Shen Manling, PhD candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Zhongxing University
The words “modernism,” “modernist,” and “modernity” appeared in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by the twentieth century “modern” had become a positive term, connoting betterment, progress, and efficiency. Due to modernity’s emphasis on creativity and reason, the word “modernism” gradually came to be used in a narrower sense, referring to the avant-garde artistic and literary experiments that took place between 1840 and 1940. In literature, modernist imagination and illogical modes of expression were manifested in individualized vocabularies and an emphasis on irrationality. Representative modern writers include Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce.
In 1950s’ Taiwan, KMT language policies effectively silenced Taiwanese writers of the Japanese colonial period. At the same time, writers who relocated to Taiwan from Mainland China by and large responded to government calls for Westernization of the arts and literature, a trend that held sway in Taiwanese literary circles from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. Editor Ji Xian’s Modern Poetry Quarterly came out in 1953, and in 1954 Tan Zihao set up the Blue Star Poetry Society. That same year in Kaohsiung Lo Fu and Zhang Mo founded the Epoch Poetry Society (poet Ya Xian joined slightly later), publishing the Epoch Poetry Quarterly. Members of the latter group went on to become Taiwan’s leading modernist poets.
In its journal, the Epoch Poetry Society issued a mission statement: 1. Establish a national front for modern poetry. 2. Set up an steely contingent of poets. 3. Guide and support young poets; thoroughly purge the poisons of communism and eroticism. Stylistically, the publication went through three major phases – early “battlefield poetry,” mid-period “new Chinese poetry,” and “surrealism” in the 1960s. Thus, the Epoch Poetry Quarterly played an important role in introducing modernism into Taiwanese literary circles.
The Genesis of Epoch: Shining Poetry (2014) was published on the sixtieth anniversary of the Epoch Poetry Quarterly’s founding. The book focuses on the Epoch Poetry Society and its members, using cartoons, collage, and illustrations to interpret classic poems. In addition to paying homage to the poets, Genesis of Epoch also serves as a primer on the society and its work. Additionally, “The Inspired Island: Eminent Writers from Taiwan” documentary series respectively featured Lo Fu and Ya Xian – core members of the Epoch Poetry Society – in A River Without Banks (2011) and Andante Cantibile (2014), the series’ first and second releases.