The annual Taiwan Poetry Road event featuring Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) works is to be held in Tainan’s Yanshuei District (鹽水) today, with organizers saying that they hope to promote the language through the rich musicality of Hoklo poems.
Now in its 17th year, the event is to be held on the red cotton tree-lined Taiwan Poetry Road in Yanshuei, where visitors can immerse themselves in pleasant scenery while enjoying the musical cadence and rhymes of Hoklo poems, said event coordinator Png Iau-khian (方耀乾), a professor of Taiwanese literature at National Taichung University of Education.
This year’s event is to feature 11 poets, including Png and some well-known names in the Taiwanese literary circle, such as Yan Shang (岩上), Lin Chen-mo (林沈默) and Mo Yu (莫渝), who are each slated to recite two works from their repertoires.
The poems scheduled to be presented at the event touch on a wide variety of topics ranging from Taiwan’s scenery to introspection and epiphanies.
By personifying a red cotton tree, Png’s Pan-tsi-hue (The Plant, 斑芝花), protests an authoritarian regime that deprived the tree of its Hoklo name, both in the written and the spoken forms, and imposed on it a Mandarin name — a reference to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ban on Hoklo after its retreat to Taiwan.
Feeling powerless and distressed, the tree can only repeat its Hoklo name in silence over and over, hoping that one day people would address it by its real name.
Citing his experiences attending poetry recitals overseas, Png said that the difference in an audience’s feedback to Hoklo versus Chinese poems can sometimes be so drastic that some Chinese-language poets feel compelled to translate their works into Hoklo before presenting onstage.
“Poems in Hoklo, with its rich musicality, are more likely to elicit an emotional response from an audience,” he said.
Png said he wants to promote Hoklo through poetry and teach foreigners that Hoklo is Taiwan’s mother tongue.
“Whenever an audience member comes to talk to me about my poems, I made it clear that I read them in my mother tongue, which is Hoklo, not Mandarin,” Png said.
Even though most foreigners do not speak the language, they can sometimes accurately guess the emotions conveyed in a Hoklo poem, said Lin Min-kun (林明?), secretary-general for the Tainan Yuejin Literature and History Community Development Association, which is hosting the event.
“All languages have some common attributes, allowing them to break down barriers between cultures,” Lin said.
The event runs from 10am to 12pm at No. 68-1, Tianliao Borough (田寮), Yanshuei District, Tainan.