Zheng Yi is among the talented Chengdu writers who shared their work during the Spittoon Literary Tour. Poetry and conversation below.
Interview via email with Deva Eveland.
Translation by Emma Feng.
Heavy rain has fallen
Tough and strong
Hitting our head
Let us loose, let us cheer
Never say die
The lightness of death
Is not as heavy as us
Sitting and lying
In an optometrist’s office
Everybody wears grotesque equipment
Like an obedient kid
I am blindfolded
Yet my eyes are wide open
DE: Your poems are often short but profound. Do they come to you all at once, or is it a long process to write a few words?
郑伊：It is not a very long process. Most of my short poems come to me suddenly. I quickly note them down, polishing them afterwards. Or sometimes, I can only think of one sentence and later write the rest part. This sentence might be the first line, in the middle or the last one. The form of my poems are somewhat influenced by Japanese haiku. 我的那些比较短的诗歌大部分是突然想到的，然后就赶紧记下来，有的记下来后再修改。或者是想到一句话，就只有一句，我就在这一句的基础上写其他部分，最后，这一句可能在整首诗最前面、或者中间或者最后。其中的过程都不太长。在形式上有点受日本俳句的影响。
DE：Tell me a bit about your writing process. How often do you write? What environment do you work in? Do you write by hand or electronically?
郑伊：When I have to do something difficult or something I do not like, I will run away from it and seek asylum in poetry. In this situation, I often write poems. For example, I have been writing my thesis recently, which is a long and torturing process. I often go to the same coffee house at noon to buy a cup of coffee where the sound of machines, the sound of people talking and the sound of music blend together. At this moment, many things like my own experiences, pictures, words and feelings just come to me (this is when I start to write poems consciously). At first, they are chaotic. Then I decide a topic and start to write, though sometimes I fail to write anything. What is interesting is that a sudden flash of inspiration to write a poem might come to me as I’m typing my thesis in a very academic style. I think this contrast is very interesting. And when I eat, take a bath and walk, anyway when I am alone, my various senses are just open to feel the outside world, enabling me to think and imagine. Also, reading other people's poems can inspire me sometimes. 做一件很困难或者自己不太喜欢的事情时，会去逃避它，有一种去诗歌中寻求庇护的意味，这时候往往会写诗。比如我最近在写毕业论文，这是一件长期且折磨人的事，中午的时候常常去同一家店买杯咖啡坐店里，机器的声音，人们说话的声音，音乐的声音混淆在一起，哪一种声音都不明确，恰恰很安静，这时候，我就想事情，（也是开始有意识去写诗的时候），自己的各种经验、各种画面、词语、感受调动出来，先是很乱，然后确定下来某个东西，再是写，当然有时候一无所获，写不出来什么。很有意思的是，写论文的时候，本来文档里正敲打着一些很专业的词汇，思维一下子开小差，紧接着就敲出了一句诗，这种反差本身很好玩。还有吃饭的时候，洗澡的时候，在路上走的时候，总之一个人的时候，各种感官都打开接收外界的东西，比如我看到的，听到的，感觉到的，这些都让人思考和联想。另外，看别人的诗歌也让我很有启发。
I've been writing poetry for a long time. But if you look at my day-to-day habits, you will see that sometimes I write a lot, and sometimes I write nothing for a long time. For example, last week I wrote four poems. Because I am now a graduate student in Sichuan University. I am mainly in a campus environment, reading and writing essays. Generally I write on my phone's memo / notebook. 从一个大的时间段来看，我一直在写诗。从小的时间段来说，有时候写得多，有时候又很久没写。比如最近这一周，我写了四首。因为我现在在四川大学读研究生，研三，还没有毕业，主要是看书、写论文，所以主要是处于校园这种环境中。一般在手机的便签/记事簿上写。
Mother and Father are arguing
Father serves a bowl of pork soup
Mother, angry, won’t drink it
If you don’t I’ll throw it in your face
“She doesn’t want to, so what? Leave her be”
I drank that bowl of pork soup
Since then, Mother often calls up this story
To say I’m
An ungrateful wolf
DE: I’m curious about the poem with the father and mother arguing over a bowl of soup. The family dynamics seem very strange to me (but family dynamics often are to outsiders). The daughter sticks up for her mother, but then the mother blames her. There a subtext that’s not clear to me. I wonder if this is a cultural difference, or just the mystery of this poem?
郑伊：Yes, there is a subtext. I firstly thought if someone read it, he or she would figure it out by themselves. To my surprise, when my friends read it, some said they could not understand it, others understood it in a wrong way. Then I realized this might be a problem. 是的，那首诗有一些内容没有交待出来，我以为别人读过之后能自行脑补出来。没想到我的朋友看过后，有的表示不能理解，有的理解错了，我才意识到这个问题。
That thing happened when I was eleven or twelve years old. My parents quarreled a lot, but I remember that time clearly. We were about to eat lunch after they quarrelled. My dad served a bowl of pork soup to my mom from the kitchen, wanting to make peace with her. However, my mother ignored him. She did not speak nor drink and repeated this several times. Then my dad got very angry, threatening her "If you do not drink it, I will throw it in your face." My mom kept ignoring him, so I was afraid that my dad would really do it. And I knew that my mother was very tough and didn't want to lose her face. So if I persuaded her to drink, she would never drink it because it would be a sign of compromise and submission. Under such tensions, I had no choice but to say "She does not want to drink it. So what? Leave her be." And I drank the soup so that my dad could not throw it in her face anyway. I was trying to stop it and at the same time I was angry about their quarreling, that's why I spoke in an angry tone. To my mom, "Leave her be" means that I do not care about her and shows indifference. As a daughter, I can not say such things to my mom. She thinks that children have the filial duty to support their parents and I cannot leave her be. This made her very sad. And pork soup was considered good food at that time. It was supposed to be served to my parents, but I drank it, making my mom think of me as an ungrateful wolf. But in fact it was a misunderstanding, because I didn't know how to deal with their quarrels, nor did I know how to express my own opinion. I was just tired and angry about their quarrels. 那大概是我十一、二岁的一件事情，我父母经常吵架，那不过是其中一次，却让我记得很清楚。他们吵架后，中午吃饭的时候，我爸从厨房把肉汤端来给我妈，想跟她示好，我妈不理他，不说话也不喝，重复几次后，我爸很恼火，就说出了那句威胁她的话“不喝就泼你脸上”。我妈还是老样子，我怕我爸真的会那样做，但我知道我妈是个很要强，要面子的人，如果我劝她喝的话，就等于让她妥协、屈服，她肯定更不会喝了。所以我情急之下说出了那句话：“她不喝就算了，别管她”，并且我喝了那碗汤以便不管怎样我爸都没法把汤泼她脸上。我是想阻止事情的发生，并且对他们吵架也很生气，所以说话的时候是一种很气愤的态度和语气。对我妈来说，“别管她”意味着不关心她，是一种冷漠的行为，作女儿的是不能对父母说这样的话的，她认为子女有赡养父母的义务，怎么能不管呢？这让她很伤心。并且那时候肉汤相对来说是一种好的东西，是要孝敬父母的，但我给喝掉了，我的这些行为让我妈觉得我是白眼狼。但其实是误会，因为一直以来我不知道用什么方式去面对父母之间的矛盾，也不会去表达自己的想法，只是对他们的争吵厌倦和生气。
DE: In your poetry I get a sense of spoken language failing to convey inner states. The people in your poems seem to understand each other better when they’re not speaking and less well when they are. Is this accurate? And if so, what does it mean that words and language are your medium?
郑伊: "The people in your poems seem to understand each other better when they’re not speaking." I didn't realize this until you mentioned it. But I did not do it deliberately. Interesting. 你这么一说我才意识到好像真的像你说的这样，“当他们不说话的时候彼此更能理解”。但我并没有刻意去这样做。很有意思。
I have a lot to say
Give me a microphone
Give me a loudspeaker
Send people away
To a place where the sound is muffled
Only leaving them with
Just an echo
Between waking and sleep
I crumple myself into a paper ball
Tossing it in a wastebasket
DE: To what degree are your poems autobiographical?
郑伊: Though processing and making–believe are inevitable, almost all of my poems come from my experience. So you can say that they are autobiographical. 我的诗歌几乎全来自我的经验，加工和虚构是不可避免的，所以也可以说它是自传性的。
DE: Is there anything else you wish to add?
郑伊: I often disregard what I wrote because I am not very confident. But I want to express my gratitude to my friends for their appreciation and encouragement. Anyway, when I write something down, I do enjoy that wonderful process. 我常常看不上自己写的东西，不太自信，谢谢我的朋友对它们的欣赏和对我的鼓励。不管怎样，至少我写下来的时候，我是享受那种美妙的。
In an omnipresent heat
We cross the city
Breaking away from its dominancy
In this moment
We are not strangers
Nor are we lovers
And also unconnected
On the highway
In the tranquility of a roaring engine
Separated by a thin wind
We say very little
Yet understand each other
Zheng Yi is completing a master's degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language at Sichuan University. She writes poetry, informal essay and linguistics journal articles.