Notes from the Nanjing International Writers’ Residency, 2022

Image supplied: Nanjing Literature Center

In the 4th quarter of 2022 I applied for and was accepted into the Nanjing International Writers’ Residency. 6 writers from around the world were selected to participate in a month-long online immersion into Chinese literary culture, led by the Nanjing Literature Centre. Over the course of November, I was able to explore Nanjing from a virtual vantage and to meet with two writers from Nanjing to discuss our work and our livelihoods.

The theme for this year’s residency was “Rivers and Literature”. What follows are my notes on the theme, made in order to produce a new piece of poetry for the conclusion of the program.

“Remember, you’re not the River, you are the observer” 

– unknown

You never really enter a river, The river draws you in, like a streaming tributary. We can never really enter the water because we have never truly left the water. We carry the water with us from as far back as our most ancestral arrivals onto land. The water calls us home, the river draws us back to our beginnings.

Now, the rivers are running dry. They are drawing no more. The call to home is growing faint. Or perhaps we are so deafened by our technological and digital developments that the call cannot be heard, and so the water is silent, expending no more energy on sustaining that original connection and conserving itself instead for planetary shifts as the climate crisis picks up pace.

The water in us remembers the river running.

The water in us imagines the river running.

What the river was and what the river will become are present in every instant. We meet the river as history and as potentiality. Our “now” is the river’s “then” and “then again”.

“As women, we are water carriers. We nurture water in our wombs for nine months. It’s the first medicine that each of us as human beings is exposed to. We are all born as human beings with a natural connection to water…but we have lost that connection.” 

Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans (Kelsey Leonard, TED)

“When a river’s behaviour becomes more extreme, consistently breaking records for highest and lowest water levels, river scientists say it is becoming more ‘flashy’.

We tend to adapt rivers to us more than we adapt to them.”

– Rivers worldwide are running dry (The Conversation, 08/30/2022)

“…a hard truth: our development choices – urban sprawl, industrial agriculture and even the concrete infrastructure designed to control water – are exacerbating our problems. Because sooner or later, water always wins.” 

– Slow water (Erica Gies, The Guardian)

“Since the start of the 6 dynasties, Nanjing was a city of immigrants. The cultural differences of the immigrants and the locals clashed against each other and merged, becoming a crucial force to promote innovation. If culture is transmitted vertically from the previous gernerations to the next, then cultures collide and merge with each other horizontally. Although culture is always the crystallisation of accumulated wisdom, it is rather the result of these currents and innovation. All rivers flow into the sea, so different cultures clash against each other, but are finally combined.

In comparison with a culture that is closed and in itself, an open and tolerant culture can get richer and stronger.” 

– Qinhuai River (Xue Bing – translated)

The river runs

The river responds, slowly

(Clue: a river doesn’t react)

“A response…usually comes more slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious and unconscious mind. A response will be more ‘ecological’, meaning that it takes into consideration the well-being of not only you but of those around you. It weighs the long term effects and stays in line with your core values.” 


Power knows power flows

Power knows its end and its beginning

The river is already there as the power arrives

Power is fluid. Power is flow.

Power’s strength is how hard it has to hold on,

The strength of its grip, the ease of its slip…

But it is always only holding on for as long as the hold stays strong…

[My new piece entitled “Dynasty Of Time in 6 Flows” will be published here on my blog in due course.

Extracts from my work and the work of the 5 other writers from around the world has been reviewed and published in Chinese here and can be translated in your browser]


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