Pancouver-Logo

Become a Cultural Navigator

Become a Cultural Navigator

Poet Cathy Xinman shows love of nature and humanity—and deep opposition to racism—in Chinese and English verse

Cathy Xinman
Vancouverite Cathy Xinman recently spoke about her anti-racist poems to a Chinese seniors group.

Cathy Xinman is doing something unusual in the Canadian literary world. The longtime Vancouver resident writes poems in two languages with radically different alphabetical structures.

One of her poetry books, Where You Love Yourself, is entirely in English. Another book, Flowers Kiss the Sun, is comprised of Chinese poems.

Xinman, a director of the Chinese Poetry Society of Canada, recently talked to Pancouver about her passion for writing, which began in her childhood in China’s Hunan province. (Pancouver associate editor Becky Tu provided translations when Xinman spoke in Mandarin.)

According to Xinman, she grew up in an isolated, small community, not far from the bustling metropolis of Changsha.

“You can only reach the town by the river,” Xinman says.

Because it was so shut off from the world, she spent enormous amounts of time in nature, reading poetry. The beauty of the Chinese countryside inspired her to write her own poems, some of which were published in a local newspaper. Later, more work was published in Singapore.

“The central theme would be love—love for life, for nature, and the ability to love each other as humans,” Xinman says.

About 20 years ago, she immigrated to Canada.

“I was thinking about children and their education,” Xinman says. “One of the bigger thoughts was having a different kind of education.”

She has a son and a daughter. However, she still acknowledges feeling a sense of isolation as an immigrant to Canada. This is reflected in one of her poems on her website.

Cathy Xinman Where You Love Yourself
Cathy Xinman’s English-language collection of poems, Where You Love Yourself, is on Amazon.

Xinman highlights beauty

“You Will be Amazed by my Poetry” reads like a child’s letter to her mother, commenting on majestic maple leaves, including one that lands on her nose.

“Even though there are a lot of painful things that might have been an inspiration, I want to highlight the beauty,” Xinman says. “I used the children’s point of view to express these painful things because I want to hold onto the hope. We can still be children.”

Xinman works as an accountant and for many years, some acquaintances didn’t know she was a writer. She only shared this with close friends.

Then about five years ago, Xinman began writing in English. This came after her grandmother and father died within six months of each other. In processing her grief, she attended church, where the ministers spoke English.

“I listened in English and the poems came out in English,” she says.

In recent years, Xinman has become alarmed by anti-Asian hatred. Once again, she has put her feelings into words in poems such as “I Shall Raise My Fist” and “I Still Believe”.

In “I Shall Raise My Fist” Xinman writes about the racist defacement of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Millennium Gate in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

“How can I help you arise and resist?” the poet asks in one verse. “All I have is poems. / Let me recite one for you / a poem by Martin Luther King / a poem that still raises my spirits. / You have suddenly awakened me / awakened me in a dream / and now I have no alternative / but to raise my fist / in protest.”

Responding to racism

The other poem, “I Still Believe”, includes this stanza:

“You have taken my clothing / sneak-attacked my dark eyes / called me a cursed Asian / called me an ugly barbarian. / You will go on being shameless / and I shall go on believing in justice.”

Over Zoom on November 30, Xinman spoke about these poems in a speech entitled “Poetry Creation and Sharing Against Racial Discrimination”. She delivered it to Chinese Age-well Research and Education, a Toronto-based nonprofit that offers lifelong learning to Chinese seniors.

University of Toronto sociology professor Weiguo Zhang hosted the event. During this session, SFU professor emeritus and Sinologist Jan Walls offered English-language translations of “I Still Believe” and “I Shall Raise My Fist”. According to the centre, Walls described these works as “ying” and “yang”, offering a “combination of rigidity and softness”.

For inspiration, Xinman often reads Pablo Neruda’s poetry. She’s particularly impressed by the deceased Chilean’s passion for life, imagination, and authentic emotion in his words.

Xinman says that his poems on love have had the greatest impact on her. In fact, she reveals that they are almost like a lens for experiencing the world.

“Poetry is healing—not only for me as a writer but also for readers,” Xinman declares.

Cathy Xinman says that some of her poems have been poorly translated into English on the Internet without her consent. As a result, she encourages people interested in reading her work in English to go to her book, Where You Love Yourself. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

Take Action Now

Pancouver fuels creativity and promotes a more inclusive society. You can contribute to support our mission of shining a spotlight on diverse artists. Donations from within Canada qualify for a tax receipt.

Share this article

Picture of Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

Subscribe

Tags

Related Articles

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

© 2023 The Society of We Are Canadians Too Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.