Ta-wei Chi, Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
(Poem by Ko-Hua Chen, Translated by Simon Patton)
waking from that shining night of the anus' first opening
we find that the back door was unlatched, not locked
the womb and the large intestine are identical rooms
separated only by a warm wall
we dance amid desire's flowerings
limbs tenderly unfurling, feeling
that we are the start of a new breed
doomed in the face of the storm History is perhaps about to rain down on us
none of the unfortunate predictions uttered by the throat of Freud have ever come true
(we are the start of a new breed
exempt from poverty, sports injuries, AIDS)
allow us to bare our consciences and our anuses for your inspection
and under your illuminated magnifying glass
you can examine how we writhe like members of the rat tribe
feeling ecstasy and agony
our body-hair drenched in blood as if caught in a spill of dyeÑwill we
have the good fortune to prove the necessity of sodomy in the years left to us?
the way things are going, we'll be on our way home before the backdoor's locked up
our bed lowered directly into the grave
the perverts having once again come to the end of their day of glorious deceit
no one knows what putrefying reasons lie concealed within the stitched-up wound
but at this point why don't we bleed to death?
(whoever says he wants to go and corrupt morals is the first to leave the group
there where the flowers grow profusely he brandishes his halo
he at least will never prove sodomy's necessity . . .)
but the anus is only unlatched
misery constantly escapes from the crack under the door like
a light-bulb blinking on and off throughout the night
as we embrace, embrace again, we refuse to believe that the ways of making love have been exhausted
or that the joys of the flesh have been cast aside
but at this point why don't we just throw in our lot with the silent and healthy majority?
why don't we just throw in our lot with the majority?
majorities are OK
sleep is OK
having sex is OK
not having sex is OK too
whether you tap it or push to open
the anus will always
Chen Kehua is one of Taiwan’s most versatile and prolific writers, a poet and essayist. Chen’s work is distinctive in several ways: First, his poems often reveal a cynical and embittered attitude. Chen denounces mainstream society’s values of benevolence and righteousness, celebrating what the masses have rejected as obscene – in the poet’s eyes, what established morality deems “obscene” is actually pure and good. Second, Chen often criticizes politicians, probably because he sees them as the embodiments of false virtue, hungry for money and power. Third, beginning with his 1995 collection Head-Hunting Poems, Chen has written much about gay desires – a subject once taboo in mainstream society – possibly because he feels that such desires embody obscenity, and are thus an attack on accepted social mores. Also worthy of note is the phrase “poems in need of beheading,” which is borrowed from scholar Chen Yinke – the image “beheading” calls to mind the writer Lu Xun, whose attacks on traditional Confucian ethics Chen Kehua has sought to emulate.
Of Chen’s poems dealing with gay sexuality, “Sodomy’s Necessity” is the best known – and the most notorious. In polite Taiwanese society, the term “sodomy” is seldom used; if the subject can’t be avoided, euphemisms such as “backyard flowers” are substituted. But Chen Kehua writes openly about it, praising the act. “Sodomy’s Necessity” appears in the collection Head-Hunting Poems, published in the early 1990s. At that time the gay rights movement had begun to flourish, and society’s attitude of greater tolerance toward homosexuality was perhaps instrumental in the poem’s creation. Even now, however, there are those who look askance at the poem, tsk-tsking in disapproval. The work is perhaps the Taiwan’s most famous poetic treatment of male homosexuality.
The poem claims that there is nothing shocking about anal sex: whether you tap it or push it open / the anus will always / remain unlatched; the womb and the large intestine are identical rooms / separated by only a warm wall / we dance amid desire’s flowerings / limbs tenderly unfurling, feeling. The anus can be freely entered and exited, and gay sex is as natural and joyous as that enjoyed by heterosexuals. Although the poet sings the pleasures of anal sex, he hasn’t forgotten AIDS, calling those who engage in the practice of sodomy “a new breed” who are “exempt from poverty, sports injuries, AIDS”; thus, they are entirely unlike Lu Xun’s detested “herd.”
In mainstream society anal sex is usually associated with pain and disease, but Chen’s poem doesn’t parrot such commonplace views; on the contrary, the poet asks what is sodomy’s necessity – and what is its meaning? Since most people would advise others to refrain from the practice, why bother engaging in it and ending up at odds with the majority? But sodomy is necessary for just that reason: it is considered immoral and socially offensive, and is therefore highly meaningful. Society needs to be chastised.
Chen, Kehua. “Sodomy’s Necessity.” Trans. Simon Patton. Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry. Eds. Michelle Yeh and N.G.D. Malmqvist. New York: Columbia University Press. 1995. P. 449. Print
Chen Kehua (1961- ) was born in Hualian. He graduated from Taipei Medical College, and did postdoctoral research at Harvard University. He is currently an attending physician in the Ophthalmology Department of Taipei Veterans General Hospital. He has been a member of the Sunshine Poetry Collective and the Four Dimensional Poetry Society, and has served as chief editor of the quarterly Modern Poetry. His works have won numerous awards, including the China Times Literature Award, the United Daily News Literature Award, the Taiwan Literature Award, and the Golden Tripod Award. In addition to modern poetry, Chen also pens essays, fiction, film criticism, and song lyrics. His major works include the poetry collections Kid Riding a Whale, Finding a Skull, Head-Hunting Poems, Because of Death, and A Good Boy; the essay collections Lover, Notes on a Village Without a Doctor, and Dream Manuscript; an illustrated book of song lyrics When I Can’t See Myself; and the collection Chen Kehua’s Flash Fiction.
Chen’s highly lyrical early work reveals his youthful feelings and emotions. The 1986 collection Planet Notes is themed on the visions of science fiction. Writer Lin Yaode has said of Chen, “He wanders between technological civilization and humanist values – he’s filled with pessimism at civilization’s heedless development, and feels helpless resignation in the face of the human race’s collective bent for self-destruction.” In 1995’s Head-Hunting Poems Chen employs highly experimental writing techniques, touching on issues such as sexuality, the human body and politics, overturning preexisting moral paradigms. Behind the sense and sensuality of language and imagery the poet questions an order and understanding – modern civilization – that purports to be based on a moral structure.
Although Beautiful, Esoteric Asia (1997) features some of the eroticism of Chen’s earlier works, the collection also shows the influence of Buddhism, probing into the Buddhist concepts of “form” and “emptiness,” directly observing the essence of human life. In 2006’s A Good Boy Chen embraces his sexuality, boldly portraying gay sex and love with dispassionate descriptions of the body and sexual acts – and by doing so shines a light on the absurdity of Taiwan’s politics. Chen Kehua is a brilliant and prolific writer; currently he has his own website, “Laurel and Caduceus.”
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7698
|Anthology：||I and I’s Synonym (《我和我的同義辭》)|
|Publisher：||Taipei: CornerSit Co., Ltd （臺北：角立有限公司）|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.chiuko.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Chiu Ko Publishing Co.,Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010428216|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|