Tagged as the “poetess with cerebral palsy and a seemingly paradoxical ‘China’s Emily Dickinson’” in media reports, Yu Xiuhua was elected as the vice president of the writers’ association of Zhongxiang city, Hubei province.
Yu, 39, attained fame overnight. She broke through social media WeChat recently after a poetry magazine tweeted her poem, Crossing big China to sleep with you.
“Whenever we had guests, she would crawl along the ridge of the field,” her father Yu Wenhai recalled. “I always imagined that she was trying to prove something.”
To enable her to attend school she was carried by her parents or supported by her younger brother. It was during her schools days that she found solace in writing poems.
In a piece she wrote in middle school, which won her a school award, she compared herself to an obscure star in the sky. Reflecting on it many years later, she said: “I don’t envy those who live ‘better’ lives than me. I won’t resign to adversity.”
She left senior high school one year before graduation and later got married to a man whom she “didn’t choose out of love”. They soon separated and the only legacy of the unhappy union was a son, who is now in university.
Every day, after tending to farm animals, she sets pen to paper and escapes into her internal world.
So far, Yu has penned more than 2,000 poems. She describes poetry as her crutch, which she turned to “when faltering in the reeling world”.
Some people have begun to affectionately refer to her as the Chinese Emily Dickinson.
“She is a sensitive woman and the verses flow out of her heart naturally,” said writer Zhu Min.
Zha Wenjin, a fellow poet, said that although Yu’s work was of varying quality, “they were worth savoring”.
Taking “Cross half of China to accost you” as an example, she said: “It sounds wild and bold, but you can feel the bitterness between the lines.”
Of course, there are those unmoved by her poems, such as poetry critic Han Mo. “She is only famous because of media hype,” he said. “We should forget that she is a peasant with cerebral palsy, and rate her work by pure literary merit.”
Yu said she doesn't want her illness to attract attention either.
“If I was not disabled, I could visit more places and write better poems,” she said.
Some of Yu’s poems have been published by magazines and newspapers.