NORMAN — Though Thursday evening’s banquet at the University of Oklahoma served primarily to honor Taiwanese poet Yang Mu, the event was a showcasing of Chinese literature blended with the uniquely American artistry of poets and musicians young and old.
Chosen by a panel of literary experts in October, Yang Mu was awarded the $10,000 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature at Thursday’s banquet, recognizing his outstanding achievement in prose and poetry.
Additionally, four local aspiring poets were each recognized with the $500 Newman Young Poet’s Award: 1) Donovan Helterbrand, a first-grader at East Side Elementary in Midwest City, 2) Aaliyah Elders, an eighth-grader at Highland East Junior High in Moore, 3) Casey Cai, an 11th-grader at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in Oklahoma City, and 4) Spencer McCoy, an undergraduate at the University of Tulsa.
Each of the four Young Poets were honored for excellence writing a jeuju style poem, an ancient Chinese poem traditionally sung aloud, with precise specifications to form and narrative.
Institute for U.S.-China Issues Director Peter Gries praised Donovan Helterbrand’s poem in his introduction of the winners, saying its vivid description “put me in the body of a mouse.”
A major highlight of the event was live music provided by a jazz quartet from Manhattan, which paid surpise tribute to Yang Mu with two original compositions featuring his poetry put to jazz music.
Yang Mu humbly accepted the evening’s praise, giving a brief history of Taiwanese poetry in his remarks and describing poetry’s political significance as a subtle rebellion against the landed colonial powers.
“Over the last half century we’ve seen Taiwanese poets create a large place for themselves between what is chosen and what is left behind,” Yang Mu said. “The poetry of Taiwan is distinctly different and always fresh because the country is always in flux.”
For more information on the OU Institute for U.S.-China Issues or the Newman Prize, visit www.ou.edu/uschina.