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Culture Minister offers condolences upon the passing of poet Yen Shang

  • Date:2020-08-04
Culture Minister offers condolences upon the passing of poet Yen Shang

Minister of Culture Lee Yung-te offers his condolences on the passing of Yen Shang (岩上), a renowned poet who died August 1at the age of 82. Known for his eight-line poems and words that paint a social-realistic picture of Taiwan, the Chiayi-born poet is regarded as one of the most representative nativist poets in the nation.

Yen, whose real name is Yen Cheng-hsing (嚴振興), had attended commercial school and normal college. He taught at the Chung-Yuan Elementary School and subsequently the Caotun Junior High School in the landlocked Nantou county until he retired in 1989.

The poet's unique stand on poetry emerged when Taiwan saw poetical debates on the definition of modern poetry unfold in the 1950s. Under the pen name "Yen Shang," Yen published a fair amount of works after joining Li Poetry Society (笠詩社) in 1962, a literary club composed of Taiwanese nativist poets.

In 1973, Yen won the prestigious Wu Cho-liu award for new poetry. Three years later, the wordsmith founded Poetry Veins Society (詩脈社) and served as the editor-in-chief for its poetry journal Poetry Veins until 1979 when the quarterly magazine ceased publication.

When Yen first started out to write poems, he reflected his concerns toward life and the nation as a whole through words. Yen later turned his focus on social issues, with his personal motto for writing: "lead a plain and simple life and examine the complexness of the social phenomena, while staying true to what inspires poetry."

Inspired by the Chinese ancient divination text "I Ching (易經)," Yen rose to fame by publishing poems in eight-line form, with each poem titled and centered around one Mandarin character. His other works, meanwhile, have been translated into English, Japanese, Korean, German, and other languages. In May, 2020, Yen published his poetry collection reflecting on his experience to live with illness and pain.

Yen, a poet with abundance of creation, donated his scripts and personal belongs to the Tainan-based National Museum of Taiwan Literature more than a decade ago, including "Yen Shang’s handwritten notes - A Journey of Poems (岩上手記—詩的歷程)," the complete collection of Poetry Veins magazines, and his old abacus, indicating his education once in a commercial school.

In a career spanning more than six decades, Yen's writings can be seen as a record of how a generation of Taiwanese nativist poets who were born before World War II and learned ceaselessly to create in Mandarin – a language that was not familiar to them.