Interview with poet Roger New

My special guest today
is Roger New. He’s here to chat
about his chapbook, Chinese Poetry for Students of Chinese.
Welcome, Roger. Please tell
us a little bit about the book. It is an anthology of Chinese poems, mostly
from the Tang Dynasty, chosen to give students an intro into aspects of the
culture which influence Chinese society to the present day. The poems are all
provided in the original Chinese, but vocabulary and explanations are given so
that anybody can decipher the poems, whether they understand Chinese or not. And
there are renditions in English at the end if anyone gets stuck.
The book draws the
reader on from poem to poem, and by the end they will unconsciously have gained
an insight into Chinese religions, education, history, geography and the roles
played by women in Chinese society throughout history. That is, if they don’t
get distracted by the pictures – mostly Chinese water-colours – there are over
sixty in each volume.
The author has lived
and worked in China since the early nineteen eighties, spending extensive
periods of time in Guangdong and Xinjiang, as well as Beijing and Shanghai. He
is an academic, starting out at Oxford and London, with a PhD in immunology in
1975, pursuing a varied career in science, and setting up a biotechnology
company in 2000, where he is currently working. In addition to fluent Mandarin,
he speaks Russian and Portuguese, and has lectured in all of these. It is the
experience of studying these languages which he considers most qualifies him
for the writing of this book.
do you enjoy most about writing?
an academic, I enjoy explaining things to people, and making the knowledge I
have acquired interesting to other readers.
you give us a little insight into a few of your poems – perhaps a couple of
your favorites?
Every poem in the two
volumes has been chosen because there is some special feature which makes it
interesting and unusual, and makes the student feel it is worth memorizing.
The two poems below are
selected because they remind me of my time living in China in the early 80s, in
a university campus in a rural setting.
Having an
appointment – Zhao Shi Xiu (Tang)
It’s the season of yellow plums,
and rain is everywhere in the village.
Frogs abound in the green grass
around the pond.
My visitor has not arrived, and
the evening has half gone.
As I idly knock over a chess piece, ash falls from the candle.
Spring – Wang Jia (Tang)
Before the rains come, every
detail of the flowers is seen.
After the rains, the leaves are
all gone, flowers cover the ground.
Butterflies haphazardly cross
over the wall, suspecting
That the Spring has gone into a neighbour’s garden.
form are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
in Chinese.
type of project are you working on next?
My latest project is a
children’s book, written in Chinese, called The Doctor and the Dragon. The
dragon is young and still growing up. He is also a bit deaf, so there is plenty
of opportunity for puns and Spoonerisms, which in Chinese is quite a challenge,
but great fun. There is also a translation in English, so the two together will
hopefully be a good primer for both English and Chinese students to use.
did you first consider yourself a writer / poet?
I have always written a
lot of non-fiction material as part of my academic activities. I started
writing fiction in Chinese as a way of practicing and improving my command of
Chinese characters, and I was amazed at how things just began to flow.
do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for not-yet-published
The obvious markets for
these books are students learning Chinese, but those non-speakers of Chinese
who want to delve more deeply into an important Chinese literary tradition will
find them fascinating as well, and those readers are currently an untapped
would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Still developing, but
my ultimate aspiration is to be the Chinese Terry Pratchett.
a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
scientist and inventor, which, in my other life, is what I am.
additional you want to share with the readers?
Don’t be put off if you
are not a Chinese speaker. Read the books – there is plenty there for everyone.
Thanks for joining me

One thought on “Interview with poet Roger New

  1. Roger New (author) says:

    One other thing I thought might be interesting for your readers:

    While I was bringing together the poems in this anthology, one of the aspects which came out was the number of different guises in which women appear in the poems – more so than men in fact. There are many concubines, whose fortunes wax and wane, with dire consequences depending on the precarious status of their male patrons in society.

    Two of the poets are actually women, of very high social standing, and authors of very high-minded verses. In contrast, quite a few of the men (one emperor even) have written about brothels, in rather glowing terms it must be said, and other male poets have written from the point of view of women – namely those involved in the cultivation of silkworms, a hard and seemingly thankless task. During the early Tang dynasty Buddhism flourished, only later to be the subject of severe interdiction, one reason being, apparently, that too many women were going into convents instead of tending to the silkworms.

    The poets seem clearly to be on the side of women, expressing their longings, dissatisfaction (in the bedroom even) and their repression in many ways. One particularly poignant poem describes the sorrow of parting, which becomes especially cutting when one realises that the girl who is leaving is being sold off as a child bride.

    These are poems that you find when you look a little under the surface, and I found it reassuring that, even in an ancient society full of ritual, protocol and formality, Chinese poets could still use their art to touch on such important subjects.

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