Poems from Push Open the Window:
Contemporary Poetry from China
(forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in Summer/Fall 2011)
Edited by Qingping Wang
Translation Co-Editors: Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt
An International Literary Exchange initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, published by Copper Canyon Press
In 2006 the NEA launched its International Literary Exchanges program, the purpose of which is to “promote the exchange of great world literature across borders.” Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China is the 6th anthology and most recent venture of this program, following previous projects with writers from Mexico, Russia, Pakistan and Northern Ireland. In each project the cooperating country publishes a parallel collection of US writers. While Copper Canyon Press publishes a bilingual edition of contemporary Chinese poets in the US, a similar anthology of US poets will be published in China, with the stated aim of fostering cross-cultural literary exchanges.
The poems in Push Open the Window were selected by Qingping Wang, an award-winning poet and translator in China, with the starting point being that only work by poets born after 1945 could be said to be “contemporary.” Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt selected 43 translators from around the globe and worked with them on fine-tuning their translations. A final selection of 106 poems from more than 120 translations, featuring the work of 49 poets was chosen through consensus by the translation co-editors and Copper Canyon Press.
The poems presented in this supplement aim to give a sense of the chronological range of the anthology, beginning with the work of Mang Ke (born 1950), and ending with a poem by Qin Xiaoyu (born 1974). As a starting point, readers might like to consider that many of these poets came of age during the Cultural Revolution in China, all witnessed the Tiananmen Square student protests in 1989, and all have lived through an era of unprecedented economic and technological growth and development in China that has burgeoned in the last twenty years or so. While the impact of such historical and geopolitical exigencies cannot be ignored, it can be dangerously limiting to view any literature only through its background context. Similarly, while it might be helpful to have some knowledge of the developments in Chinese poetry (from the so-called “Misty School” to the “New Generation” poets), this too can be limiting in framing one’s reading and understanding. A strong case can be made for reading their work first and foremost on these terms, to silence our own preconceptions and expectations of what we think contemporary Chinese poetry should be, and to allow the poems to speak through these translations as poems. Robert Hass put it like this in The Believer, June 2010: “We are going to be hearing a lot about China in the next decade, about its economy, its foreign and environmental policies. It’s going to be the work of translation that will give glimpses—human glimpses—at what’s going on.”
However one chooses to approach these poems, we hope they serve to expand and enrich the ongoing conversations in world literature and cross-cultural exchange.
Note: In this supplement, each poet is represented by a single poem. A short biographical note on the poet follows each translated poem.
Sunflower in the Sun
Translated by Jonathan Stalling and Yibing Huang
Do you see?
Do you see that sunflower in the sun?
You see, it didn’t bow its head
But turned its head back
As if to bite through
The rope around its neck
Held by the sun’s hands.
Do you see it?
Do you see that sunflower, raising its head
Glaring at the sun?
Its head almost eclipses the sun
Yet even when there is no sun
Its head still glows.
Do you see that sunflower?
You should get closer to it.
Get close and you’ll find
The soil beneath its feet
Each handful of soil
Would ooze with blood.
MANG KE, whose real name is Jiang Shiwei, was born in 1950. He began writing poetry in the 1970s, when, with the poet Bei Dao, he launched the Chinese literary magazine Today. He has published half a dozen collections of poetry in Chinese, including Worries,Sunflowers amid Sunbeams,Time without Time, and What Day Is It Today? He has also published one novel in Chinese, Wild Things, and a volume of essays. His works have been translated into several foreign languages. He lives in Beijing.
Translated by Joseph R. Allen (with Hao Ji)
Very early one morning I got up
To go jogging along the shore, relaxed and agile
Hoping to reduce my middle age
Like cutting military expenditures
All up to pure whim and with
No real follow-through.
The filthy beach reminded me
Of water-depleted Africa
With hippos stuck in mud waiting to die
Of Serbian women and children fleeing disaster
Empty stomachs in Iraq
And burning brides in India
Of the drought in Manchuria… the earthquake in Yunnan.
But here in the city where I live
Days of clouds, rain and sinking temperatures.
A garbage truck rattles on by
Off to who knows where
To be dumped in some ditch
Or sent out into the open ocean?
Perhaps radioactive waste should be rocketed
Out into the cosmos
But, no, then my grandsons
Could not make out the stars herd-boy and weaver-girl
From all the orbiting trash bins.
On my way home, I stop by the market at Huangjia Ferry
To buy a dozen eggs and half a watermelon
Miffed that the greengrocer will not cut me a deal
I pocket some green onions when he is not looking.
I might someday be carrying out my duties
As General Secretary of the United Nations
Devoting myself completely to world peace.
Even so, I did not forget
To make egg-drop soup with green onions for my son.
(21 March 1996)
SHU TING was born in 1952 and currently resides on Gulang Island, Xiamen City, in Fujian Province. She has been writing poetry since 1969 and was one of the most important members of the Menglong (Misty) Poets, a group that was extremely influential in the 1980s. Since 1998 her most important works have been prose pieces and essays. Her poetry and prose have garnered numerous awards, and have been translated into a dozen or so languages, including nine volumes published abroad dedicated solely to her poetry.
Betrayed by a Piece of Cloth
Translated by Tze-lan D. Sang
It did not occur to me
The world would immediately seep in
After the glass was wiped clean.
My last shield was washed away with the water.
Even tree leaves have darkened their eyebrows
To better peep in from now on.
It didn’t occur to me at all
That for a mere two hours with a piece of cloth
Physical labor could abruptly lead to such a huge mistake.
Everything is an expert in the art of betrayal.
This most ancient craft
Had no difficulty passing through a soft dirty cloth.
I’m now trapped in its exposure.
Others’ greatest freedom
Is the freedom to look.
In this complicated and gorgeous springtime
The cubists are walking off their canvases.
Everyone is gaining the magical power to cut through obstructions.
My days are being seen through, layer by layer.
Hiding in the deepest corner of the house
Yet exposed beyond the walls
I’m but a naked object not a person.
A chair of horizontal and vertical lines made of peach wood
I hide in the wood slats
My mind wandering.
A gigantic sandstorm should swiftly descend to earth.
I’d rather return
To the kernel of the peach’s seed.
Only humans need privacy.
Right now I want to pretend to be anything but human.
WANG XIAONI , born in1955, lives between Shenzhen, Guangdong, and Hainan Island. She has published twenty-one volumes of poetry, essays and fiction over the last two decades. She is Professor in the College of the Humanities and Communications at Hainan University.
What Can I Say?
Translated by Ge Haowen
What can I say, in the face of this heartless world,
cold and indifferent as snow? Clowns wear masks
seemingly in high spirits. “Life means happiness,” they say,
but that’s not how I see it. I can never be happy.
Forests are disappearing, rivers are drying up.
The years bring not wisdom, but increasing apprehension.
Snow keeps falling. Like small talk on a winter afternoon.
But in the face of truth, I can say nothing.
ZHANG SHUGUANG was born in 1956 in a Heilongjiang Province county town. He began writing poetry in college, adopting a robust, hearty style. He has translated Dante’s Divine Comedy and the poetry of Milosz into Chinese. He teaches literature at a college in Harbin.
Translated by Richard King
For my birthday
I received a colorful change-purse.
I have no money
And no fondness for drab coins.
I ran behind the strange hillock
To look at flowers that love beauty.
I said: now I have a storehouse
I can use to collect seeds from these flowers.
The purse is truly packed full of seeds
Some glistening black
Like odd little eyes.
Then I said: have no fear
I will take you to the house of springtime.
There you will receive
And cotton hats with colored brims.
I have a little change-purse.
I want no money
No drab coins that will not sprout.
I want only to pack it with tiny seeds
And know their birthdays.
GU CHENG (1956–1993) loved life even as a child. Enthralled by beauty, he was sensitive to the tiniest and grandest of natural and humanistic landscapes. A passionate devotee of poetry, painting and music, he was relatively slow in reacting to norms and procedural issues. He began writing poetry consciously though aimlessly in his early teens, his output peaking in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution; he became a well-known poet in 1979. In May 1987, he left China for Germany. From January 1988 to June 1990 he taught at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, during which time he moved to an island (in July 1988), where he practiced a lifestyle of self-reliance. In March 1992 he went to work in Germany. Currently there are over two thousand poems available in complete form, essays totaling two to three million characters, and several hundred paintings. [ The editors would like to acknowledge the poet’s family for providing this biographical note. ]
Translated by John Balcom
If you wander the country roads outside the capital
You’ll often see flocks of sheep
Spread out over the fields like patches of lingering snow
Like swollen buds bursting into bloom
Or, loudly herded, pressing together, crossing the highway
Rolling down the ditch where the dust rises.
I never really paid attention to them
Until I found myself driving behind a truck
On an afternoon as the snow was f alling.
I clearly saw their eyes that time
(and they were looking down at me)
So calm and so meek
As if oblivious to where they were being taken
Even treating my appearance there
With a child’s curiosity.
I slowed my car.
I watched them
Vanish amid ever larger snowflakes.
WANG JIAXIN was born in Danjiangkou, Hubei in 1957. He was sent down to a farm during the Cultural Revolution, entering Wuhan University when it was over. From 1985 to 1990 he edited the journal Shikan. He lived in England from 1992 to 1994, and is now a professor at People’s University. His several collections of poetry in Chinese include Memorium and Unfinished Poems; his poetry criticism has been published in several volumes. He was co-translator of The Poems of Paul Celan (in Chinese).
Translated by Christopher Lupke
I felt I was a multitude.
On the skywalk at Shanghai’s Old North Station, in my body
People began disputing and deliberating, all clamoring at once.
While smoking, I sized up the train station in ruins,
I felt like screaming, but my throat was scorched.
I felt I was a multitude.
Walking among the abandoned rail lines, kicking the tracks, warped with rust,
Ah, my body felt jammed, as if people were boarding,
And disembarking. A train was racing toward me,
Another one came howling out of my body.
I felt I was a multitude.
I entered a cavernous room, jumped the railing,
At the ticket window from days past, my body suddenly
Felt vacant. Ah, the station terminal was devoid of travelers,
All that was standing and sitting were murky shadows.
I felt I was a multitude.
In a nearby alleyway, by the cigarette stand, next to the pay phone
They flowed out like beads of sweat. They were squatting, jumping,
Blocking me from moving forward. They wore watches and flowery shirts,
And they carried heavy suitcases like they were balloons.
I felt I was a multitude.
Eating noodles at the noodle shop they were right in front of me,
They sat down around a table. Some had pointy faces, some square faces, laughing,
They looked like accountants
with feigned solemnity. They were famished. They listened to musical scores from
Stepping into my bowl.
I felt I was a multitude.
But they accumulated a heap of fear. I boarded the transit bus,
And the bus shook. Entering a bar, the electricity went out. All I could do was
Walk to Hongkou, to the Bund, to People’s Square, the roundabout way home.
I felt in my feet there was another pair of feet.
XIAO KAIYU was born in the Heping Commune in Zhongjiang County, Sichuan in 1960. In 1979, upon graduation from the Mianyang Medical School in Sichuan, he practiced medicine in his hometown. He has lived and worked in Chengdu, Shanghai, and Berlin, Germany, and is currently a professor in the Chinese Department at Henan University. He began writing poetry in 1986 and has published several collections of poetry in Chinese: Thrills in a Zoo, The Sweetness of Study, The Poems of Xiao Kaiyu, and Here and Now.
A Year of Letters
Translated by Nick Kaldis
It’s the obverse of this moment, that is in fact my home,
Not yet daybreak, slumber’s floodgates release a handful of
leaden trucks, like dinosaurs they round the corner
clawing for a certain something, a certain something that isn’t.
A green button rolls from my body.
Our green button, eternal tiny superfluity.
Clouds, bricking Shanghai
A blueprint in my heart
awaits more brick and tile. I shift toward a bright spot,
there, a crane, flares up for an instant. Your letters
stand in a column of sunbeams in the middle of the room, preening—
that’s right, no need for amnesty. It must be from inside Pak-choi,
from pea shoots and Winter melon, that understanding comes,
come switch off obesity and machines—
drawn by the contradictions on your body, moved over to the window.
Such a limpid April, like the play of light on liquor,
Shuddering street scenes congeal into abstruse proportions.
That’s right, my cries can’t awaken reality. But your voice
follows to the furthest reaches of my eyes: “I,
am you! I’m adrift in this moment too.
At the construction site it’s demolition time; I’m over here
sounding the siren gong. Swim over here!
grab hold of this gong, it’s all that you’ve passed up.”
I pick up the green button, blow on it.
Start tending to my own affairs.
In the silence,
the mailman passing beneath the window takes me for my portrait;
sometimes I drowsily sprawl across the table top,
both hands reaching into the air, like reaching into a pair of handcuffs,
where, where, rests our exactitude?
… a green button.
ZHANG ZAO , born in 1962, received a Ph.D. from Tübingen University. A prominent representative of contemporary Chinese poetry, he published a collection of poems in Chinese called A Year of Letters. He spent many years in the West, and was a scholar and teacher of Chinese language poetry and world literature. Proficient in English, German, French, and Russian, he has translated Rilke, Celan, Heine, (René) Char, and other poets. He resided in Beijing, where he was a Professor in the College of Literature and Broadcasting at Central University for Nationalities, until his death in 2010.
Variations on a Winter’s Day
Translated by Kuo-ch’ing Tu (with assistance from Robert Backus)
Those white supernatural hallowed objects
I have personally seen them dissolve into the blue.
They are a stretch of summer beach in Florida,
a jutting crag in a Colorado canyon
or simply a body that lets me blindly fall in.
I hear between the trees and the houses
the early morning ocean slowing down.
The sun leans into the air to capture
The green lawn sparkling with drops of dew
is divided by a footpath traced in White.
An even sprinkling of yellow leaves
come from Mondrian in Amsterdam
across the legendary courtyard.
4 Fan-tailed Bird
A passing long-tailed bird is perched on the roof,
springy steps feathers of incomparable beauty
lurking behind me another night.
She gazes at me solemn and sacred the likeness
of an emerald sky gazing at the ocean
and the ocean gazes at the moon’s shadow.
5 A Girl
A night of long fingernails,
a pair of eyes blown away by the wind,
atop the bridge of your nose,
I discover Hawaii.
CAI TIANXIN , born in Taizhou, Zhejiang, in 1963, entered Shandong University at the age of fifteen. He began writing poetry when he was a Ph.D. student. He has published more than ten collections of poetry, essays, and translations, plus editions in several foreign languages. Recent publications in Chinese include a collection of poems, The Oceans of the World, and a memoir, Childhood in the Mao Era. He teaches at Zhejiang University.
A Poem Dedicated to the Dark Night
Translated by Gerald Maa
For the night’s daughter
The dark night rises from the earth
Blocks out the bright sky
The earth desolate after a rich harvest
The dark night arises from your interior
You come from a distant place, I go to a distant place
The long journey passes here
The sky has nothing
Why does it give me comfort?
The earth desolate after a rich harvest
People took away a year’s worth of crops
Took away grain, rode horses away
People left in the ground, buried very deep
A pitchfork shines, rice straw heaps on the fire
Rice heaps in the granary
The granary too dark, too still, too plentiful
And too bleak, I caught sight of Yama’s eyes in the bumper crop
A bird flock like dark raindrops
Flying from dusk into the night
The dark night has nothing
Why does it give me comfort?
Walking on a road
Singing out loud
A gale blows past the low hills
Above is a boundless sky
HAIZI , birthname Zha Haisheng, was born in 1964 in Zha Bay village in Anhui Province. In 1979, he entered the law department of Peking University. In March, 1989, he killed himself by lying down on the railroad tracks at Shanhaiguan. In the twenty years since his death, he has become a poet of unmatched renown. His main works in Chinese are the long poems Land; And Yet Water, Water; and The Sun. Posthumous publications include The Complete Poems of Haizi (in Chinese).
Translated by Michael Gibbs Hill
Where I work
there’s a desk
from the fifties. Usually
I put my feet up on it
but when someone comes by,
I’ll move them aside
to let them see
the indentation on the edge of the desk: a deep
rut in the shape of a leg
people are always shocked and say
it’s so vivid
but I tell them
it’s not just from me
there were others
its previous owners, it’s
a collective creation
just like the woman who works upstairs
she has a pair of beautiful eyes
those, too, are not her own
creation, they could be from her mother
or maybe her grandmother
or perhaps even from
one of my father’s uncles,
are passed down generation
YE HUI ,a native of Gaochun County, Jiangsu Province, was born in 1964. He is the author of In the Candy Shop.
Translated by Diana Shi and George O’Connell
I want to set down the tranquility of this moment,
tranquility tame as the grass withered in my heart,
tranquility lofted by wind toward heaven.
I want to set down the tranquility of this compound,
the tranquility of its parking lot emptied of cars,
the tranquility of children running, grandmothers chatting.
I want to set down the clear and bright tranquility of the breeze,
the whispered tranquility of the weedstalk, trembling,
the bony tranquility of old people’s pantlegs.
I want to set down the damp tranquility of muddy ground,
the flaxen tranquility of spread sunlight,
the dry tranquility within the splintered branch.
I want to set down the tranquility shrouded by tree shade,
and the tranquility beyond the shade,
from earth to sky this green to blue tranquility.
Thinking this, I think of nothing else.
Thinking this, it overwhelms me,
soul and body, this
SHU CAI (Chen Shucai) was born in Zhejiang in 1965. He graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1987, majoring in French. From 1990 to 1994, he was a diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in Senegal. In 2000, he joined the Foreign Literature Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. His collections in Chinese include Alone (poetry) and Peep (essays). His writing has been published abroad in numerous languages. Among his translations into Chinese from the French are Selected Poems of Pierre Reverdy,Selected Poems of Rene Char, and Selected Poems of Yves Bonnefoy. He lives in Beijing.
Poem of Death
Translated by Michelle Yeh
… At this moment the other half I long for is death
To return to the earth under the homeland sky
Give away the last of my fortune to the poor children.
With the last balladeer, sightless, on my emaciated arm
I step into the river and disappear, once and for all.
Behind the shady hill
At this hour I can still see the last
Gemlike glow, on the perfectly still water…
XI DU is the penname of Chen Guoping. He was born in Zhejiang province in 1967 and received his B.A. in Chinese literature from Peking University in 1989. Since then he has been working at a publishing house in Beijing. To date Xi Du has published four books of poetry in Chinese: Plato in a Snowy Landscape,Home of Grass,Heart-to-Heart Lock, and Song of Wind or Reed (French edition), as well as two books of criticism in Chinese: Watching and Listening and The Future of the Soul.
Translated by Steve Riep
Though shaped like banners, but the women
never indulge in dancing in the wind,
their metronome (who invented it?)
seems to be set mainly to resist the wind’s direction,
obviously they have their own, hidden objective.
When they grow in the hidden parts of our bodies
(oh, that blasted windmill’s weakness for public spectacle!)
they must use a curved form, to bring out symmetrically
the difference between the birds and the beasts
(not including angels and bats),
if their will develops into a
cause, like flying also is
a way of living or a means of supporting life,
they will realize the need for balance,
but not a single banner cares the least about
this point; but kites
content themselves with complacent happiness.
When wings are full, the bodies will feel
a kind of ease and freedom, like a ball-shaped buoy
that comes from within and swells outward;
thus, the fins of a swimming fish
are by no means retrogressive ornaments, but merely imply that
the heart’s freedom must be symmetrical to the flow of the water.
(June and July 2000)
ZHOU ZAN, a native of Jiangsu Province, was born in 1968. She has worked as a poet, scholar, and translator. From 2006 to 2007 she was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City. Editor of the woman’s Chinese poetry journal Wings, she has published in Chinese a poetry collection, Relaxation, and two collections of poetry criticism, Gazing through the Periscope of Poetry Composition and Studies in Twentieth Century Chinese Literature: Contemporary Volume/Era. She has translated a collection of poetry by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood.
To My Husband, Mai Xiaoke, in 2007
Translated by John A. Crespi
As I die
the ants bring their moving crew. They confer
on what parts of me to harvest.
Best of all is my heart:
fresh meat from a carnivore: ideal for braising, or steaming.
The arc of my lips
signifies days and nights of pleasure.
And there are those little incidents
that belong respectively to my liver, lungs, bladder, and intestines.
My uterus makes a fine cemetery.
The fengshui is excellent children frolic fortunes rise and fall.
My tongue is a snowcapped volcano
that has exchanged flame with stone.
I sit on a bare doorsill as death nears,
waiting for someone to examine my teeth
and for the last time extract
that loneliest part of me, my next life,
a life that will take my soul on a journey elsewhere.
YAN WO, an ethnic Hakka, was born in 1970. She went online in 1998 and has been active in a variety of Internet poetry activities. In 2006 her collection The Poetry Classic in Love was published in Chinese. The following year she served as a juror for poetry competitions and began working in poetry criticism. One of the foremost representatives of literary activities on the Internet, she makes her home in Guangzhou.
Crossing Baimang Snow Mountain
Translated by Paul Manfredi
Blue moon valley: the name’s fabrication comes of a previous fabrication
The still unconscious Jinsha River embraces a quarter moon
A moon washed green-blue by expectation, a moon staid in brokenness.
The temple in the foothills is fuller day by day,
120 lamas fill out the counter-current of transmigrating souls, with 800 sutra wheels spinning in place, neither
deepening, nor departing.
Up the mountain. Brand new passenger car is a bun fresh out of the oven
Plunging into eye-piercing buttery whiteness, all at once
Three grey vultures draw in their wings, perched on the remains of tree branches
With vigilant gaze causing the snow to blow farther.
At some point, I expect that I and a name that can be called
Will be wiped clean in the blowing snow.
The elevation at the pass is a matter of contention, but a stone tablet
Ends the debate: 4,320 meters.
Cold saps vitality
Falling stones shatter sleepiness.
Wind blows, snow flies and with it the snow of years gone by
Looking as white as this year’s.
The appearance of a new snow mountain is muted by weariness with snow.
Exhaustion and twilight envelope
A mountain road entangled in rivers.
The sudden arrival of the end satisfies all expectations:
A small town floating up in the mountain’s cavern, the snow mountain and rushing waters recede
behind us and with daylight disappear into remoteness of imagination.
MA HUA, born in Tianjin in 1972, received a degree in International Politics from Fudan University, where he began writing poems and plays, and served as head of the Yanyuan Drama Society. His poems have been published in Chinese in the collections Dedicated to a Butcher’s Daughter at a Dinner and a Black Leather Book,The Nine Songs, and The True Story of Mai Ke. In 2004 the Jeep in which he was a passenger was lost in the Lancang River; his body was never recovered.
Translated by Heather Inwood
The wind comes from opposite poles
Long-stifled nostrils, persimmon trees and benches
this is a simple wedding
a hunchbacked girl’s a makeshift waitress
her head carrying a sparkling clean glass
a drunk quietly vomits by the foot of the wall
quietly soiling his black suit
through a crack in the wall he spies
a black shadow on the other side
tethering a horse
he feels a young rat with fleshy wings
dancing on top of his head—
that person will jump through the crack!
The room is empty, vacated by the rain
yet that person will stay just one short night
LENG SHUANG was born in 1973. After graduating from high school in 1990, he went on to study in the Chinese department of Peking University. He has worked as a journalist, and is currently a lecturer at the Minzu University of China. His Chinese poetry collection, Mirage, was published in 2008.
Translated by Steve Riep
In 1878, the third year of the Dezong Reign, English troops marched along the Shanghai-Nanjing
At the death of Zeng Guofan, the provincial exam graduates busied themselves composing
Wang Second busied himself catching the lice in his short linen shirt…
… The rain on that autumn day has fallen steadily down to today
wave after wave of gloomy clouds, like the heart of autumn
ice-cold scenery, which would bore even the least of hooligans,
the crops grow languidly, wheat lays in earthen vats,
the Zhang family’s door is closed tight, the Li family’s dog
learned how to ponder,
some people set up tables under the verandas, and play cards
among them my long-dead granddad,
leisure rests on the eyelashes, shoes removed from feet;
some do Tai Chi exercises while fanning themselves,
some read TheAnalects and talk nonsense,
while some climb mountains, some take concubines, and some dally
dally until they are bored. And it is not yet time,
not yet time to form a clique to read the Water Margin,
not yet time to sharpen a knife, abuse oneself, or write secret letters,
not yet time to hang up lanterns, wear a sword at one’s waist, or drink alone,
not yet time; rainwater steeping in rainwater
the village head dallies at the widow’s home
the grain is still there, the lantern wicks are still there, the mud on the trouser leg is still there,
the Republic of China has long since gone, not yet time
Note: Zeng Guofan (1811 – 1872), a native of Xiangxiang, Hunan, was a Confucian scholar, government official, and military general best known for raising the Xiang or Hunan Army that helped defeat the Taiping rebels in 1864.
DUO YU , born in 1973 in Shandong, is a scholar and independent writer. In 1994 he graduated from the Chinese department of Beijing Normal University. In 2000 he joined friends in starting the “lower body” poetry movement. He has received several unofficial poetry prizes and has published collections of poetry and essays on literary history. He now lives in Tianjin where, in addition to writing poetry and essays, he edits the unofficial Chinese poetry journal Poem Time.
A Man Reciting Aloud on the Beach
Translated by Kuo-ch’ing Tu (with assistance from Robert Backus)
A man reciting aloud on the beach
never thought he would be doing this,
sitting crossed-legged on the beach in competition with the waves
to see who has the louder voice. His audience, a group of retirees
who have chased the sunset and settled on the west coast of Florida,
have brought folding beach chairs from their homes,
and break into smiles as they listen to
his gravelly voice spiral airborne in the
transparent receptacle called poetry,
and then fall to the ground to become
fine grit under their feet. Only he is aware:
whenever he recites a poem in Chinese,
a flock of seagulls will use friendly wings over his head
to indicate each character’s tone;
and when he uses his clumsy English
to recite the text in translation, it is not he who speaks
but a halting thespian who hides behind his Adam’s apple
and rehearses the outlandish lines
of a foreign actor in a supporting role. As he recites
he raises his head and gazes off into the distance, there
where the sky ends, and Goodwife Sea
is calling Sun to come home after a full day’s labor.
In that instant the man feels that he too has become
a member of the audience, and before he knows it
a great poet by the name of Wind closes in
on the microphone clipped to his collar; and when
for a moment he pauses, Wind begins to use the sound
it borrows from every shell and leaf
to recite the one imperishable poetic line:
silence, a silence at seventeen miles per hour.
(23 November 2008, Manasota Key/Florida)
HU XUDONG (Continuing Winter), penname of Hu Xudong (Sunrising East), was born in Chongqing in 1974. He received his Ph.D. from Peking University and is Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of World Literature, Peking University. He has published five volumes of collected poems, including Rili zhi li (The Power of Calendars), and other collections of essays. He taught at the Universidade Brasilia from 2003 to 2005, and participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa by invitation of the State Department.
Translated by Shelley Wing Chan
The old road has sunk, the new one is easily blown away,
Jeep, my drunkard, let’s try driving without a road,
flying low once in a while.
Weightlessly, we are crammed together and rushing down,
obliquely surfing the crests of waves, like an erotic poem.
This act I know so well, childhood is like after death
Playing with sand; water almost flows in the labyrinth.
You are an hourglass made of sand,
The sand that slides down forms a desert.
The sand rhyme-clam hardens the sand not willing to slide down.
The muddy yellow lake originates from its limpidity,
how it looks like a phantom seductress luring you into sex,
with Badanjilin, its
curve approves but its levelness opposes.
You so want to be its shore from which wild ducks fly,
To fondle its dream, to lick its bitterness,
to linger while listening to its camel bells in silence.
The gaze of heaven and earth. You place yourself
among the narcissistic reeds, wandering and mirroring,
like an erotic poem, with emptiness yet filled to bursting.
QIN XIAOYU was born in 1974 in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. He has published a collection of poems in Chinese entitled Seven and edited a volume entitled Modern Quatrains.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS
Joseph R. Allen is a Professor of Chinese Literature and former Chair of Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Trained in classical literature, Allen has edited, with additional translations, Arthur Waley’s The Book of Songs . He has also written on contemporary Chinese poetry, including translation and commentary in Forbidden Games & Video Poems: The Poetry of Yang Mu and Lo Ch’ing and Sea of Dreams: The Selected Works of Gu Cheng. Allen came to Chinese poetry studies through an early encounter with Gary Snyder’s Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems.
Robert Backus received his Ph.D. in Oriental Languages from the University of California (Berkeley) and spent most of his career at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He retired in 1991 and is currently serving as Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature in the Department of Fast Asian Languages and Cultural Studies. His publications include a number of articles in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies on Japanese Confucianism in the Edo period, the Kansei Reform and samurai education, and the work of the Edo-period Confucian, Tsukada Taihō, together with a translation of his Seidō tokumon (Attaining the Gates to the Way of the Sage). He wrote a book of literary translation: The Riverside Counselor’s Stories: Vernacular Fiction of Late Heian Japan. Backus serves as co-editor of Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series, published at UCSB by the Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese.
John Balcom is an award-winning translator of Chinese literature and a past president of the American Literary Translators Association. He lives in Monterey with his wife Yingtsih, who is also a translator.
Shelley Wing Chan, Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Cultural Studies of Wittenberg University, teaches courses in Chinese language, literature and culture. A graduate of Hong Kong Baptist University, she earned her Master’s degree in East Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Humanities at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She previously taught at Stanford, the University of Colorado-Boulder, Beloit College, and Kalamazoo College. She has also done research on Tang poetry and popular literature of the Ming Dynasty, and written about gender issues from a cross-cultural perspective. Her book on the fiction of Mo Yan, one of the most prominent contemporary writers in Mainland China, will be published in 2011, and she is editor of a volume of Mo Yan’s selected stories for a Hong Kong publisher.
John A. Crespi is the Henry R. Luce Associate Professor of Chinese at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. His main area of research, modern and contemporary Chinese poetry, satisfies his desire to read and explain things he doesn’t really understand, while leading many new acquaintances to expect that he writes poetry himself. Fortunately, he does not. His additional interests range from old Shanghai comic books and the entire city of Beijing to guitar, harmonica, native upstate New York plants, rustic fencing, fishing, and any other constructive pursuit that does not seem like work.
Ge Haowen is a freelance translator and one-time academic.
Hao Ji was born in China. He got his Bachelor’s degree in Chinese literature from Renmin University. In 2004, he came to the U.S. to pursue graduate study. In 2006, he obtained his Master’s degree from University of Southern California. Currently as a Ph.D. student at University of Minnesota, he is working on hermeneutics of Du Fu’s poetry. He has published a few articles on Chinese poetry and its English translation.
Michael Gibbs Hill is assistant professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of South Carolina. He dedicates his translation of this poem to his first teacher of Chinese, Professor Kathleen Tomlonovic of Western Washington University.
Yibing Huang was born in Changde, Hunan, China and inherited Tujia ethnic minority blood from his mother. After receiving his Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Beijing University, he moved to the U.S. in 1993. He holds a second Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Under the penname Mai Mang, Huang’s poetry has been published in China since the 1980s. He is the author of two books of poetry: Stone Turtle: Poems 1987–2000 and Approaching Blindness. He is also the author of Contemporary Chinese Literature: From the Cultural Revolution to the Future, a book that presents case studies of the generation of Chinese writers which spent its formative years during the Cultural Revolution and focuses on their identity shift from “orphans of history” to “cultural bastards.” Huang is currently an Associate Professor of Chinese at Connecticut College.
Heather Inwood spent her childhood years in rural Cambridgeshire, England, dreaming of becoming an international secret agent, before putting those plans on hold to study the flute at secondary school, then Chinese at Cambridge University. Armed with a Ph.D. from S.O.A.S. and a few years in China studying literature and involving herself in the media, she crossed the Atlantic to the U.S. in 2008. She now works as assistant professor of modern Chinese cultural studies at Ohio State University, where she teaches and researches contemporary Chinese poetry, pop culture and media. Her first book is about the post-2000 mainland Chinese poetry scene.
Nick Kaldis is Director of Chinese Studies and Associate Professor of Chinese Studies in the Department of Asian & Asian-American Studies at Binghamton University (S.U.N.Y.). He received his B.A. in English from Ohio University, an M.A. in English from Purdue University, and an M.A. and PhD. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from The Ohio State University. He is Literature Book Review Editor for the journal Modern Chinese Literature & Culture, and serves on the Editorial Board of Journal of Chinese Cinemas. His teaching and scholarship focus on the areas of Chinese cinema, literature, and language. He has published essays on modern Chinese literature, contemporary Chinese film, and numerous translations. His current projects include a book-length study of Lu Xun’s Yecao and a co-edited collection of nature writing essay translations from the works of Liu Kexiang.
Richard King is at the University of Victoria in Canada, where he teaches Chinese language, literature, and popular culture, and academic methodology. His research is on modern and contemporary literature, cultural history, and popular culture, and he has translated the work of a number of contemporary authors. Recent publications (both 2010) are Art in Turmoil, an edited volume on the arts of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), from The University of British Columbia Press, and Heroes of China’s Great Leap Forward, translations of two works of fiction from 1960 and 1980.
Christopher Lupke (Ph.D., Cornell University) is associate professor of Chinese and Coordinator of Asian Languages at Washington State University. He concurrently serves as the President of the Association for Chinese and Comparative Literature. Lupke has published two edited books: The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture and New Perspectives on Contemporary Chinese Poetry, as well as numerous articles and book chapters. His forthcoming book Hou Hsiao-hsien will be published by the University of Illinois Press. He also has completed translations of Peng Ge’s novel Setting Moon and Ye Shitao’s A History of Taiwan Literature.
Gerald Maa is a co-editor of The Asian American Literary Review. His translations of Haizi have appeared in places such as Chinese Writers on Writing, Circumference, Poetry Northwest, and Common Knowledge, earning him a Florence Tan Moeson fellowship from the Library of Congress Asian Reading Room, as well as a translation grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation. He has also earned scholarships to the Bread Loaf conference and has work forthcoming in American Poetry Review and Studies in Romanticism. Having earned an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland, Gerald is currently a Ph.D. student in the English department at the University of California, Irvine.
Paul Manfredi is Associate Professor of Chinese and Chair of the Chinese Studies Program at Pacific Lutheran University. His research concerns modern and contemporary Chinese poetry and art, modernism, and urban culture in China. His articles have appeared in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese, and Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, while his translations have appeared in the journal Manoa as well as in collections of modern and contemporary Chinese poetry. He has recently moved with his family to Bellevue, WA, a small city that is slowly but surely surpassing its status as mere “Seattle suburb.”
George O’Connell is a former Fulbright Professor of Creative Writing and American Literature at Peking University, and has taught creative writing and literature at numerous colleges and universities in the U.S. and China. Among his honors are Atlanta Review’s International Grand Prize for Poetry, Nimrod International Journal’s Pablo Neruda Award, Bellingham Review’s 49th Parallel Prize, Marlboro Review’s 2003 Award in Poetry, and the 2007 China Journey Award. With Diana Shi, he co-edited/co-translated the 2008 Atlanta Review China Issue. Currently he and Ms. Shi are gathering and translating contemporary Chinese poetry for their own anthology, to be published in the U.S.
Steve Riep heads the Chinese section and teaches modern and contemporary Chinese literature, film, and culture at Brigham Young University. A California native, he received his B.A. in Chinese and Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. from UCLA in modern and contemporary Chinese literature. He has translated modern and contemporary Chinese poetry, fiction, drama, and essays. His research interests include the depiction of visual disabilities in transnational Chinese cinema, literary and filmic responses to Nationalist propagandistic street-naming policies in Taibei from the late 1940s to the 1990s, and the use of detective fiction narrative techniques to recover the White Terror in fiction and film from Taiwan. His long-term book projects focus on literature and visual culture in Nationalist-era Taiwan (1949–99) and disabilities in transnational Chinese cinema and literature.
Tze-Lan D. Sang is Associate Professor of Chinese literature at the University of Oregon. She has written on a wide range of topics in modern Chinese literature and culture. Among her major publications is The Emerging Lesbian: Female Same-Sex Desire in Modern China, a study of the formation of new sexual identities and disciplines of the self in twentieth-century China. She is currently working on two major projects, one on early-twentieth-century Chinese popular fiction, the other on Taiwanese documentary films. She has published original Chinese short fiction and translated Chinese short stories and poems into English.
Diana Shi is a literary translator and has presented her translations from contemporary American and Chinese poetry at various universities around China, including Tsinghua, Shantou, and Sichuan. Her recent work has appeared in international literary journals such as Circumference,Words without Borders, and Point Editions’ The Frontier Tide. She co-translated the recent film Crossing the Mountain, and with George O’Connell co-edited/co-translated the 2008 Atlanta Review China Issue. They are also gathering and translating contemporary Chinese poetry for their own anthology, to be published in the U.S.
Jonathan Stalling is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Oklahoma, specializing in Transpacific poetry and poetics, and is the co-founder and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Chinese Literature Today. Stalling is the author of Poetics of Emptiness,Grotto Heaven, and the forthcoming books Yíngēlìshī (Chanted Songs, Beautiful Poetry): Sinophonic English Poetry and Poetics and Winter Sun: The Poetry of Shi Zhi 1966–2007. He lives in Norman Oklahoma with his wife and children.
Kuo Ch’ing Tu, born in Taichung, Taiwan, graduated from National Taiwan University in 1963 with a major in English literature and received his M.A. in Japanese literature from Kwansei Gakuin University in 1970 and his Ph.D. in Chinese literature from Stanford University in 1974. His research interests include Chinese literature, Chinese poetics and literary theories, comparative literature East and West, and worldwide literatures in Chinese. He is the author of numerous books of poetry in Chinese, as well as translator of English, Japanese and French works into Chinese and of contemporary works in Chinese into English. He is Professor of Chinese, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, and co-editor of Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series.
Michelle Yeh received her B.A. from National Taiwan University and her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. She has been a professor at the University of California, Davis, where she teaches all genres of traditional and modern Chinese literature. Her recent publications include Essays on Modern Poetry from Taiwan, A Lifetime Is a Promise to Keep: Poems of Huang Xiang, and Chapter 7 of Cambridge History of Chinese Literature.