Yun Wang on Poets Cafe
The following interview of Yun Wang by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).
Biographical Information—Yun Wang
Yun Wang is the author of two poetry books (The Book of Totality, Salmon Poetry Press, 2015, and The Book of Jade, Winner of the 15th Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, Story Line Press, 2002), two poetry chapbooks (Horse by the Mountain Stream, Word Palace Press, 2016; The Carp, Bull Thistle Press, 1994), and a book of poetry translations (Dreaming of Fallen Blossoms: Tune Poems of Su Dong-Po, White Pine Press, forthcoming 2019). Her poems have been published in numerous literary journals, including The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, Salamander Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and International Quarterly. Her translations of classical Chinese poetry have been published in The Kenyon Review Online, Salamander Magazine, Poetry Canada Review, Willow Springs, Connotation Press, and elsewhere.
Wang grew up in rural southwest China and began writing poetry when she was 12. Her father was a political dissident who was brutally persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. He convinced her to become a scientist to escape political persecution. Wang majored in physics at Tsinghua University when she was 16. She came to the U.S. for graduate school in physics in 1985, and got a Ph.D. in physics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1991. She was a professor of physics and astronomy at University of Oklahoma from 2000 to 2017. She is currently a Senior Research Scientist at California Institute of Technology. She is the author of the cosmology graduate textbook, Dark Energy (Wiley-VCH, 2010). Her research focuses on exploring the nature of dark energy, the mysterious cause for the accelerated expansion of our universe. She was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2012.
My father was the school principal. The day I was born, he caught a twenty pound carp. He gave it to the school kitchen. All the teachers and boarding students tasted it.
Waves of mountains surrounded us. I grew up yearning for the ocean. Smoke arose from green mountains to form clouds each morning. My father named me Cloud.
When a son was born to Confucius, the king of Lu sent over a carp as present. Confucius named his son Carp.
The wise say a carp leaping over the dragon gate is a very lucky sign. My father says he named me Cloud because I was born in the year of the dragon: there are always clouds following a dragon. Confucius’ son died an early death. My father has only three daughters.
When I was three, I wandered all over the campus. A stray cat in a haunted town. My mother says I passed the room where my father was imprisoned. He whispered to me, hid a message in my little pocket. It was his will that I should grow up a strong woman, and find justice for him.
They caught me. My father was beaten to near death. Some of them were students, whose parents were peasants. Some of them were teachers, who used to be his best friends. They had tasted the carp.
It has been recorded that Confucius could not tell the difference between millet and wheat, and was thus mocked by a peasant. This peasant became a big hero, representing the wisdom of the people, thousands of years after Confucius’ death.
My father still goes fishing, the only thing that seems to calm him. The mountains are sleeping waves. My father catches very small fish. My mother eats them. My friends laugh at me, when I tell them that once upon a time, my father caught a carp weighing twenty pounds.
—from The Book of Jade (Storyline Press, 2002) by Yun Wang