As some of you may have noticed, I’m currently creating somewhat of an archive of work by contemporary Australian poets here on my blog. Lots of great work already up and on its way, and today I have the honour of sharing five fantastic poems by Ouyang Yu. A poet I admire greatly, Ouyang has published two books through Picaro Press, who recently published my first full-length collection.

These poems were previously published online in the journals Cordite and Jacket, as well as in the chapbook White and Yu (PressPress). My sincere thanks to Ouyang for his permission to republish these on here.

Though he needs no introduction, here’s a bit about him:

Ouyang Yu came to Australia at the age of 35, and, by 55, has published 55 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and criticism in English and Chinese languages, including his award-winning novel, The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002), his collection of poetry in English, The Kingsbury Tales (2008), his collection of Chinese poetry, Slow Motion (2009), his book of creative non-fiction, On the Smell of an Oily Rag: Speaking English, Thinking Chinese and Living Australian (2008), his second novel, The English Class (2010), his book of literary criticism, Chinese in Australian Fiction: 1888 1988 (2008).


A happy country does not mean its people are happy
A guy who drives his 170,000-dollar Mercedes Benz
Scarcely knows what to do with the in-flow of his money
Instead he makes more merde money
Happiness when the moon shines
On a suburb, say, Caroline Springs
With its winter frog croakings
Means you occupy a house many sizes bigger
Than your body
A dog occupying the bed
You are too busy to go to
Even at night

Smoking in the doorway
Framed by the light
Of the moon
I am unnerved by the thought of
The title


Take it to heights, further 嗨s

Dish the dirt

That is visually sating

An archive

Of stones

And excremental


Soul mouths on ANZAC day

Fetishistic flash of the sun

Light on the one

Wing of a plastic butter


Dissociation, ducks, doodles

And, you know, he’s that rich

He roams the million-dollar

Expanses of depression

Past midnight with a tortured dose

Of serotonin reuptake inhibitors


Alcohol nation

Die all, in high spirits

Born into irreality, irrationality, the genius’ block

The odd bird when it takes

Flight laughs hard

Becoming successful as it turns profit

Like an ajunkt professor

The sky now, darkening

Has sunken

To the roof

With its broken


Listening to the ex-Chinese-woman-soldier

The way she looks at my teeth is a bit unnerving
As I take down her details
Regarding incident after incident of
Domestic violence
And other matters of substance:

I used to be in the Chinese navy
Then I became a real estate agent
With a good income till we met
He habitually beats me up on a monthly basis
But I have never been beaten by anyone
Not even by my parents
All my life
It gets to a degree where we don’t speak
Any more, if we do, if I comment on anything, anything
I have commented on
Will emerge in later conversations as something
Against me, so it’s best we shut our mouths and say nothing
What have I become now?
A cooking wife, a laundry woman, a do-everything
It’s best this way
He keeps to him, I to myself
Each going down our own single-wood bridge

I notice that she is a woman
Who says yes to every one of my questions
Even though she wears plain clothes

Listening to the Pakistani Taxi-driver

You’d never know who you’d run into when you catch a cab
To the airport, in Melbourne, you’d have dozens of ethnics such as Somalis
Indians, sri lankans, Iraqis, even Chinese
This guy whose name is, vaguely, rizwan
Tells me that he’s from Pakistan and is going to get his master’s degree
While driving this taxi and he says:

I mean I can easily get 385 dollars, not a week, but a fortnight
From the centralink but I don’t like the idea
Because we don’t have the habit of falling back on the government
As some aussies do whose habit it is to always get it whenever they can
Generation after generation
For me, I work, my mind work, my hands work, and I am happy
And when I get my degree I may go elsewhere for a job
What they should do here is get you a job, not money for nothing
This friend of mine, a sheik from Saudi Arabia, who’s invested millions
In Australia but is pulling out because it’s such a shit country
If you do business these days you do with china, its economy is so strong
Not even America can catch up and what democracy are you talking about
Every country every people have their own cultures systems religions and beliefs
If you import American democracy you end up with iraq and
The kind of destruction we daily see
It’s not good enough
I don’t worship anyone these days except what’s his name in north korea
Who’s got the guts and dares stand up against the American bullcrap
You have to be strong in this world and do your own thing
And not let others run all over you
So you are going to denmark?
I’ve got an uncle there although I’ve never been there
Hopefully, one of these days

Listening to the Chinese audience

After I finished reading
At don bank museum
In napier street, north Sydney
That cost me 18 bucks to taxi to
From soho galleries
In cathedral street
That had cost me 20-odd minutes in my search
This Chinese woman stood up in the audience
And spoke:

Your poetry is so dark, depressive
So pessimistic
Poetry is meant to be enlightening, uplifting
It should be beautiful, about beautiful things
Life already misery enough
You should give us some light, more light
With your poetry
You should, in a word
Write something to make us feel better
About ourselves, about the world around us
You should avoid using abusive language

She kept talking without giving me a chance to
Defend, offend, myself
So I stood there, in front of the listening audience
Watching the light burning
With smoke on a standing lamp
Which drew everyone’s attention
But hers
Finally, I said
To myself
Looking around the well-lit poetry reading room
And well-lit faces
“there is enough light
outside my book”

Go to Ouyang Yu’s website here.


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