my Allen has been an actively publishing poet since he was 15, an age when I strongly wished to be a poet. I believe there is poetry blood running through the hearts of my family members. My father, who died early this year, desired to become a poet though he was never able to get a single line published in his lifetime. During the last year of my high school in China, I tried to memorize a translated poem by heart every morning before entering the classroom. Ironically, I wrote much poetry in Chinese when I was young, but never even got a reply (rejection letter), as in my father’s case, a case of two generations of failures. It was not until I turned 47 that I was able to begin publishing poetry, and that in a foreign language that I never knew before attending university. On this topic I have written some poems, the best-accepted one being “Ischemia: A Family Curse in Verse.” Since he was 12, I have showed my poem to Allen whenever I receive a contributor’s copy. Towards the end of 2010, I encouraged him to try his hand at poetry and gave him some tips about where and how to send out his submissions. To help him build his confidence, I seldom make any specific suggestions as to how to improve his individual pieces. One anecdote I want to mention is that last year, simply because Editor of Spillway Susan Terris accepted Allen’s “Komodo Dragon,” she kindly invited me to submit some poems and offered to publish my “The March of Majiang: For Liu Yu” to promote this kind of father-son poetic comraderie; in fact, Allen and I have appeared together in many literary publications, often side by side, page against page.

JCM: Where is the best place for your followers to find you? Webpages, blogs, facebook, etc.
CY: I do share a blogsite with Allen at, but in order to concentrate on poetry writing, and because of my technical inadequacies, I have maintained it only very casually. On Remembrance Day, Allen and I co-founded our own poetry magazine Poetry Pacific, which is readily available for view at It has a very humble start, but we have great expectations of it. For one thing, it will last much longer than most other small magazines, since this is at least a two-generation publication. More important, we are committed to developing it into a serious publishing project, both online and in print, in the near future. Every poetry lover is welcome to send his or her work to us at

JCM: Feel free to mention anything else you would like to share with your readers
CY: Living in an age when there seem to be more poetry writers than poetry readers, more publishers of words than authors of thoughts, I feel profoundly sad about the downfall of poetry. As I see it, there are two major factors, one external, the other internal, which are accountable for this deplorable situation. On the one hand, there are increasingly more sensually appealing forms of entertainment readily available to people, such as TV and online programs. On the other, what I would call the semi-professionalization of poetry has made it less intellectually rewarding to the general reading public: while poetry writing has degraded into a highly personalized word-play, poetry publication and criticism have become a privilege enjoyed by the few lucky MFAs and professors on or close to university campus, whose personal tastes and idiosyncrasies have been guiding the course of poetry even further into the dead alley. The various poetry contests, which are held everywhere throughout the year, are supposed to promote interest in poetry, but alas, they are often more staged games of writing luck than competing exercise of the creative spirit. It is a truly sad paradox that big-named magazines or publishers often publish little true poetry besides big-named poets, while some really good lines appearing in small-named poetry outlets seldom reach the ears of the huge audiences. I cannot change this situation, but I can make a wild call, while I still can write.

Posted in Issue 16, Main Features, Poetry, Uncategorized


i am expecting another two interviews, one with Rattapallax, the other with PANK... -c

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