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27 Apr

Mother Tongue Complex

Mother Tongue Complex

(An Impression of the Polish Poet Adam Zagajewski)


Sophy Chen


Sophy Chen, Lihua Chen (1975 - ) is a Chinese contemporary poetess and translator. She was awarded the Legendary Poet Award in 2012 by In the same year she won the annual International Best Translator Award 2012 instituted by IPTRC. In 2014, she won the Chinese Contemporary Poetry (2013-2014) Translation Award. She has till date translated six Chinese poetry collections into English. “Mother Tongue Complex” is a graphical description of her first rendezvous with the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. Evidently the language barrier keeps the audience deaf. The beauty of this poem lies in the effortless ease with which the poet transfers the helplessness of the audience onto the performer.


It rains cats and dogs outside

Before going up on the stage to accept his prize, he always

Straightens his clothes and sits properly with a serious look

Readers line up waiting for his signature


They are craning their necks to look at him to sign

Putting pen to paper with a line, in silence

It seems unable to see a trace of his expression changes

You can feel his

Philosopher’s unique qualities


“Nice to meet you Sir!

Could you sign ...?”

I opened the title page of the poetry anthology forward

He, bewildered, after his translator

Gave him a sign, quickly swipes

His pen to sign his name in Polish

Then, silence


In an hour-long Polish rewarding speech

He speaks earnestly, but

We look at him deaf, until into our eardrums

Finally is poured a lingua franca:

“Ladies and Gentlemen”

Beautiful tone, natural, gratifying


In the poem reading part, he seems to feel

The daze and helplessness of the audience and then he is forced to squeeze out

A large section of fluent English opening remarks... 

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