On Friday we did our first two events. Both were at the Guangdong Foreign Studies University. In the afternoon we each gave a talk and then did 10 or so minutes of poems. The talk was translated as we went along. I did mine on ballads. I basically took two bits from the show and did them straight without the jokes. I was pretty rewarding finding that my comedy show could actually double as a lecture at a university. I still manage to get the LAZY joke about Yeats in, which was nice as I got a good laugh. I would stop after each slide and allow the translator to fill in the non-English speakers. However, most people spoke good English and seemed to be more tuned into what I was saying.
The poems had been translated beforehand and printed in the (very beautiful) programme for the event. I did Barlow Burton and Chip Shop. I hadn’t intended to do two ‘sadder’ pieces but the had been a mix up. It didn’t actually matter because although I also did chip shop last night there was no translation and I don’t think people really followed, so it was good to give it a good outing on Friday.
We then went to dinner with a cheery bunch of Chinese poets, chatted about everything from the one child policy to the Oulipo. It was then back to the lecture hall for a seminar: five Chinese poets, Aoife, Francesca and I and Professor Hu from Peking University as chair. Professor Hu is great btw, very funny, always joking. He’s one of the most distinguished poets of his generation, but he has a cheeky grin a bit like my mate Gommy.
My impatient nature made the seminar quite frustrating for me. We and Chinese poets spoke in English and every time one of us spoke it was translated into Mandarin, which more often than not took twice the time the original English had taken. This meant by the time we came round to answer the fairly complex questions I had forgotten half of it. Still, it was interesting and the students asked excellent questions. Afterwards we chatted informally to them. One girl I spoke to saw the political power of satire and performance poetry. “We need this here,” she said, “no paper trail.” I performed Dudley Livingstone the next night aware that nothing of the sort could exist in China without serious repercussions.