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This report is taken from PN Review 118, Volume 24 Number 2, November - December 1997.

The Chinese Poet Kerry Brown

My friend told me, before we got to Canton, that he was a famous poet, but surprisingly, for a poet, he lived in a kind of officers' barracks on the outskirts of the city. They didn't seem too pleased to see a foreigner wandering up, expecting to be let in, when we got there, and we were only saved when the poet's wife arrived, panting, on a bicycle, to tell them that we were, indeed, expected.

'That's because they're worried, you know, about people they don't recognise - it's not because you're a foreigner,' the Poet said. He looked the part, dressed all in black, his greying hair neatly brushed back, smoking a cigarette, and sitting in the cool, white living room, abstract modern paintings on the walls around.

He was from Sichuan, and his Chinese accent often foxed me. At first, he didn't seem communicative, just sat, sometimes moving his hands nervously, sometimes lighting a new cigarette. He was, most definitely, a chain smoker. His wife presented the fruit and tea to us. For a while we sat listening to my friend's report of her years in London. Their daughter was getting on OK over there. She hoped to come back to see them next New Year. The poet nodded. I'd already been told he didn't take much notice of his daughter, even though she worshipped him.

Mr Zhang, as his name was, had written a long poetic sequence on the life ...


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