This poem was actually inspired not by the book that it is named after but by the writer who wrote it.
And even more truthfully, this poem was inspired not so much by this writer, but by a newspaper article written about this writer where, clearly, I found enough to run with.
A great example of how all our truths are based on interpretation and that when you write about somebody else, you might actually be writing more about yourself.
I have, in fact, through this poem, created a fictional character, based loosely on a living writer. The living Xinran is not a sum of her writing or writings written about her; by me or anybody else. This fiction, this poem, allowed me to draw and squeeze out something that I discovered I valued deeply as a result of a story about a writer.
Her name is Xinran. All that I know about her is from a book review I read many years ago in a Toronto Star newspaper article, China’s hidden history, which is fortunately still online. I was inspired by her role as a witness to people who not only needed a voice but a listener. Despite needing this voice, these people wouldn’t tell their stories easily. It was not in their culture to do that. I love that this writer persevered to draw the stories of these people out.
But what is the true source of this poem’s inspiration? I never read the book. I never went any further than this one article. I didn’t research any further for her biographical data.
And what if I should discover the real Xinran is nothing like the inspiration I allowed myself to imagine? One thing remains irrefutable: this is a poem that stands as a tribute to a writer who bears compassionate witness to people who really needed one.
I always intended on reading the book. Honestly, I suspect that the reason I haven’t is because I fear the book might make me sad. I should remember that the article was an inspiration despite having sad realities. And we can’t be afraid of our messed-up human history and nature, if we hope to find more great examples of human love, courage and perseverance.
P.S. Through the course of making the video for this poem, I found an amazing artist named Chiang Yee. Please check out the legacy of this Silent Traveller.
Also, please check out the video poem, china witness, on the lyw Youtube channel: