“The Poet’s Obligations Toward Freedom” by Lian-Hee Wee

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“The Poet’s Obligations Toward Freedom” (Monday 25 November 2019), featuring Professor Lian-Hee Wee (HKBU), Dr Michael O’Sullivan (CUHK), Dr Jennifer Anne Eagleton (OUHK), Miłosz Biedrzycki (visiting from Poland), moderated by Dr Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (HKBU). The event was jointly organised by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong. It took place at Bleak House Books.

• What do I understand to be freedom in the context of politics?

I am an anarchist. It took me much longer than it should have to realise that. My feelings and thoughts and values had always been what Noam Chomsky would describe as “socialist libertarian”. My understanding of that term in a nutshell is a libertarian who believes that some kind of organisation is necessary and would be done through representation which the people can choose to recall and replace when that representative fails. Thus a government is representative of those who are governed, and all in the government may lose their positions when those who are governed choose to call them out. How is that anarchy? Well, it is. Ask Beijing.

And so here is a recent poem that references the anarchism which requires poetic courage to comprehend and, if you understand it, embrace.


• Hence, what do I believe are the obligations of a poet?

The poet has always been a beneficiary. Freedom allows the poet to compose; the loss of freedom inspires the poet. There is a debt that the poet owes to the times and the community, so yes, there are obligations. But what? The obligation to remind, to spur, to encourage, to help heal, to be a pensive, to record where history forbids, to flesh out where cold facts fail.

An example, the sixth stanza extracted from “填鴨門傳說的海角殘碉(亦名 Darligorsiuyantal) (Duckgate2 legend’s bastion at the corner of the sea, aka Darligorsiuyantal)”


The poem might never find sympathy and resonance, much to my chagrin. I do not wish to explain it to death, but I hope that my efforts to document how Carrie Lam’s election, Hong Kong’s local culture of beating up effigies under the Causeway Bay bridge, the bravery of Yvonne Leung and other students who fought the regime during the Umbrella Movement. Their mantle now inherited by the Water Revolution.

Anyhow, in case Taiwan or Hong Kong do not survive in the annals of history as I suspect Xinjiang won’t (does anyone know the name of the territory before it was called “new borders”?), here is a piece that I hope you’ll like better. 

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