Poetry | Two poems by Ouyang Yu

My TED Talk:


You have to do it badly. If it is poetry, even more so, because there is no because. If you write like you were the best in the world, you are the worst because you pretend too hard. Too harsh, too. Why do you want to be the best? Is that because you are a lack or there is a lack in you that you feel like filling up all the time? Even when you are named the best, does that mean anything? What about those who are not named the best? What about those who are not even called the good? Do we have to be good in order to survive? Survive what? But poetry is freedom. It frees you from all the constraints, restraints and limitations of the world because of good, better, best. It doesn’t work like that in poetry. When you tell yourself to write the best poem in the world now, you will not get anywhere. You won’t even produce a single line. Best is the symbol of the worst oppression and suppression. It stops you from even producing the mediocrest work. Why don’t you say to yourself: I’m not good enough. I’m already bad. From time to time, I feel I have no abilities to do anything well. I am stifled by the competition around me. Everyone is pushed to a choking level. I don’t want to be a president, not even of a company, not even a class, let alone a country. All I ever want to do is a poet. And a bad poet at that. Why? I mean who can be that good without making a huge effort? And the point? Nothing guarantees that you won’t die. In fact everything guarantees that you do. I write without knowing what I write is good or bad. I write without wanting to know. Anything and everything are subject to judgement by other people anyway. Who has the autonomy to do what one likes to the ultimate degree of pleasing oneself? Why does one imprison oneself with the concepts, ideas, ideologies, judgments and confinements of other people? Aren’t there too many prisons already in this world? To be bad is to be free. To be bad is to be creative. To be bad is to be innovative. Marcel Duchamp is bad because he buys a readymade and presents it as art in a museum. Piero Manzoni is bad because he cans his own shit and sells it for millions of dollars after his death. Andres Serrano is bad because he makes ‘Piss Christ’. Michael Jackson is bad because he makes an album titled Bad. Maurizio Cattelan is bad because he creates Comedian out of a duck-taped banana. Banksy is bad because he self-destructs his own art. Ouyang Yu is bad because he writes a poem called ‘Bad Writing’. All histories are a continuous process of badness against goodness until it becomes good then badded again. It’s a process of keep saying ‘my bad’, ‘our bad’, ‘their bad’. I love bad. There’s nothing else I love. I only love bad. Let the good rot for all I care.



Answer to a query


Thank you for your query regarding correctness

To insist on being correct all the time is to demand that everyone become a eunuch. Indeed, it demands that everyone become a machine, a precision machine. It is a triple demand, too, that everyone become a sky above the head. But even the sky has tantrums. Think of the rainstorms, of the thunderclap, of the snow, of the country-swept winds, and what not.

To me, whenever one insists on correctness, I see its reverse side. That is, nothing is correct and everything is wrong. To correct that, they think of ways of maintaining a surface correctness, or what seems correct, a self-deception that makes themselves feel good about themselves and that makes others feel good for them.

Underneath all that is a lurking fear that harassed this country before it was even a country when the land was swarmed with convicts who had, among other things, committed crimes as small as that of stealing a shoestring or a handkerchief. That’s the price they had to pay for being imperfect or incorrect and that has become a tradition. How can you afford to ever err? The eyes are everywhere, watching, and judging, ready to pounce on you any moment, shortlisting you, then ditching you, in literature, because the fear has turned it into a prison. When they cannot find anything in the body of a writing that is not perfect, the only evidence they have is that it is perfectly dead.

In a country constructed for the purpose of turning the continent into a continent-wide prison, you are either a prisoner or a prison warden.

And if you keep harping on about freedom, it means you have a total lack of it. You never hear a bird talking about it.



Ouyang Yu

Ouyang Yu is a poet based in Melbourne and since his first arrival in April 1991 in Australia, he has published quite a few poems. His eighth novel, All the Rivers Run South, is forthcoming with Puncher & Wattmann in 2023.

More by Ouyang Yu ›

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