Translated and introduced by Joshua L. Freeman
Exmetjan Osman (b. 1964) is widely acknowledged as the founder of the gungga (“hazy”) movement in Uyghur poetry, a modernist school which blossomed after Exmetjan’s first Uyghur-language abstract poems were published in Xinjiang’s Tengri Tagh journal in 1986. As a teenager in Ürümqi during the early days of China’s reform period, Exmetjan developed a strong interest in international literary trends, and in 1982 joined one of the first cohorts of Xinjiang Uyghurs to study abroad after the Cultural Revolution. Completing first a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree in Arabic literature at Damascus University, Exmetjan acquired Arabic with such fluency that in 1988 he was able to publish his first Arabic-language poetry collection, The Second Stumble. His first Uyghur-language collection followed three years later, and the years since have seen the publication of six more volumes in Arabic and Uyghur, to great acclaim in both the Syrian and the Uyghur literary worlds.
Exmetjan’s impact on modern Uyghur poetry has been profound. Even while studying in Syria he regularly published poems in Uyghur-language journals in Xinjiang; some of these he wrote directly in Uyghur, while others he translated from his own Arabic poems. Following his return to Ürümqi in 1990, Exmetjan became a fixture in Uyghur literary circles and salons, and published a number of controversial essays on literary theory. In the mid-’90s Exmetjan returned to Syria, where he resumed his active literary life there. But though he has lived abroad for most of his literary career, his work has remained highly influential in Xinjiang, where his admirers and imitators are legion.
The three poems presented from here span a five-year period in Exmetjan’s career, and each yields a different perspective on the poet’s sense of himself as an artist and as a Uyghur. The haunting Sadir in Search of His Five Orphaned Children dates from 1986, when Exmetjan was studying in Damascus. This lengthy poem is built around a series of folk rhymes (qoshaq) attributed to the 19th-century Uyghur hero Sadir Palwan, but Exmetjan interpolates his own modernist verse and transforms the folk rhymes in artful ways, binding the modern and the personal to language of profound historical resonance for Uyghur readers. Sadir Palwan is known to every Uyghur for having been imprisoned thirteen times for his resistance to the Qing authorities, and for having escaped almost as many times. Perhaps thinking of his own long absence from his homeland and his sense of the ominous changes transpiring there, Exmetjan has Sadir reunite with his five sons, only to discover that each has been altered beyond recognition. The first is a kebab grill, no doubt symbolizing the occupation which has become emblematic for marginally employed Uyghur men throughout China. Another is a bat, another a chill; the fourth is a a grave. The fifth son, the narrator, trembles to approach his father.
The second poem, Uyghur Impressions, offers ten brief variations on ten symbols of Uyghur life: cheap moxorka tobacco; the Muqam suites of classical Uyghur music; etles silk; the two-stringed lute known as the dutar. The ten vignettes are unmistakably modernist, and to some Uyghur readers might seem perplexing or even profane when affixed to ten items standing for irreproachable Uyghur tradition. In fact, though, this poem represents an impressive demonstration of modernist poetry’s ability to encompass that tradition. In My Love, on the other hand, Exmetjan expertly weaves his distinctly modernist ethos into the classical ghazal form (Uyghur ghezel), one of the Islamic world’s most widespread verse genres. The poem also makes use of many long-established tropes, including the beloved as the gazelle, and as a carefree observer in the sky as the lover suffers down below. Thus the equation is reversed: the traditional can contain the modern as readily as the modern contains the traditional.
Both of these poems should be understood in the context of the literary debates surrounding the gungga poetry school in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Critics charged that these young modernists—and they were almost all young—simply lacked the skills to compose poetry with classical meter and vocabulary. Gungga poets and their supporters countered that experiment was crucial for the continued vitality and relevance of Uyghur poetry. A fierce debate ensued around issues of tradition and authenticity, continuing for years in the pages of Uyghur literary journals. Read against this context, Exmetjan’s Uyghur Impressions and My Love, both dated 1991, stand as effective arguments for the gungga poets’ ability to combine poetic radicalism with irreproachable Uyghur tradition.
|1. Sadir in search of his five orphaned children
My name Sadir is known to all,
—Open your eyes…
He dropped down from the rainbow
In Mollitoxtiyüzi[ref]Mollitoxtiyüzi is the village where Sadir Palwan was born.[/ref]
On Sadir’s face
Up to him ran
Sizzling on a skewer
Up to him flew
The lights slowly faded
Up to him ran
Drop by drop froze
Up to him ran
I trembled as I approached him,
The gravestone fell
The gravestone broke apart
ﺳﺎﺩﯨﺮ ﻳﯧﺘﯩﻢ ﻗﺎﻟﻐﺎﻥ ﺑﻪﺵ ﺑﺎﻟﯩﺴﯩﻨﻰ ﺋﯩﺰﺩﻩﭖ
ﺳﺎﺩﯨﺮ ﺩﻩﭖ ﺋﯧﺘﯩﻢ ﻗﺎﻟﺪﻯ،
ﻫﻪﺳﻪﻥ – ﻫﯜﺳﻪﻧﺪﯨﻦ
ﻳﯜﮔﯜﺭﯛﭖ ﻛﻪﻟﺪﻯ ﯪﻟﺪﯨﻐﺎ
ﻛﯚﻳﺪﻯ ﺯﯨﺨﺘﺎ ﭘﯩﮋﯨﻠﺪﺍﭖ
ئۇﭼﯘﭖ ﻛﻪﻟﺪﻯ ﺋﺎﻟﺪﯨﻐﺎ
ئاستا-ﺋﺎﺳﺘﺎ ئۆﭼﺘﻰ ﻧﯘﺭﻟﯩﺮﻯ
ﻳﯜﮔﯜﺭﯛﭖ ﻛﻪﻟﺪﻯ ﺋﺎﻟﺪﯨﻐﺎ
ﻳﯜﮔﯜﺭﯛﭖ ﻛﻪﻟﺪﻯ ﺋﺎﻟﺪﯨﻐﺎ
ﻟﻪﺭﺯﺍﻥ بارﺩﯨﻢ ﺋﺎﻟﺪﯨﻐﺎ،
ﭼﯜﺷﯜﭖ ﻛﻪﺗﺘﻰ ﻗﻪﺑﺮﻩ
1986- يىلى، دىمەشق
From Exmetjan Osman, Uyghur Qizi Lirikisi, Ürümchi: Shinjang Yashlar-Ösmürler Neshriyati, 1992, 91-98.
|2. Uyghur impressions
1. Cheap Tobacco
Divine light’s wind
Atop the rainbow
6. Thousand Buddha Caves
Muqam of silence.
Angel of forgetting!
8. Clay Oven
On gold will grow
The world is locked within the depths
2. بادام دوپپا
كىرپىكلەردە توزۇغان تۇلپار ماتىمىدە…
3. داپ ئۇسسۇلى
ئەينەك قەپەس ئۈستىگە
From Exmetjan Osman, Roh Pesli, Ürümchi: Shinjang Yashlar-Ösmürler Neshriyati, 1996, 27-30.
|3. My love
On this night’s farthest continent I had you in my sight, my love,
|دىلبەربۇ تۈننىڭ ئەڭ يىراق قىتئەسىدە كۆردۈم سېنى، دىلبەر،
قېنىڭ لەشكەر سۈرۈپ تۈندىن جۇدا قىلدى مېنى، دىلبەر.
مەلائىك بايرىمى سەن كۆكتە، مەن جەڭگاھتا قان تۆكتۈم،
سېنى ئەپكەلدى تۇپراققا پىغانىم خۇپتىنى، دىلبەر.
كۆزۈمدىن توختىماي قەغەزگە چۈشكەندۇر ئاقار يۇلتۇز،
بىراق روھىمنى قىسقان شۇنچە زۇلمەتنىڭ تېنى، دىلبەر.
ئەزەلدىن ئوۋچىمەن ئولجا نېمە بىلمەس ئىدىم ئەمما،
ئۆزۈڭ ھەر ئوۋچىنى ئوۋلايدىغان روھ جەرىنى، دىلبەر.
ئۆزۈڭ نۇر بارمىقى چەككەن پىغانلىق ئەلمىساق تارى،
ساڭا ئىشقىم گويا روھىمدا ۋەھدەت يەلكىنى، دىلبەر.
تېنىم دەرياسىدا ئۈنگەن چىمى سىردەك سېنى ئۆپسەم،
لېۋىڭدىن ئاقتى جانىمغا چېچەكلەرنىڭ قېنى، دىلبەر.
سېنى باغرىمغا باسقاندا ھاياتنىڭ بۆرىسى ھۇۋلار،
يۆگەر مۇردامنى ئاسماننىڭ نۇرانە كېپىنى، دىلبەر.
ئىدىڭ قارنىمدا سەن دۇنيا سولانغان بىر تىرەن شەبنەم،
تېمىپ قۇتلۇق جاراھەتكە ياراتتىڭ جان-جېنى، دىلبەر!
From Tarim, August 1991: 41-42.