Yu Xiuhua’s “Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm” is a celebration of the power of straight-talking
“Fucking you and being fucked by you are quite the same,” opens Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm, the first anthology of Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua (余秀华) to be published in English, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain.
The line is tinged with novelty. The poem from which it is taken, “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You,” went viral in November 2014 when a national poetry magazine published it on the Chinese messaging app WeChat, reportedly attracting over 1 million shares and bringing Yu to public attention. Although other translators have previously rendered the poem in English, Sze-Lorrain is the first to directly use the word “fuck” instead of the coyer “sleep with” or “lie with.”
The word choice echoes the deliberate vulgarity and delicate rawness that permeate all of Yu’s poetry. While the euphemism 睡 (literally, “sleep”) is not an obscenity in Chinese, it carries a certain coarseness in a society where public discussions of sexuality are still not widely accepted. Soon after it went viral, “Crossing” was labeled “slut poetry” by some internet users who felt ill-at-ease with such candid expressions of sexuality from Yu, a rural woman with cerebral palsy. But behind the poem’s title lies both an emotional world that is down-to-earth and writing style that is incredibly perceptive.
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The Raw and Unabashed Poetry of Yu Xiuhua | Book Review is a story from our issue, “Upstaged.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.