One of the poems painted on the front of Huang Xiang's North Side house reads (in English translation), "Usually there is no audience, the man recites alone. / Within the four walls, language gushes up. He takes his own / covered head and face and completely submerges them."
But on March 18 the famed Chinese poet, a dissident expatriate now living in Pittsburgh, won't be reciting to no one. He'll be joined at the Mattress Factory by University of Pittsburgh visiting lecturer Sharon McDermott and MFA students Lisa Pepper and Oliver Khan, poets who'll read English translations of Huang's work. The highlight, however, is likely to be Huang's own presentation of his poems, in Chinese: More than simply reciting, he comes to embody his verse, booming it out and emoting in defiance of his slight frame and otherwise modest demeanor.
The 62-year-old Huang is regarded by some as China's foremost dissident poet of the past half-century (see "Freed Verse," in the Nov. 17, 2004, CP). In his homeland, his writing was banned and he was imprisoned six times for his vocal human-rights advocacy, most recently in the mid-'90s along with his wife, the writer Zhang Ling, with whom he now lives here; both were tortured in prison. Under the auspices of the international Cities of Asylum program for writers persecuted in their own countries, and with co-sponsorship by the Mattress Factory and local businessman Ralph (Henry) Reese, they moved this past October from New York into a house near the museum.