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A Tower Built Downwards by Yang Lian, trans. Brian Holton

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Before and since his enforced exile from 1989, Yang Lian has been one of the most innovative and influential poets from China. Widely hailed in America and Europe as a highly individual voice in world literature, he has been translated into many languages. A Tower Built Downwards is the latest instalment of his poetry, written between 2019 and 2021. The different sections – short poems, sequences, and one long poem – form a single comprehensive statement of Yang’s recent explorations. It is rooted in his living experience of the historical retrogression of Hong Kong, the disaster of Covid-19, the global spiritual crisis, as well as his personal sadness at events such as his father’s death.

The creativity of the writing faces – is even excited by – the depth of the challenges of reality. The long title poem in seven parts is a spiritual journey travelling back in time, completed back in the now, building up into 'a reincarnation within one', as endless time is transformed into multilayered poetical space, in Ai Weiwei’s words: 'This intellectual tower… [turns] the unsurpassable puzzles intermingled with life and death into an in-depth exploration of human emotion.'

Ai Weiwei's innovative A Tower Built Downwards cover image featuring CCTV cameras and chains made of gold stretches around the whole book, across French flaps and then continues inside the front and back covers of the book, becoming an extraordinary metaphor for the book’s content.

'Those lonely Tang dynasty poets may be Yang’s original blues brothers, but he’s as much a modernist and symbolist in the vein of Mallarmé or Rimbaud […] Yang Lian’s work is rooted not in geography but in his own imagination […] to exist in Yang’s lines can be a gorgeous but frustrating adventure.' - Tim Kindseth, Time Magazine

'In Narrative Poem, Yang Lian turns his first-hand experiences of these man-made catastrophes […] into a radically strange montage. Narrative Poem would read as elegiac except that we are repeatedly made to regard that mode as premature […] This is what Yang Lian calls a ‘poem’s affront’. Harm does its thing—and if it then doubles back to do it again, so too must poetry. Both will get there at the same time.' – Nan Z. Da, Times Literary Supplement

‘Yang Lian is one of the most ambitious poets writing in Chinese today – indeed, one of the most ambitious poets writing in any language… Narrative Poem represents a stunning achievement of both poet and translator, bringing the two together almost as one.’ – Lucas Klein, Translation and Literature

‘Repressive regimes tend to have little problem acknowledging poets’ power to shape our opinions and our world. Some of those they exile settle in Britain. Yang Lian, a leading member of China’s Tiananmen generation, has just published his autobiographical masterpiece Narrative Poem in translation… A kind of wild lyricism marks the work… a sense of the explosive urgency of writing itself.’ –  Fiona Sampson, The i Paper

A Tower Built Downwards - Bloodaxe Books

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