Anthony Tao: “I live in Beijing, where for the last two weeks I have been trying to write about the topic in all the headlines: the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic. In truth, I could be responding to any number of news stories I’ve read in the past month, but the one I’ll highlight is a very recent article from the New York Times: ‘To Tame Coronavirus, Mao-Style Social Control Blankets China.’ I most directly address the article’s themes of distrust and Cultural Revolution-style control in my second part, ‘Coronavirus in the Streets.’ But the New York Times only got it half right: In my experience, the people I’ve encountered—including police, neighborhood volunteers, etc.—have gone out of their way to be nicer than before, more courteous, patient, and respectful. I try to capture this sense of camaraderie in the first part, ‘Coronavirus in the Neighborhood.’ I also want to include some notes for the fourth part, ‘Coronavirus in the Imperial Garden,’ written from the perspective of someone within China’s central government (‘Imperial Garden’ is a reference to Zhongnanhai, equivalent to China’s White House). The ‘Do you understand’ line is a question Dr. Li Wenliang was asked, in the early days of the outbreak, by Wuhan police: ‘We hope that you can calm down and earnestly reflect … If you are stubborn, refuse to repent, and continue to carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law! Do you understand?’ All Dr. Li had done was compare this new, as-yet unidentified disease with the 2003 SARS outbreak, which remains a politically sensitive subject in China. The public was outraged after Li himself died of the coronavirus. From that same part, the lines ‘We do not believe’ and ‘truth is what’s proclaimed before judgment’ are both in reference to Bei Dao’s most famous poem, ‘The Answer,’ which became a rally cry for an entire generation of idealistic young Chinese—who remained skeptical and hopeful and good until the aftermath of the 1989 student demonstrations at Tiananmen.” (web)
This week’s Rattlecast features 2008 Rattle Poetry Prize winner Joseph Fasano, plus open lines. Fasano is the author of four books of poetry and a recent novel, and is founder of the Poem for You series, a digital space offering recitations of listeners’ favorite poems by request. Tanner Stening also joins us to discuss the Overview Effect on Poets Respond Live.
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