Interview with Ouyang Yu

Interview by Magdalena Ball

MB: How did you choose the pieces to use in this collection?

OY: i don’t recall any more but i just chose whatever that had been published in various collections to give a sense of variety and styles.

MB: Why did you exclude Moon Over Melbourne?

OY: it’s an existing difficulty with the publisher of that book and that difficulty has not been resolved and overcome so far.

MB: The writer Robert Dessaix has said that all writing is about the search for Home (in the Ithican sense). Do you feel that this is a key undercurrent in your work?

OY: all ‘writing’? who can prescribe this for ‘all writing’? i don’t agree. my writing is about home and more, as can be plainly seen in my writing(s) if people care to read it or them.

MB: You’ve often been characterised as the “angry Chinese poet,” a label which you poke a bit of fun at in one of your own poems, but your work isn’t always angry. It’s sometimes very gentle, sometimes warm and affectionate, and sometimes joyful. What is your feeling about the label?

OY: people are welcome to label my work whichever way they want but then they become the labellers, being labelled themselves, see? academics are most prone to this trick and they get paid for doing that stupid thing and can be ignored. critics, too, the great labellers themselves. again, my work is not one style but many. australian critics/academics are very limited when they try to analysize my work because it’s like looking at the day or night without also looking at the night or day that’s the other half, my other half written in chinese; they do not have the chinese language like i do with the english language. i urge them to take up another language before they do their work properly. besides, when they write stuff, they get all sorts of things wrong but all they care about is publication so that they get a credit in their promotion. before a writer dies, i think, a writer has a right to get a look at what’s being said about their work before the thing goes out for publication. but if the critics/academics don’t give a damn that’s their own problems, not mine.

MB: You write in both Chinese and English. Do you find that you use these languages to express different ideas, emotions, etc. Are there trends to these differences?

OY: i’ve got 2 languages and i like writing using these two as there is so much potential to dig into beyond the comprehension of any here and i’m sick of having to explain it all. just see my poetry in either. if the chinese ones defy understanding, try learning the language.

MB: To a certain extent, do you feel that the Chinese Ouyang Yu is a different poet to the English Ouyang Yu?

OY: different and the same because i am i and not i and that applies to everyone, not just me.

MB: Tell me about Otherland. Why did you start it, and what is its overall aim?

OY: Otherland Literary Journal (yuanxiang wenxue zazhi) is the first and the only literary journal based in Melbourne, Australia, that is devoted to the publication and promotion of fiction, poetry, literary criticisms written by the Chinese, for the Chinese and about the Chinese throughout the Chinese-speaking world. Jointly founded and funded by Ouyang Yu who named the journal in both Chinese and English, Ding Xiaoqi and Sun Haoliang in late 1995, the journal has been edited, published and funded by Ouyang Yu alone from No. 2 onwards after the other two editors dropped out. From No. 1, 1995 to No. 5, 1999, Otherland had been entirely published in Chinese. However, No. 6, 2000, introduced its first Chinese-English bilingual edition, signifying an important switch languagewise. With No. 7, 2001, a special issue in English, titled, Bastard Moon: Essays on Australian-Chinese Writing, guest-edited by Professor Wenche Ommundsen, Otherland has strode into the English language without looking back although its main concerns are still those of the Chinese including the Chinese diaspora. In 2002, Ouyang Yu caught international attention by publishing In Your Face: Contemporary Chinese Poetry in English Translation that he translated,
edited and published, incorporating more than 70 Chinese poets spread across China, Australia, America, Europe and Asia. As a result, he was invited to the 2004 Chinese Poetry Festival in Denmark (April 2004).

Apart from the paper-based edition, Otherland has also published two online issues, Otherland (No. 9, online version, 2003) and Otherland (No. 10, online version, 2004), both edited and published by Ouyang Yu.

In addition to this, Otherland Literary Journal has now developed into Otherland Publishing, a publishing venture focused on publishing Chinese related literature. It has so far published Otherland Poetry Series No. 1 to No. 6, C–t Sequence by Ouyang Yu (out of print), wo cao by Ouyang Yu (out of print), Foreign Matter by Ouyang Yu (hand-made on demand), The Best of Both Words by Ouyang Yu (hand-made on demand), 11 collections of Chinese poetry including The Limit (xiandu) by Ouyang Yu as well as the latest No. 6, a vast collection of hundreds of poems written by Ouyang Yu but made in single copies only. For more information, please contact Ouyang on 0411 248 619 or 61 411 248 619, email him at: or visit his website at:

MB: Many of the poems in this book have a kind of “them”–being Australians–and “us”–being migrants from other places–dialogue going on. Do you not feel that, to a certain extent, this distinction only occurs in caricature? That you are, effectively, a critical part of the voice of Australia now? Or to put it another way, that Australia’s voice is a recent migrant’s voice, much more so than the colonialistic white man’s voice that characterizes your “them?”

OY: them can be us to the degree that it’s hard to distinguish. so far, the distinction between the real australian and the unreal or the migrant is distinct. that you still use the word ‘migrant’ clearly shows this whereas i’m most uncomfortable with it. are we all not migrants? if not, what about our parents or their parents or their parents’ parents? as human beings we are all migrants and can potentially become migrants.

MB: This isn’t to discount the continuing wide-ranging prejudice against Asians as a whole, as well as towards Aborigines that your work highlights. Do you think, as a society, Australia is moving forwards or backwards in this respect?

OY: australia can’t move ahead at all unless it could restore the society to the aboriginal state as 200 years ago. but that is absolutely impossible or is it? so, we are back to square one: nothing much can really happen except empty talk. as for asians, it’s the money or sex that australians expect from them, nothing much else.

MB: Tell me about the novel (and any other projects) you are currently working on.

OY: a secret for the moment but one thing i can tell you is that everything i get published in this country is preceded by multiple rejections. a white australian told me that his book got rejected 3 times as if that was something deplorable till he heard my story: 29 rejections for ‘the eastern slope chronicle’, more than 20 for ‘foreign matter’ and more down the track.