Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation Summer 2017
Before and since his enforced exile from 1989, Yang Lian has been one of the most innovative and influential poets in China. Widely hailed in America and Europe as a highly individual voice in world literature, he has been translated into many languages.
Narrative Poem, Yang Lian’s most personal work to date, is built around a series of family photographs, the first of which was taken on the day when he was born, on 22 February 1955, and the last of which dates from the time he spent undergoing ‘re-education through labour’ – and digging graves – during the mid-1970s.
The poetry ranges backward and forward in time, covering his childhood and youth, his first period of exile in New Zealand, and his subsequent adventures and travels in and around Europe and elsewhere.
In ‘this unseen structure written by a ghost’ Yang Lian weaves together lived experience with meditations on time, consciousness, history, language, memory and desire, in a search for new/old ways of speaking, thinking and living.
Narrative Poem, or 敘事詩 (Xùshìshī), was published in China in 2011, and this bilingual edition presents the Chinese text alongside Brian Holton’s masterly translation of a technically complex work of great beauty, The book also includes Family Tradition, Yang Lian’s first ever preface to his own work, and Ghost Composer/Ghost Translator, a translator’s afterword by Brian Holton.
‘Trees that desire silence but cannot be silent will murmur at their lack of Sāmadhībala, the meditator’s gentle strength of will. At the same time, the winds of Family Tradition will not cease blowing. I believe they never will.’ – Yang Lian (in Family Tradition)
‘Yang Lian is one of the most astonishing poets I’ve read for years. He has a westernist, modernist sensibility allied with an ancient Chinese, almost shamanistic one. He can both excite and frighten you – like MacDiarmid meets Rilke with Samurai sword drawn!’ – W.N. Herbert, Scotsman.
‘Yang Lian distinguishes himself in representing the pain of life caught in between historic eras…a new version of an old issue for world literature as well as Chinese literature is proposed: how to continue writing, relying on individual rather than enforced communal inspiration.’ – Allen Ginsberg
‘It wouldn’t surprise me if he became a future Nobel Laureate. His style is one of extraordinary grandeur and ambition…a monumental drive, a sensuous strength and intellectual clarity.’ – David Morley, Stand