Poetry International Poetry International

Lo Fu

Lo Fu

Lo Fu

(China, 1928 - 2018)

The poet did not wish for his photograph to be displayed.

Lo Fu (Luo Fu) is the penname of Mo Luofu, who was born in Hengyang, Hunan Province. He joined the military during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) and moved to Taiwan in 1949. After graduation from the Cadre Academy in 1953 with a brief stint in the marines, he worked as a news editor at a military radio station and as a liason officer in Quemoy. From 1965-67 he was assigned to a post in Vietnam. He retired from the navy in 1973 as a commander; the same year he also graduated with a BA in English from Tamkang University. He has been a full-time writer and translator since. In recent years he has become a calligrapher of note, holding exhibitions in North America and Asia.

Lo Fu started writing in mainland China in the mid-1940s. While stationed in southern Taiwan in 1954, he co-founded the Epoch Poetry Society with Zhang Mo and Ya Xian and served as editor of the association’s Epoch Poetry Quarterly for more than a decade. Lo Fu has been a controversial figure in the many literary debates that have shaped the evolution of modern Chinese poetry. His poetry has been immensely influential in Taiwan and China.

Lo Fu is the author of twelve volumes of poetry; an equal number of personal anthologies published in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China; five collections of essays; five volumes of literary criticism; and eight book-length translations. Five book-length studies of his work have appeared in Chinese; he also has been the topic of one US PhD dissertation and two MA theses in Taiwan and China. Lo Fu began his career as a poet with youthful lyrics in the 1940s; his early models being Feng Zhi and Ai Qing. His first book, River of the Soul was published in 1957. His first major creative breakthrough as a poet came in 1958 when he was stationed on Quemoy during the bombardment of the island. One day, as the shells rained down overhead, he began writing inside a bomb shelter. The work would grow into a sequence of 64 poems that took five years to complete. The sequence was published as his second book of poetry titled Death of a Stone Cell in 1965.

Briefly, Death of a Stone Cell can be described as a vast canvas upon which the great themes of life, death, love, and war are painted. Lo Fu described the poem as “a portrait of man’s uncertainty and anxiety in modern life; a lonely outcry wrung from between life and death, love and hate, gain and loss.” Lo Fu’s reflections on the nature of human existence and man’s fate in the modern world are expressed through a complex array of personal symbols, creating a stunning and hermetic poetry of rich texture. Lo Fu himself has commented on the influence of Rilke. The book received immediate attention and comment from poets and critics alike, eventually contributing to and culminating in the modernist debates of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. The collection heralded a major new talent.

A third collection titled Poems from Beyond was published in 1967. Most of the poems in the collection involve a conceit based on the word ‘beyond’. Stylistically, the poetry is less dense than his previous book. This was followed in 1970 with a collection, River Without Banks, the most significant portion of which was a small group of 11 poems titled “Saigon Poems” which came out of Lo Fu’s experience in Vietnam. The poems effectively combine Surrealist poetics with a tighter structure and more succinct use of language. His poem ‘Fish’ is a good example. Magical Songs, his fifth collection, followed in 1974. The collection consists of a number of occasional poems and sequences concerned with abstract and metaphysical subjects. Lo Fu is able to crystallize the abstract in controlled language and rhythm, much like Wallace Stevens, a favorite of Lo Fu’s. He also incorporates elements of classical poetry in his verse and examines Chinese history. His poem ‘Song of Everlasting Sorrow’, for example, is a modern commentary on Pai Juyi’s Tang-dynasty masterpiece.

His award-winning book Wound of Time appeared in 1981. In this, Lo Fu is still concerned with the abstract and metaphysical but also shows a greater concern for Chinese literary tradition and history, as well as his personal history and how it represents that of China – the title poem of the book being a good example. Poems such as ‘The Legend of Li Bai’ and ‘Sharing a Drink with Li He’ also share this theme.

Concomitant with his interest in and growing influence from traditional poetry was a thematic interest in root-seeking and a nostalgia for his home in China. Lo Fu’s following collections continued to develop similar interests and themes. Wine-Brewing Stone (1983), for example, contains a 42-page elegy to the poet’s mother that is in fact a lament for China; Nirvana of Angels (1990) contains a number of poems written after the poet was allowed to visit the mainland. In 1990, Lo Fu also published another collection of poetry titled House of Moonlight. The book contains a large number of occasional lyrics as well as longer poems on nostalgia for home (‘Cricket’s Song’); abstract philosophical poems (‘Metaphysical Game’); and poems on the tragic sense of history (‘Mailing a Pair of Shoes’).

Lo Fu’s 1993 collection Hidden Title Poems was a formalistic departure for him. The book contains 45 hidden-title poems (a form of acrostic poem, in which each word of the title must begin a line of the poem). Silent Falls the Snow (1999) also contains a large number of mature occasional lyrics on Lo Fu’s travels to Russia and China as well poems written about his life in Vancouver. His most recent collection titled Driftwood is actually a 240-page poem. In a sense Lo Fu has come full circle from Death of a Stone Cell, the anti-epic of his youth, to Driftwood, the epic summation of the poet’s artistic journey, life experience, and philosophy. On the poem, Lo Fu says, “It sums up my experience of exile, my artistic explorations, and my metaphysics. I consider it a personal epic, the greatest achievement of my old age, and a landmark of my career.”

Lo Fu has won all major literary awards in Taiwan including the China Times Literary Award, the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Literary Award, the Wu San-Lien Literary Award, and the National Literary Award. His poetry has been translated into English, Swedish, French, German, Japanese, and Korean.

© John Balcom

Poetry in English
Eighteen poems translated by John Balcom can be found in Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry, edited by Michelle Yeh and N. G. D. Malmqvist, Columbia University Press, 2001. Thirteen poems translated by John Balcom are in Selected Verses of Lo Fu, Milky Way Publishing Company, 2001

Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
Elise Mathilde Fonds
Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère