hey i’m Xiaohai


Xiao Hai, photo by Ma Junyan.  小海, 马俊彦摄

Xiao Hai: “Poetry saved and soothed my heart”


Xiao Hai (b. 1987) came from Shangqiu City in Henan Province, the philosopher Zhuangzi’s hometown. At the age of 15, he traveled south to the Pearl River Delta where he worked on assembly lines. For more than a decade, he worked between the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei confluence. He has been working for 18 years and has had more than 20 jobs, with the longest lasting more than four years and the shortest lasting less than a day. He has written nearly 1,000 poems totaling more than 100,000 characters. He was a member of the Picun Literature Group and won the Best Poet prize at the First Laborers’ Literature Awards. Xiao Hai has taken two training courses with the Lao She Literary Institute, an official literary institution. He currently works as a shop assistant at a charity shop named Tongxinhuhui, near Picun.

Intoxicated by Haizi’s poetry and rocked by the melodies of rock icons such as Cui Jian, Zhang Chu, and Xu Wei, he was later captivated by the sounds of world legends such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Pink Floyd.

In a mix of inspiration and wandering, his pieces are sometimes poetic, sometimes lyrical, whether in workshops, wilderness, or onboard public buses. In his free time, he joins the literary circle of “Pi Village”. His work, vast and acclaimed, found echo in various publications and platforms, from Pi Village literature to renowned newspapers such as Shanghai Jiefang and China Youth Daily, and was even present at the 2017 Workers’ Spring Festival.

肖海(生于1987年)来自哲学家庄子的故乡河南省商丘市。 15岁时,他南下珠江三角洲,在流水线上工作。十多年来,他工作于珠三角、长三角、京津冀交汇处。他工作了18年,做过20多份工作,最长的有四年多,最短的不到一天。一生创作诗歌近千首,字数十万余字。皮村文学组成员,获首届劳动者文学奖最佳诗人奖。肖海参加了官方文学机构老舍文学学院的两门培训课程。他目前在皮村附近一家名为“同心互惠”的慈善商店担任店员。



Some reports and articles about him


The following is drawn from a series of interviews with Xiao Hai. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

以下内容摘自对小海的一系列采访。 为了简洁和清晰,它已被编辑。

Writing poetry is a natural process for me, because I used to spend most of my time working on factory assembly lines, more than 10 hours a day, without any change. The mechanized life made me feel helpless, lonely, at a loss, depressed, and tired. My body was in the factory, but my mind was not. My mind was flying, not settled at any moment, and there was no job that I could do solidly, ever. Working on the assembly line didn’t bring me the life I wanted. What I’ve been pursuing isn’t money, but freedom. I would like to live freely, and don’t want to be a machine on an assembly line. People have souls, and they get tired.

For many years, I wanted to escape the factory, but I couldn’t. So, I had to escape through my mind. Fortunately, I encountered rock music and poetry. I listened to the songs of Bob Dylan and read the poetry of Allen Ginsberg. Bob Dylan made me feel free and brave, and made my blood boil. In 2013, when I was 25 years old — which was also the craziest and most desperate time of my life — I came across Allen Ginsberg on the internet. I printed out his long poem “Howl” and put it in my pocket. Then, whenever I felt lonely at work, I’d take it out.

I also read the poems of Chinese poet Hai Zi, who committed suicide at a very young age but whose poems are very popular among Chinese youth. It was he who instilled spiritual strength in me. His poems enabled me to face my soul and life honestly, and express myself sincerely. In fact, I gave myself the pen name Xiao Hai (“Little Hai”) as a tribute to Hai Zi.

Lonely and looking for a way to express myself, I finally found a spiritual outlet. At first, I would write poems on the packing slips in the clothing factory. I didn’t have a reader in mind at first: my only reader was myself, and I talked with my soul. I never told any of my co-workers, and no one knew what I was writing. When I got off work at night, I’d go to an internet cafe and post my poems online.

写诗对我来说是一个自然的过程,因为我以前大部分时间都在工厂流水线上工作,每天10多个小时,没有任何改变。 机械化的生活让我感到无助、孤独、茫然、沮丧、疲惫。 我的身体在工厂里,但我的思想却不在工厂里。 我的思绪飞扬,一刻也无法安定,从来没有什么工作是我能踏实做的。 在流水线上工作并没有给我带来我想要的生活。 我一直追求的不是金钱,而是自由。 我想要自由自在的生活,不想成为流水线上的一台机器。 人是有灵魂的,也会有疲惫的时候。

多年来,我一直想逃离工厂,但我不能。 所以,我只能用心灵来逃避。 幸运的是,我遇到了摇滚乐和诗歌。 我听了鲍勃·迪伦的歌曲,读了艾伦·金斯堡的诗歌。 鲍勃·迪伦让我感到自由和勇敢,让我热血沸腾。 2013年,当我25岁的时候——也是我一生中最疯狂、最绝望的时候——我在互联网上认识了艾伦·金斯伯格。 我把他的长诗《嚎叫》打印出来放进口袋里。 然后,每当我在工作中感到孤独时,我就会把它拿出来。

我还读了中国诗人海子的诗,他很小的时候就自杀了,但他的诗在中国年轻人中很受欢迎。 是他给我灌输了精神力量。 他的诗让我能够诚实地面对自己的灵魂和生活,真诚地表达自己。 事实上,我给自己取了笔名“小海”,以纪念海子。

孤独,寻找表达自己的方式,终于找到了精神的出口。 起初,我会在服装厂的装箱单上写诗。 一开始我心里并没有读者:我唯一的读者就是我自己,我用我的灵魂说话。 我从未告诉过我的任何同事,也没有人知道我在写什么。 晚上下班后,我会去网吧,把我的诗发到网上。

Most of the poems I wrote during those years were about the anguish, confusion, perplexity, and reflection of factory life, such as “Chinese Workers,” “I Have Never Found My True Self,” “Workers of the Night Shift,” and “Youth on the Assembly Line.” Writing poems made me feel free, at least in spirit.

I’ve been healing myself with poetry. The factory tore up and burned my life, but poetry saved and soothed my heart. Sometimes I was really angry when I wrote, feeling as if there was a fire burning inside of me. Although I left the factory and the workshop, it left me lonely, and sometimes, especially at night, loneliness suddenly came over me. At that time, there was also the feeling of being pulled away, as if I hadn’t been integrated into the fabric of life. From time to time, I also feel depressed and inexplicably lost.

I didn’t have much desire and ambition for literary writing. My original dream was to become a rock musician, and I planned to sing many of the poems I wrote. Singing is a kind of comfort and companionship for me. If singing can bring strength to strangers — just like I gain strength from other songs — I think that’s something meaningful.

Whether it is literature or music, both are ways to relieve loneliness, to get closer to the ideal, to touch the light of the sun and the stars, and to feel that my spirit is free. Like Zhuangzi said, “Just go along with things and let your mind move freely.”

我那些年写的诗大部分都是关于工厂生活的痛苦、困惑、迷茫和反思,比如《中国工人》、《我从未找到真正的自己》、《下夜班的工人》、 “装配线上的年轻人。” 写诗让我感到自由,至少在精神上。

我一直用诗歌来治愈自己。 工厂撕裂并烧毁了我的生活,但诗歌拯救并抚慰了我的心。 有时候我写的时候真的很生气,感觉心里好像有一团火在燃烧。 虽然我离开了工厂和车间,但它却让我感到孤独,有时,尤其是晚上,孤独感突然袭来。 那时候,还有一种被抽离的感觉,好像还没有真正融入生活。 我也时不时地感到非常沮丧和莫名的失落。

其实我对文学写作并没有太大的渴望和野心。 我最初的梦想是成为一名摇滚音乐家,我打算唱很多我写的诗。 唱歌对我来说是一种安慰和陪伴。 如果唱歌能给陌生人带来力量——就像我从其他歌曲中获得力量一样——我认为这是一件有意义的事情。

无论是文学还是音乐,都是排解孤独、接近理想、触摸太阳星辰之光、感受精神自由的方式。 正如庄子所说:“随物而行,心自在”。

Literature and music have changed the trajectory of my life. If it weren’t for poetry and music, I wouldn’t have come to Beijing, I wouldn’t have joined the Picun Literature Group, and I wouldn’t have been selling second-hand clothes here for the last four years, which is the longest I’ve held a job in 18 years.

At the Picun Literature Group, people huddle together to keep warm. Every acquaintance you meet in this place respects you. When you’re at your most desperate and in pain, there is still this group of people who are willing to give you a hand and encourage you. I didn’t have that when I was drifting outside when I was separated from the world. The village is home to me. It seems to be an isolated island in the city, and it may also be the only spiritual island. Although I don’t make much money, my body has settled down in Picun and stopped wandering and drifting.

I don’t represent anyone. I am myself, and if the poems I write resonate with others, it’s a testament to the commonality of literature. Fine works can transcend space and time — and shock a strange soul.

Now, for me, it seems extravagant to talk about dreams, and love is distant from me. But still, I hope I can have a chance to record the lyrics I wrote and sing them. Of course, the chance to officially publish a book of poetry would be quite something to look forward to, I guess.
If I still have a wish, I’d like to meet someone, get married and start a family — to smell the smoke and fires of the real world again after all this time.

文学和音乐改变了我的人生轨迹。 如果没有诗歌和音乐,我就不会来北京,就不会加入皮村文学团,就不会在这四年里一直在这里卖二手衣服, 这是我 18 年来任职时间最长的一次。

在皮村文学社,人们挤在一起取暖。 你在这里遇到的每一个熟人都会尊重你。 当你最绝望、最痛苦的时候,还有这一群人愿意伸出援手,鼓励你。 当我漂泊在外、与世界分离时,我没有这些。 村庄是我的家。 它似乎是城市中的一座孤岛,也可能是唯一的精神岛屿。 虽然赚的钱不多,但我的身体已经在皮村安顿下来,不再漂泊漂泊了。

我不代表任何人。 我就是我自己,如果我写的诗能引起别人的共鸣,那就证明了文学的共性。 优秀的作品可以超越时空,震撼陌生的灵魂。

现在,对于我来说,谈论梦想似乎很奢侈,爱情离我也很遥远。 但我还是希望能有机会把自己写的歌词录下来并演唱。 当然,我想,正式出版一本诗集的机会是值得期待的。


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