Breaking Language Down: Taiwan Sound Poetry and Its Ways of Saying

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Department of English, NTNU


This paper explores the appearance and rapid development of a genre that crosses the boundaries between art, music, drama, and literature, and that is being variously called “sound poetry” (聲音詩 shengyin shi), “language art” (語言藝術 yuyan yishu), or “text-sound art” (文本聲音藝術 wenben shengyin yishu). I argue that Taiwan sound poetry develops as an alternative genre to Chinese poetic tradition, forging a disorienting aesthetics that is disruptive of conventional ideas of artistic quality. I conceptualize this phenomenon in its unique history and politics, extrapolating some key features that include: a poetics that strives not for semantic extension or enrichment, but that radically aims at “semantic abjection”; intervention in Taiwan language politics and translingual context, through its contribution to a “culture of the ear”; a shift of attention from textual semantics to performance with audience/users’ participation; strategic denial of a genealogy rooted in the Chinese tradition,with sound poets’ pronouncements about their poetics as being an entirely Western import; double nature as local, Sinophone, and global.