Amie Elizabeth Parry’s journey of learning about Taiwan and its culture began in the early 1990s, when she visited Taiwan with a friend who was studying Mandarin.
Later, Parry returned to Taiwan to study on a Fulbright scholarship.
“I made some Taiwanese friends six months after I arrived in Taiwan. I found that people in Taiwan had a certain understanding of the US’ history, society or culture, but I knew nothing about Taiwan,” Parry said in fluent Mandarin. “Our high school or college history textbooks did not mention much about Taiwan, either.”
“In fact, there has been a significant relation between the US and Taiwan since the Cold War, but the general American public still has limited knowledge of this relation, no matter whether they hold a college degree or not,” she said.
That inspired Parry to learn more about Taiwan and to study Chinese.
But Parry took the road less traveled to explore Taiwanese culture — poetry. The language barrier posed a challenge, but did not discourage Parry from reading Chinese poems.
Her years of research into contemporary poetic works led to a book published by Duke University Press, Interventions into Modernist Cultures: Poetry from Beyond the Empty Screen, which recently won her the Book Award in Literary Studies by the Association for Asian American Studies and was praised for advancing Taiwanese literary research.
Josephine Ho (何春蕤), a professor at National Central University’s Center for the Study of Sexuality, said the award is given for major contributions to promoting the visibility of Taiwanese culture among international academic circles.
“Generally speaking, it is more difficult to understand a poem than to understand a novel, not to mention that I chose to study avant-garde modernistic [Taiwanese] poetry,” Parry said.
“Take the poems of [contemporary Taiwanese female poet] Hsia Yu [夏宇] for example. Many friends in Taiwan wonder how I can understand her poems, because even they [who have Mandarin as their mother tongue] can’t,” Parry said.
Parry said her introduction to Taiwanese poetry was in part thanks to several important literary and academic figures who captured her interest in the early and mid 1990s.
National Taiwan University Department of Chinese Literature professor Ko Ching-ming (柯慶明) and Parry’s adviser, Yeh Wei-lien (葉維廉), an academic and poet, are two examples, Parry said.
Ko and Yeh opened up the world of contemporary Taiwanese poetry while Parry was doing her doctoral studies in Taiwan on a Fulbright, she said.
Parry also met several Taiwanese poets during her stay, who shared their literary background with her.
She then focused her research on representations of modernity in the works of US expatriates Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein and of Hsia Yu and Yu Kuang-chung (余光中).
Although Parry chose a picture of Taiwan’s Hsiluo Bridge (西螺大橋) for the cover of her book, she said one work wasn’t enough to bridge the gap between two cultures.
“But I hope for English readers, it could make people interested in poetry in Taiwan because they really don’t know much about Taiwanese culture ... Hopefully it will make them want to find out more,” Parry said.