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The Power of Poetry
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The Power of Poetry

Seven young poets from Suyu Hope Primary School in Huitong County, Hunan Province won applause from the audience when they read their poems at an award gala for the Lu Xun Literature Prize, held on November 20, 2022 in Beijing. It was the first time the child poets had left their hometown to travel to the Chinese capital. The Lu Xun Literature Prize rewards novels, short stories, literary reportage, poetry, essays, works of literary criticism, and translations of Chinese and foreign literary works.

It was the students’ teacher Li Bolin who generated their passion for poetry. Five years ago, while correcting Chinese test papers, she was pleasantly surprised by the writing talent of a student. She slowly developed her students’ potential in writing poems and many became interested in a subject they didn’t know anything about before. “As they learned poetry, children’s observation skills improved, their hobbies and reading range grew, and their curiosity sharpened,” she said. In the lines of a child’s immature poems, she can observe how they perceive life, as well as their perspectives on the world around them.

Li Bolin interacting with students during a Chinese class.

Sowing Seeds of Poetry

In December, the arrival of winter provided them with added inspiration. She took the children of the poetry group into the fields in search of what makes up winter.

“The reeds in winter are like fluffy snowflakes, and the snowflakes fly through the air, like little girls dancing in the wind. The reeds are growing, and so am I. I collected a bunch of reeds and preserve them in my childhood.” Li was amazed by the beauty of these verses written by one of her young students, believing that poetry is like a door that opens the hearts of mountain children. And she hopes that their interest in words and writing will stay with them throughout their lives.

In August 2017, Li returned to her hometown after graduation to teach Chinese at Suyu Hope Primary School. From her first class, she realized that some children had no interest in the class.

However, she became hopeful one day after reading the line “Cotton spits out the harvest” written by one of her students.

“I started trying to guide students so that poetic creations could become the pivot of Chinese language teaching, and form a rich and beautiful mental universe,” said Li.

In order for children to enjoy her Chinese class, Li has been constantly exploring various teaching methods. Finding that they were focusing mainly on their surroundings and the small details of life, she took them to the rapeseed field in search of spring.

“I encourage them to play with grasshoppers, talk to ants, and share their secrets with the breeze and grass. The class thus moves into the colorful [world of] nature.”

“The expression of childhood innocence is very simple and pure,” said Li, who believes poetry should not be limited to the metric of ancient poems. “It’s a natural expression without embellishment, it's the world seen by children.”

Many parents have told Li that their children have become more communicative and are completing homework on their own. She has also noticed that the students’ exam results are improving and that many have become more confident and joyful. For Li, writing a poem is like writing a diary.

It might not be part of the development of young students, but if it makes them dream, learn more about literature, and get an understanding of the diversity of the world, then it has important meaning.

Tie Ning, president of the Chinese Federation of Literary and Art Circles and president of the Chinese Writers' Association, writes down a few words for the children at the Lu Xun Literature Prize ceremony.

Reading the Inner World of Children

“The seeds that the earth envelops grow slowly. The flowers that the rain embraces grow slowly. And I, without my father realizing it, grow up in secret.”

This poem titled “Growing up in Secret” was written by Su Yingqi, a grade five student, whose father works in a distant city year-round and can only return home once a year during the Spring Festival. She expressed this lack of having her father around in a few verses.

Huitong is located in the Wuling Mountains, and more than half of the parents of students attending the school where Li teaches work far flung cities. This teacher subsequently understands the inner world of children and has become their confidante.

“Wherever I go, the shadow follows me. I want to get rid of the shadow, so I run away quickly, kick it hard and step on it, but it stays glued to me. I know the shadow will never be shaken off, so I want a friend like it.” This poem titled “The Shadow That Can’t Be Shaken off” was written by Tang Yuhua, a somewhat mischievous joker.

“When I congratulated him on his lively and interesting poems, especially when all the students read his poems in unison, he felt he was appreciated,” said Li. Poetry therefore becomes a way to encourage self-confidence and mutual recognition.

Li Bolin (first row right) poses with the children of Suyu Hope Primary School at the award gala for the Lu Xun Literature Prize.

Observing the World with Children

Li and her students are like a breath of fresh air. Zhang Li, a literature professor at Beijing Normal University and winner of the Lu Xun Literary Prize for Literary Criticism, said that the reason why these young poets in Huitong move people, is because they express themselves from the depths of their hearts.

“We realize once again that we adults must respect children’s creations and be by their side to observe the world.”

Xu Guixiang, vice president of the China Writers Association, said listening to the children recite their poems awakened the long-lost poetic feeling in the hearts of many guests at the ceremony.

“Leo Tolstoy said that poetry is a ball of fire that burns in people’s souls,” said Li, and it’s because of this sentiment that she continues to support her students and help them not only discover beauty in the world around them, but also express the beauty inside them through their poetry.

China TodayShen Yi

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