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Fainting with Freedom

2016 - Shortlisted


Judges' comments

Ouyang Yu achieves a rare, existential urgency in poems where the ambivalence of citizenship becomes the subject of poetic experimentation and enquiry. In loosely arranged prose poems and free verse, Yu appears to extemporise, colloquially and often with absurdity. He provides a web link and search terms for Heidegger’s extramarital affairs in ‘Philosophy’ while offering the reader his own email address in the poem ‘Shi/Fei.’ These layered, conversational techniques serve the poet’s indefatigable resourcefulness and philosophical curiosity. They intercept the conventional codes which Australian nationality has used to frame and mediate its migrant bodies, offering in place of assimilation a hard-won acceptance. Yu’s poems embody materiality and contingency, as well as the displaced spirit of the Chinese–Australian exile. In ‘The Way We Go’ he eschews the timeworn tropes of ethnic food for a frozen yellow fish to be eaten ‘With garlic/ And vinegar/ As well as soy/Sauce’. In the brilliant ‘Self-Publishing’ he exposes the industry myth of independent validation. Yu’s speaker is the inside-outsider who refuses to be domesticated, believing that ‘Living overrides all’.

The political anger of Yu’s earlier collections seems ostensibly to have smouldered into darker universal ironies which triumph in Fainting with Freedom. His speaker is a likeable persona whose self-deprecations, marital misunderstandings, melancholia and scepticism win the reader over time and time again. Yu hybridises his language, making English the equivalent, the Other, in meditations replete with digression, humour, bilingual puns and neologisms such as ‘seyuandipity’, ‘Hu’ and ‘thawvive’. This book asserts Ouyang Yu’s vital place in the Australian canon.