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Anxiety of Words: Contemporary Poetry by Korean Women

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Ch'oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, Yi Yon-ju
from Korean by Don Mee Choi
ISBN 0-939010-87-9 (paper) $16.00
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6 x 9
200 pages [Bilingual Korean/English]

Don Mee Choi, a fine poet herself, has translated both the spirit and words of these outsiders and experimenters into poetry that is just as striking to English-speakers as it was to Koreans under the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee when it was first written. Anxiety of Words has widened the conversation of Korean poetry to include the voice of Korean women—a voice that needs to be heard.
American Poet, Spring 2007

Anxiety of Words is the first anthology of Korean women's poetry that challenges one of Korea's most enduring literary traditions: that “yoryu” (female) poetry must be gentle and subservient. By using innovative language, and vividly depicting women's lives and struggles within an often repressive society, these three contemporary poets defiantly insist that poetry can be part of social change—indeed, that it must be. Ch'oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju have written unforgettable poems that now, thanks to Don Mee Choi's translations, are available to English-speaking readers for the first time. With a lengthy introduction on the history of women's poetry in Korea, and biographical notes on the three poets, this volume is an eye-opening exploration for any reader interested in Korea, poetry, and contemporary women's literature.

These are pioneering translations of three women who are themselves pioneers in a patriarchal literary culture. In bringing these remarkable poems to life in English, Don Mee Choi is breaking down lingering barriers to writing women in Korea. This poetry has long cried out for an audience within and without Korea, and now it will finally receive the hearing it deserves.
—Bruce Fulton, Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation, University of British Columbia

In Anxiety of Words Don Mee Choi shatters the barrier between West and East to bring us the defiant, vulnerable and intellectually fierce collective voice of Korean women poets. In this historic anthology of work heretofore unavailable in English, Choi gives us access to dynamic and unforgettable poems. This book is a must-read for lovers of literature and for anyone who wants to hear complex truths from women in struggle with their globalizing world.
—Minnie Bruce Pratt

Ch'oe Sung-jaCh'oe Sung-ja (b. 1952) is one of the most highly regarded contemporary women poets of South Korea. Ch'oe studied German literature at Korea University at a time when there were only two hundred women enrolled in the entire university. She began writing poetry while in college and became the first woman editor of Korea University's literary journal. In 1979, Ch'oe became the first woman poet to be published in a literary journal, Literature and Intellect. Ch'oe's poetry, which violated the criteria of decorum that had been long imposed on women poets, caused a stir in South Korea's predominantly male literary establishment. Ch'oe is part of the new wave of feminist poets of Korea to merge after the early pioneering women poets of the 1920s and 30s, who explored and gave voice to women's lives under the oppressive patriarchy. Ch'oe published four collections of poetry between 1981 and 1993. In 1994, she participated in the Iowa International Writers' Program. She now works as a literary translator in Seoul, and is translating a collection of short stories by J.D. Salinger.

Kim HyesoonKim Hyesoon's (b. 1955) poetry first appeared in Literature and Intellect, the same journal in which Ch'oe's work also made its debut. Kim majored in Korean literature for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She is a member of Another Culture, an organization which emerged in the 1980s and has played a critical role in feminist literary research and publication, including the development of women's studies in South Korea. Kim teaches creative writing and Korean poetry at Seoul College of Arts. In 2001, Kim received the So-wol Poetry Award. Her book of poetry, Seoul, My Upanishad (Munhak kwa jisongsa, 1994) was awarded the Kim Su-yong Contemporary Poetry Award in 2000. Kim is the first woman to receive this coveted award. In her work she explores women's multiple and simultaneous existence as grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and lovers. Kim Hyesoon has published seven collections of poetry; her most recent publication is a collection of critical essays about women and writing.

Yi Yon-juYi Yon-ju made her literary debut in a journal called World of Writers (1991). The same year, Yi's first book of poetry, A Night Market Where There Are Prostitutes, was published by Sekyesa, a well-known literary press in South Korea. Yi's second collection of poems was published in 1993 after her death. According to the renowned feminist critic Kim Chong-nan, Yi's poetry has a critical place in the poetry of the 1980s. Yi depicts in her poetry women who live on the fringes of South Korean society, marginalized by the rapid industrialization of the 1970s and 80s, which, in part, was made possible by the exploitation of young women from poor rural areas. Not much is known about Yi's life. According to her brother, Yi Yong-ju, the night Yi committed suicide she had asked him not to reveal anything about her life except for her date and place of birth.

Don Mee Choi is a translator and scholar of Korean literature. Her literary focus is on the exploration of the cultural, historical, and political roles of contemporary Korean women's poetry and the critical examination of literary translation in the context of South Korea's post-coloniality. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

Clouds of Dust

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Yu Xiang
from Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
ISBN 978-0-9832970-9-3 (paper) $15
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6 x 8
168 pages [Bilingual Chinese/English]

Yu Xiang, using simple language, striking syntax, and hypnotic refrains, keeps her poet’s eye and mind attentive to the not-so-hidden heart of quotidian life. And what does she find there? People, including herself, confronted with the beautiful and terrifying fact of their lives, wanting to “Love   someone/ anyone” (“Street”), before it ends. To Yu, life is far from humdrum. Like a photographer who photographs his feet as he walks, each step points to a larger movement—too large to capture as a totality. Yu focuses her attention on the smaller details—these tiny, shimmering essences. And with language that helps us train our gaze, the poet reveals that the ordinary can be spellbinding.
—Naomi Long Eagleson, Words Without Borders

These spare, yet sensuous poems, selfless, but beating with an inimitable voice and heart, remind me that no matter what the language, no matter what the culture, there is only one poetry: the poetry of the bone marrow. May this haunting, truth-insistent book circumnavigate the whole planet!
—Thomas Lux

Yu Xiang comfortably inhabits the negative space between viewer and subject, artist and artwork, the lover and her beloved in this acrobatic, ekphrastic, meditatively-compelling collection. Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s crisp translation invites American readers to experience Yu Xiang’s poetic mastery half a world away from its formative origins in the Shandong province, bringing into focus the voice of one of China’s most celebrated and memorable female voices. “I have a lonely yet/ stable life,” Yu admits at one point in the book. “This is my house. If/ you happen to walk in, it’s certainly not/ for my rambling notes.” Yu Xiang disarms her reader with exacting imagery and pathos in order to tell the aching, unavoidable truth of womanhood in these striking poems.
—Dorianne Laux

Discreet and seldom a guest at mainstream poetry events, Yu Xiang lives the figurative interpretation of her own poem, “Low Key,” shying away from media attention and commercial literary activities. She considers her life uneventful and boring, and earns a living in an office as do most “ordinary beings”—“I am not interested in too many things. Life has no joy, so I write. I am actually interested in very few things, so I write,” she continues in her credo. On the other hand, she is adamant that a mundane life does not lack poetry. Rather, it lacks being discovered. For one who believes the music is stronger than the musician, poetry is neither career nor charity. The art is a privilege, the word a spiritual nourishment that helps her survive the tedium of life, and find meaning or beauty in an otherwise pessimistic and difficult society.

A key figure of the post-70s Chinese poets, Yu Xiang began writing poetry in 2000. Her honors include the Rougang Poetry Prize (2002), the Yulong Poetry Prize (2006) and the Cultural China Annual Poetry Award (2007). Enigmatic and sensual, Yu Xiang’s writings are immensely popular. Her work includes a volume of poetry, Exhale (2006), and two chapbooks, Sorceress (2009) and Low Key (2011). As a visual artist, she has also exhibited oil paintings at various venues. Yu Xiang currently lives in Ji’nan, the capital city of Shandong province.

Author of two books of poetry, My Funeral Gondola (Mānoa Books/El León, 2013) and Water the Moon (Marick, 2010), as well as several volumes of translation of contemporary Chinese, American and French poets, Fiona Sze-Lorrain co-edited the Mānoa anthologies, Sky Lanterns (2012) and On Freedom: Spirit, Art, and State (2013), both from the University of Hawai’i Press. She lives in France where she is an editor at Vif Éditions and Cerise Press.

The Channging Room

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Zhai Yongming
from Chinese by Andrea Lingenfelter
ISBN 978-0-9815521-3-2 (paper) $15
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6 x 8
163 pages [bilingual Chinese/English]

The linguistic skill of this volume is as much the translator's as it is Zhai Yongming's. Andrea Lingenfelter's translation is excellent, representing not only what is in the line in Chinese but what is in the poem, which means that she knows how and when to render directly, how to employ synonyms, and when to rephrase for the sake of the American reader. [full review]
—Lucas Klein, Rain Taxi

Zhai Yongming is one of China’s leading poets, and this bilingual selection from major poems across decades demonstrates why. Beautifully translated by Andrea Lingenfelter, Zhai’s poetry is sensuous, mysterious, provocative, gritty, and her singular black night consciousness shines through.
—Arthur Sze

The Changing Room is a touching, elegant, often ironic, testimony of being Chinese and being a Chinese woman.
—Yunte Huang, author of Charlie Chan

While Zhai Yongming’s poems from the 1980s owed much to Anglophone Confessional poets, even then Zhai’s voice was unmistakably her own. With imagery dominated by night, darkness, blood, sex, and death, those early poems also directly engaged traditional Chinese cultural paradigms. Zhai’s recasting of Chinese yin and yang cosmology along feminist lines was a dominant thread in a body of work that was otherwise intensely personal and contemporary. Over time, she has continued to go back to China’s literary and historical past, using it as a source of inspiration, as a counterpoint to modern experience, and as part of an ongoing dialogue with patriarchal Confucian historiography.
—from the Translator’s Foreword by Andrea Lingenfelter

The author of six volumes of poetry, Zhai Yongming first became prominent in the mid-1980s with the publication of her twenty-poem cycle, “Woman,” a work that forcefully articulated a female point-of-view in China’s largely patriarchal society. Her powerful imagery and forthright voice resonated with many readers. Zhai has continued to hone her critique of traditional attitudes towards women, quickly becoming one of China’s foremost feminist voices and a major force in the contemporary literary scene. She is also an installationartist and prolific essayist, and stages poetry readings and other cultural events at the bar she owns in her native Chengdu.

Andrea Lingenfelter received her MA from Yale University and her PhD from the University of Washington. She is also the translator of the novels, Candy (Back Bay, 2003), Farewell to My Concubine (W. Morrow, 1993), and The Last Princess of Manchuria (Morrow, 1992). Lingenfelter currently lives in Berkeley.

Wind Says

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Bai Hua
from Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
ISBN 978-0-9832970-6-2 (paper) $15
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6 x 8
200 pages

Subtle and compelling, Bai Hua is among the best in contemporary Chinese poetry.
—David Der-wei Wang

Drawing, thinking, speaking and ministering—Bai Hua explores language as a multi-dimensional medium in which image and voices mold words and synergies into portraits and encounters.…Unlike traditional pastoral poets and landscape artists, Bai Hua does not depict thriving or romantic representations of the landscape. The literal world within and without, here run the undercurrents of poetry. There is neither pastoral contentment nor dramatic exile in Bai Hua’s work.
—from the Introduction by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Considered the central literary figure of the post-Obscure (or post-”Misty”) poetry movement during the 1980s, Bai Hua is one of the most influential poets in contemporary China. Born in 1956 in Chongqing, he studied English literature at Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute before graduating with a Master’s degree in Western Literary History from Sichuan University. His first collection of poems, Expression (1988), received immediate critical acclaim. A highly demanding writer, Bai Hua’s poetic output is considerably modest but selective: in the past thirty years he has written only about ninety poems. After a silence of more than a decade, he began writing poetry again in 2007. That same year, his work garnered the prestigious Rougang Poetry Award. A prolific writer of critical prose and hybrid texts, Bai Hua is also a recipient of the Anne Kao Poetry Prize. Currently living in Chengdu, Sichuan, he teaches at the Southwest Jiaotong University.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain's debut collection of poetry, Water the Moon, was published in 2010. In addition to her books of translation of Chinese poets from Zephyr Press, she has translated several contemporary French and American authors, and co-edited the Manoa anthology, Sky Lanterns (University of Hawai'i Press, 2012). An editor at Cerise Press and Vif éditions, she is also a zheng harpist and orchid healer. She lives in France.

Stone Cell

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Lo Fu
from Chinese by John Balcom
ISBN 978-0981552118 (paper) $15
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6 x 8½
208 pages

Stone Cell is a companion volume to the translation of Lo Fu’s book-length poem Driftwood published in 2006 by Zephyr. Covering fifty years, the present volume provides an overview of the poetry of one of China’s most important living poets, in all its scope and breadth, from his earliest lyrics to his mature verse. His book Driftwood, which appeared in 2001, is actually a 240-page poem. In a sense Lo Fu has come full circle from Death of a Stone Cell, the anti-epic of his youth, to Driftwood, the epic summation of the poet’s artistic journey, life experience, and philosophy. On the poem, Lo Fu says, “It sums up my experience of exile, my artistic explorations, and my metaphysics. I consider it a personal epic, the greatest achievement of my old age, and a landmark of my career.” Lo Fu has won all of the major literary awards in Taiwan including the China Times Literary Award, the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Literary Award, the Wu San-Lien Literary Award, and the National Literary Award. His poetry has been translated into English, Swedish, French, German, Japanese, and Korean.

John Balcom holds a PhD in Chinese and Comparative Literature from Washington University in St Louis. An award winning translator of Chinese literature, philosophy, and children’s books, he teaches translation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, where he ran the Chinese program for many years. His translations include Taiwan’s Indigenous Writers: An Anthology of Stories, Essays, and Poems, After Many Autumns: An Anthology of Chinese Buddhist Literature, There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Cao Naiqian, and Trees without Wind by Li Rui. He is a past president of the American Literary Translators Association.

China’s Lost Decade

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Gregory B. Lee
ISBN 978-0-983297-00-0 (paper) $18
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5½ x 8¼
296 pages

The period in China’s recent history between the death of Mao and the débâcle of 1989 can be seen as a long decade, but also historically as a “lost” decade. It is “lost” in the sense that the political engagement of intellectuals and makers of culture has been occulted by official history-telling; it is also “lost” in that its memory has been abandoned even by many who lived through it; “lost” also in the embarrassed silence of those who prefer to focus on the subsequent economic miracle of the 1990s that gave rise to today’s more prosperous China; and “lost” as a time of opportunity for cultural and political change that ultimately did not happen. The relevance of the “lost” decade to China’s living, if untold, history was once more made clear by the conferral of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Liu Xiaobo, a political activist since 1989, and by the awarding of the 2010 Neustadt literature prize to the poet Duoduo whose poetry and personal trajectory loom large in Lee’s book.

Gregory B. Lee was educated in London and Peking. He has taught at the universities of Cambridge, London, Chicago, Hong Kong, and Lyon, and was most recently Chair Professor of Chinese and Transcultural Studies at City University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Dai Wangshu: The Life and Poetry of a Chinese Modernist; Troubadours, Trumpeters, Troubled Makers: Lyricism, Nationalism and Hybridity in China and Its Others; and Chinas Unlimited: Making the Imaginaries of China and Chineseness.

Doubled Shadows

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Ouyang Jianghe
from Chinese by Austin Woerner
ISBN 978-0-9815521-7-0 (paper) $15
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6 x 8
108 pages [bilingual Chinese/English]

Through the terrific contextualizing introduction by Wolfgang Kubin and then through a hilariously instructive personal note by Austin Woerner on translating this book, we enter the match-lit rabbit hole of Ouyang Jianghe’s poetry. And it brings us surprisingly nearer to our own world, allowing us impossible simultaneous perspectives: the close up and the pan shot, the thing in its event (including the thing of language) and the philosophical consideration of its web of implications. Woerner translates genius into genius.
—Forrest Gander

Ouyang Jianghe is a poet of luxuriant elusiveness and complexity, teasing silvery slivers of light from the shadows. His imagination transforms the world into ghostly ideas of itself that continually challenge and haunt the reader. We are fortunate now to have Austin Woerner’s vivid translations: they bring at last into English an important Chinese writer who will change the way we all look at poetry’s tasks and pleasures.
—J. D. McClatchy

Ouyang Jianghe played a central role in the 1980s underground Sichuanese poetry scene that gave rise to the Chinese poetic avant-garde, and during that time he became known as one of the “Five Masters from Sichuan.” Since then he has emerged as one of China’s most prominent literary figures, authoring four books of poetry and essays and publishing numerous works of criticism on art, music, and literature. He is also a noted calligrapher. In 2010 he was awarded the Chinese Literature Media Award for poetry. He lives in Beijing and travels frequently to the U.S. and Germany. Doubled Shadows is his first poetry collection in English.

Austin Woerner, a translator of contemporary Chinese poetry and fiction, has published translations in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, Zoland Poetry, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the UC Riverside Department of Comparative Literature, he holds a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale University and lives in New York City.

A Phone Call from Dalian

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Han Dong
Edited by Nicky Harman
from Chinese by Nicky Harman, Maghiel van Crevel, Yu Yan Chen, Naikan Tao, Tony Prince and Michael Day
ISBN 978-0-9832970-1-7 (paper) $15
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6 x 8
108 pages [bilingual Chinese/English]

Several things combine to make Han Dong the remarkable poet he is: quotidian themes, willed superficiality, colloquial language, and his individuality and sophistication in handling these things. Or, conversely: the deconstruction of heroic themes, the repression of conventional interpretation, the rejection of “literary” language, and defamiliarization as a fundamental textual attitude.
—Maghiel van Crevel

A skeptical, questioning, voice … engaged in subverting the quotidian,” Han Dong’s is a voice not yet heard in the West. His poetry has been described as “disconcerting, meditative, angry, passionate, sad, sarcastic, self–mocking and even a little silly.” This is a collection of considerable interest, which gives an insight into a new literature in the making, as the ancient culture of China struggles to reinvent its own modernity.
—Brian Holton

Han Dong was born in 1961 in Nanjing, where he continues to live and work as a full-time writer. He has a long history in the Chinese contemporary poetry scene: he was not only very influential in avant-garde poetry in the 1980s but continues to be highly regarded as a poet today and has a seriously devoted following. He has edited groundbreaking literary magazines and websites such as Them and Today and was a leader of the 1998 “Fracture” movement, which encouraged independent writers to break free of conventional literary values. Today, characteristically, he continues to court controversy with his blogs and essays. He is also a respected novelist—his first, published in translation as Banished! by University of Hawai’i Press, was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. He has won independent poetry prizes in China, and has made several literary tours in the West in recent years.

Nicky Harman’s great passion is the translation of contemporary Chinese literature, and she has had the privilege of working on several prize-winning novels, as well as short stories, nonfiction, and—most recently—poetry. Besides her translation work, Harman is active on the Chinese translated fiction website Paper Republic and in literary translation organisations in the UK.

Snow Plain

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Duo Duo
from Chinese by John Crespi
ISBN 978-0-9815521-8-7 (paper) $17.00
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5½ x 7½
126 pages

Duo Duo’s long-awaited first book of prose to appear in English continues to explore issues of exile and alienation that permeate his poetry. An ambiguous first-person narrator, perhaps the same voice and perhaps not, links the six stories, each of which raises questions about the mutability of location, self, reality and experience. As John Crespi writes in the introduction, “For Duo Duo, storytelling seems reserving the right to search for, but still deny, an illusion of wholeness when one’s existence is inevitably fragmented, to admit to being simultaneously where you are and where you are not, to locate the past in the present and the far in the near, and find fullness in the assertion that we ought never be completely sure just where the here and the now really are.”

Born in Beijing in 1951, Duo Duo (pen name of Li Shizheng) began writing poetry in the 1970s. During the Cultural Revolution, angry Chinese officials branded him as one of the “Misty” poets, a derisive term referring to their obscure imagery and symbols. After witnessing the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1990, Duo Duo left the country for a reading in London, and lived in exile for the next 15 years. He now teaches at Hainan University. Duo Duo is the first Chinese author to win the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The biennial award has been called the “American Nobel Prize,” because 27 of the 40 winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1970 have been laureates, candidates or jurors of the Neustadt Prize. Read more about Duo Duo and his poetry collection, The Boy Who Catches Wasps.

John Crespi is the Henry R. Luce Associate Professor of Chinese at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. His book, Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China, was published in 2009 (University of Hawai‘i Press). His translations of Chinese fiction, prose and poetry have appeared in a numerous anthologies and literary journals.

Flash Cards

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Yu Jian
from Chinese by Wang Ping and Ron Padgett
ISBN 978-0-9815521-3-2 (trade paper) $15.00
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6 x 8
168 pages [bilingual Chinese/English]

  • Finalist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award for poetry. Read reviews of Flash Cards in World Literature Today.

Flash Cards is a primer of modern Chinese daily life—constructing a complex philosophical vision from swatches of daily events and observations. As Yu Jian has written about his own work, “It is possible to see eternity—to see everything—in a teacup or a candy wrapper. Everything in the world is poetry.”

Ron Padgett—a major poet whose sympathies are collegial and up for the resonant task— and native born Chinese poet Wang Ping have done an inspired job of transmitting this sharp-edged yet achingly poignant work. In their care, Yu Jian’s particular sensibility pierces through a dark age.
—Anne Waldman

Born in Yunnan province in 1954, Yu Jian contracted pneumonia at age two, which left him partially deaf in one ear. He once wrote, “it has made me accustomed to understanding the world through my eyes instead of talking with others. I have had to create ‘inner ear’ for myself.” He came to poetry early, first being exposed to classical Chinese poetry by his father, and then starting to write his own free verse at 20. While working in a factory during the Cultural Revolution, he became an avid reader and was deeply influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman. He has cultivated a direct and simple style in his poetry, partly in opposition to the grand and often inflated language of Maoist-era poetry. Flash Cards is his first full collection to appear in English.

Ron Padgett is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and was named an Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. He received the Shelley Memorial Award in 2009 from the Poetry Society of America. His translations include The Complete Poems of Blaise Cendrars.

Wang Ping is the author of several books, including two volumes of poetry (Of Flesh & Spirit and The Magic Whip), a novel, two collections of short stories, and the cultural study Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China. Her book of stories, The Last Communist Virgin, won the 2008 Minnesota Book Award and the 2007 Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies.

Feelings Above Sea Level: Prose Poems

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Shang Qin
from Chinese by Steve Bradbury
ISBN 0-939010-89-5 (paper) $14.00
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5¼ x 9¼
88 pages [Bilingual Chinese/English]

Steve Bradbury's work has set a new standard for the translation of Chinese poetry, a development long overdue.
—Andrea Lingenfelter

Shang Qin is one of the most original and powerful Chinese poets, not only in our time but in the entire history of modern Chinese poetry.
—Michelle Yeh

Small in quantity but consummate in substance, Shang Qin's poetry epitomizes the doubts and values of the individual during an era of upheaval. In a poetic diction approaching that of speech, he exposed poetry's cutting edge and set the highest possible standard for subsequent poets. Even today we find his work an unflagging incentive to refresh our sensibilities and divest our language of artifice, which is poetry's true measure.
—Hung Hung

Shang Qin was born in Sichuan, China in 1930, but has lived in Taiwan since the late Forties. The author of four volumes of poetry, he is among the first poets in Taiwan to have expressed a significant interest in surrealism.

He began publishing poetry in the mid-Fifties in various modernist journals such as Modern Poetry Quarterly while still employed as a soldier. He was not discharged from the military until 1968 and spent the next two years attending the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa before returning to Taiwan, where he tried his hand at a host of trades from street vendor and gardener to bookstore clerk and editor. He eventually became associate chief-editor of the China Times Weekly and retired in 1992.

Shang Qin's reputation as a prose poet was slow in maturing and did not really take wing until the appearance of his first volume of poetry Dream or the Dawn, which he published the year he left for Iowa. In the mid-Thirties, when the island was still under Japanese colonial rule and Taiwan's poets looked to Japan rather than to China for poetic inspiration, a few aspiring modernists who had studied in the “Empire of the Sun” and wrote in the Japanese language, briefly experimented with prose poetry, which had been in vogue in Japan since the early Twenties. In the Forties and early Fifties, after Taiwan once again came under Chinese political and cultural influence, a handful of poets began writing prose poems in Chinese.

Although most critics describe Shang Qin as a surrealist poet, this attribution is somewhat problematic. To be sure, surrealism has had considerable influence on the poet's work. Much of his early poetry has that eerie “dream logic” associated with surrealism, and several of his poems were clearly inspired by seminal works in the European surrealist tradition, as seen in the poem “My Amoeba Kid Brother,” which directly alludes to and plays off of Joan Miró's celebrated 1926 painting “Dog Barking at the Moon,” and the more recent “Moonlight,” which is awash with allusions to Max Jacob's prose poem “The Truly Miraculous.” At the same time, one cannot help noting that, in the mid-Eighties, when the Nationalist Government began relaxing its surveillance of the nation's writers in anticipation of the end of martial law, much of Shang Qin's surrealism falls from the bone, so to speak. Which suggests that surrealism may have been a political cover for a poet of compassion and social justice.

The purpose of the present volume is to showcase the quality of the poet's work in this particular genre rather than to present a comprehensive survey of his oeuvre.


Near the stove by the window over there, on the far side of the tumbling earth, the sky is the eye of a forlorn mother. The clouds have become inflamed. A garden hoe breaks into dance with the sound of a startled bird bolting from a hot skillet. Likewise, a child experiences a growth spurt. And the creature that just awoke from the dream of an afternoon and is now twirling in circles in the fruitless effort to bite its own tail is both a yellow dog and the planet Jupiter.

My Amoeba Kid Brother

After Joan Miró's “Dog Barking at the Moon”

The angry little fellow plucking at my khaki shirttail as I barrel down the stairs is my amoeba kid-brother, whose invitation I only managed to put off after endless hemming and hawing. The boy is an absolute beast, a dog barking at the moon. The scruff of his neck whines, “How come you never wanna come up to my place? You saw the ladder, look how long and narrow it is. You got a nest of your own in town like this, with stars?”

Weird how anyone could have a kid brother like that, “clean and dirty at the same time.” Like a hand or the paw of a raccoon. I bet the underside of that paw is the spitting image of a pangolin's front footpad. So a guy has an amoeba kid-brother who simultaneously resembles a raccoon and a pangolin, while I throw scores of shadows on the midnight streets.

Steve Bradbury teaches at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan. Besides Fusion Kitsch (Zephyr 2001), he is the translator of The Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh (Tinfish Press 2003).

Blue House

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Bei Dao
from Chinese by Ted Huters and Feng-ying Ming
ISBN 0-939010-58-5 (paper), $13.95
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5 x 7½
8 b&w photographs
262 pages

In Blue House Bei Dao not only explores his relationship with poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Tomas Tranströmer, but also sketches the more personal and sometimes seemingly banal episodes of a dissident living in exile. This is Bei Dao's first collection of essays in English translation. Those familiar with Bei Dao will notice the same lucid eye and strength that mark his poetry.

Bei Dao makes poetry out of the swirling layers of language born in the midst of crises such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, and in the seemingly insignificant human gestures and doubts that fill each day. In the essays of Blue House, philosophical evenings with Ginsberg and Paz coexist with the history of Davis, California; discussions of pop culture with his daughter, Tiantian; and memories of life in China under Mao.

The essays here ring with the pure clarity of a bell...Bei Dao has structured this collection wisely. Before the later, bittersweet meditations on “Moving”, “Driving” and other pastimes of the poet in exile, he crafts several deft, unblinking character sketches of writers familiar to a Western readership...Blue House is a series of still lifes that adds up to a self-portrait.
—David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle

Read an excerpt.

Bei Dao has been in exile since the 1989 Tiananmen incident, has lectured around the globe, and currently teaches at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of four books of poetry in English translation and one fiction collection.

Professor Ted Huters teaches in the department of East Asian Languages and Literature at UCLA and Feng-ying Ming teaches at Whittier College.

The Boy Who Catches Wasps

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Poetry in which the societal is entwined with the individual,
the Chinese enmeshed in the global

Duo Duo
from Chinese by Gregory B. Lee
ISBN 0-939010-70-4 (paper) $16.95
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6 x 8½
224 pages [bilingual Chinese/English]

Although talismanic words—pear, orchard, sky, parents, death, river, ice—recur throughout Duo Duo's Selected Poems, the poems themselves express dramatic changes in the thirty years for which they provide an accounting, an emotionally expressive ‘news that stays news.’ Duo Duo's poems in English rivet us with their obsidian sharp images and their evocative connotations. They are the cri de coeur of a fractured I.
Forrest Gander

Duo Duo began to write poetry in the early 1970s when the Cultural Revolution was still in full swing. He was obliged to write clandestinely, never imagining he would one day have readers. He continued to write throughout the 1980s, publishing in samizdat publications, and then more openly as the authorities relaxed their grip. Duo Duo left China for a reading tour of England June 4th 1989, the morning after the Tiananmen massacre that he had witnessed.

Duo Duo's poetic vision embraces a historical and political vision that is much more diverse, more global than that circumscribed by the confines of the last third of China's twentieth century. The context of China, Duo Duo's lived experience, is necessarily present in the poet's imaginary, but it is diffused in a world-view that embraces all of modern humanity's dilemmas, our increasing separation from nature, and our alienation from one another. The exile, like the hybrid and other “in between” subjects, writes of China with the benefit of critical distance, but also writes with an exceptional perspective of wherever he finds himself.

Before leaving China, Duo Duo worked as a journalist. His writing has been widely translated and published throughout the world, including two small selections of his work—in English—published in the UK and Canada. Generally associated with the other menglong (ambiguist) poets, such as Bei Dao and Yang Lian. Duo Duo currently lives and teaches in the Netherlands.

Gregory Lee currently lives in France and teaches at l'Université Jean Moulin Lyon III. He has also taught at the Universities of Cambridge, London, Chicago and Hong Kong. His translations of Duo Duo and other Chinese poets have appeared in numerous publications, including Fissures: Chinese Writing Today (Zephyr Press), and Abandoned Wine (Wellsweep Press).

Also available: Fissures: Chinese Writing Today [Zephyr Press, ISBN 0-939010-59-3 (paper)]


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Personal epic from Taiwanese poet and calligrapher

Lo Fu
from Chinese by John Balcom
ISBN 0-939010-83-6 (paper) $16.95
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5¼ x 8½
200 pages

  • 2014 short list for a Northern California Book Award in Translation.

Traces of Rilke are unearthed in Lo Fu's long poem sequence, Driftwood, along with his affection for surrealism and the early modernists such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and the more contemporary verse of Wallace Stevens. On New Year's Day 2001, the poem appeared in the literary supplement to the Liberty Times in Taiwan and was serialized for three months straight. Lo Fu has won almost every literary award in Taiwan and has published more than three-dozen volumes of poetry, essays, criticism, and translations. Despite his prolific output, Lo Fu considers Driftwood to be the book that sums up his experience of exile, his artistic explorations, and his metaphysics; Driftwood is a personal epic and the greatest achievement of his old age.

Lo Fu is the pen name of Mo Luofu, who was born in Hengyan, Hunan Province, in 1928. He joined the military during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and moved to Taiwan in 1949. While stationed in southern Taiwan in 1954, he founded the Epoch Poetry Society with Zhang Mo and Ya Xian, serving as the editor of the Epoch Poetry Quarterly for more than a decade. He immigrated to Vancouver in 1996, where he still lives.

John Balcom has translated more than a dozen books into English from Chinese. He is Associate Professor and Chinese Program Head at the Monterey Institute. Balcom previously collaborated with Lo Fu on the translation of his book of poetry Death of a Stone Cell (Taoran Press) and his 2012 book, Stone Cell (Zephyr).

Fissures: Chinese Writing Today

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Edited by Henry YH Zhao, Yanbing Chen, and John Rosenwald
ISBN 0-939010-59-3 (paper), $14.95
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5½ x 8½
292 pages

Fissures: Chinese Writing Today is an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, prose and essays taken from the literary journal Jintian (Today). Jintian has been the foremost voice of contemporary Chinese writing since its inception on “The Democracy Wall” in Beijing in 1978, and its subsequent reinvention in 1989. This is the third volume in the series and the first undertaken by a U.S. publisher. Authors include Bei Dao, Gao Ertai, Hong Ying, Duoduo, Yang Lian, Sun Xiaodong and Zhu Wen—names that will only continue to grow in importance as Chinese literature expands the established Western canon.

From Breyten Breytenbach's preface:

The un-initiated non-Chinese reader must be especially careful not to look at Chinese literature through the glasses of his or her own conditioned expectations. We have all been bamboozled by the clichés of exoticism and romanticism, reassured by the security of ‘distance’ and charmed by the lures of ‘difference’ […] Alternatively—and sometimes simultaneously—we were told that we'll never understand: China is the last Unknown; and since it is so old and so rich and so big and so threatening, it is probably the Unknown Universe. There would seem to be a need for us non-Chinese to have a China of the mind.
It is by no means the slightest merit of this collection to be thus wiping clean our glasses in order to give us a feel of the ‘ordinariness’ of modern existence. It constitutes a horizontal slice of the many expressions of literary creativeness in present-day China.

This anthology is a window into the minds and lives of some of the world's finest young writers.
—Gary Snyder

The stories, essays and poems gathered here show a restlessness with the past and also a homage to it
—Jonathan Spence

Fusion Kitsch

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Hsia Yü
from Chinese by Steve Bradbury
ISBN 0-939010-64-X (paper), $13.00
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7 x 8½
144 pages

From the introduction to Fusion Kitsch by Steve Bradbury

Hsia Yü's frank and innovative treatment of gender and sexuality in a small handful of poems in this collection and in her second collection Ventriloquy (Fuyushu) was seized upon by critics and scholars anxious to find a candidate to fill the long-vacant post of “Chinese feminist poet.” But while Hsia Yü may well have been one of the first woman poets writing in Chinese to have written about love and romance in a manner that broke dramatically from the conventions and constraints of traditional Chinese women's poetry, if we bother to look beyond labels at the poetry itself, we will find a body of work that is far less interested in providing a critique of gender relations or advancing a sexual/textual agenda than in exploring the sensuous and quirky interface between the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of the text. It is this preoccupation with pleasure that sets Hsia Yü apart from other poets writing in Chinese today; that and the fact that her poetry embodies a fusion of styles and influences—both high and kitsch—with the French influence running perhaps stronger than most.

Among her numerous honors, Hsia Yü was most recently awarded the Taipei City Literature Award for her book Salsa.

The Saw

I visualize you walking on the other side from me
In our scanty understanding of the universe
We propose a simple definition
Which we call “the time difference”
Whenever I feel delicious or defeated
In the watery regions of the night
We author our “form and meter”
Like the cardinal principles
Certain schools of painting have long advanced
Pressing myself against the dark
I continue my contemplation of a kind of saw-tooth-shaped truth

I engage in the contemplation
Of serration
An opened can for instance
My contemplation of the can goes thus:
The opening of a can turns
Upon a kind of saw-tooth-shaped truth

I contemplate but then I sleep
Sleep being an ancient practice
Older than civilization
Older yet than poetry
I sit and puzzle over it for hours
Resolved to not resist it

I contemplate sleep
When like a saw
I drag myself awake

I contemplate the saw

Born in Taiwan but now dividing her time between Paris and Taipei, Hsia Yü makes a living as a song lyricist and translator. She is the author of four volumes of poetry, of which the most recent is Salsa (1999). She first came to prominence in the mid-1980s with the appearance of Beiwanglu, or Memoranda (1983), a self-published collection of poetry whose brassy and iconoclastic tone struck a deeply sympathetic cord in Taiwan's younger readers. Besides her popularity in Taiwan, Bei Ling devoted ten pages of an issue of his journal Tendencies to her poems, and Michelle Yeh and Goeran Malmqvist's anthology of Taiwan poetry, forthcoming from Columbia, will contain translations of 27 of Hsia Yü's poems.

Steve Bradbury translates Chinese literature and teaches American and Children's Literature at National Central University in Chung-Li, Taiwan. His translations have appeared in Manoa, boundary 2, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals.

So Translating Rivers and Cities

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Zhang Er
from Chinese by Bob Holman, Arpine Konyalian Grenier, Timothy Liu, Bill Ransom, Susan Schultz and Leonard Schwartz
ISBN 0-939010-93-3 (paper) $14.00
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6 1/8 x 8
152 pages [bilingual Chinese/English]

In So Translating Rivers and Cities, Zhang Er offers a glorious scroll or map of transformations. Everywhere in these poems, the image of enchantment becomes luminous fact of enlightenment. Wisdom proceeds through the enchanted eye into pure mind, finding no obstacle, broaching no impediment. The effect is of a sudden, entirely true transparency.
—Donald Revel

Shuttle, ferry, transport, transfer, transformation, translate. And so this book goes, these are its qualities and actions as it performs our world—many landscapes. Strange tales of our tribe, like dangerous tangled scarlet kisses and fire-red slippers, are caught in these wending lines. We are shuttled between periphery and center, exploring all that might lie there—smooth ovum at center, lying in wait, reproductive; at the outskirts, the mind, a restless wind. The poems move us back and forth from past to future, future to past, always fingering an unstable and gripping present.
—Eleni Sikelianos

So Translating Rivers and Cities is a bilingual selection of work from Zhang Er's three most recent Chinese manuscripts. As with her previous Zephyr book, Verses on Bird, an intriguing aspect of this project is the list of translators involved in the project—among them Bob Holman, Timothy Liu, Susan Schultz and Leonard Schwartz—all well-known poets and critics. Their participation is necessary in capturing the multiple layers of Er's work throughout her varied poetic sequences.

Zhang Er was born in Beijing, China and moved to New York City in 1986. Her writings of poetry, non-fiction, and essays have appeared in publications in Taiwan, China, the American émigré community and in a number of American journals. She is the author of multiple books in Chinese and in English translation. She has read from her work at international festivals, conferences, reading series and universities in China, France, Portugal, Russia, Peru, Singapore, Hong Kong as well as in the U.S. She currently teaches at The Evergreen State College in Washington.

Bob Holman's eighth book, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something, a collaboration with Chuck Close, was published in 2003. He was a founder of Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records, the first major label devoted to poetry. He is Chief Curator of the People's Poetry Gathering, Poetry Guide at, and Proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club ( He was recently appointed Visiting Professor of Writing at Columbia University, and received the 2003 Barnes & Noble “Writers for Writers” Award.

Arpine Konyalian Grenier, author of St. Gregory's Daughter and Whores of Samarkand, is a graduate of the American University of Beirut and the MFA Program at Bard College, New York. Her work has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Phoebe, and Kiosk.

Timothy Liu's first book of poems, Vox Angelica (Alice James Books, 1992), received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. His subsequent books of poems are Burnt Offerings (Copper Canyon Press, 1995) Say Goodnight (Copper Canyon Press, 1998), and Hard Evidence (Talisman House, 2001). Tenured at William Paterson University, Liu lives in Manhattan.

Bill Ransom has published six novels and six collections of poems, including Finding True North from Copper Canyon Press, which was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His novel Jaguar was recently re-released by Wildside Press. He is a member of the faculty at The Evergreen State College.

Susan M. Schultz is the author of multiple poetry and essay collections, most recently And Then Something Happened (Salt, 2004) and A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Alabama, 2005). She edited The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry (Alabama, 1995). She founded Tinfish Press, which publishes a journal and chapbooks featuring experimental work from the Pacific. Schultz is Professor of English at the University f Hawai`i-Manoa.

Leonard Schwartz is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Ear and Ethos and The Tower of Diverse Shores (Talisman House). He is also the author of a collection of essays A Flicker At The Edge Of Things: Essays on Poetics 1987-1997 (Spuyten Duyvil) and co-editor of two anthologies of contemporary American poetry: Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry and An Anthology of New(American) Poets ( both from Talisman House). He teaches at The Evergreen State College in Washington.

Verses on Bird

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Selected poems of Zhang Er
from Chinese by Rachel Levitsky, Timothy Liu,
Leonard Schwartz, and Eleni Sikelianos.
ISBN 0-939010-80-1 (paper) $12.95
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5¼ x 7½
104 pages [Bilingual Chinese/English]

…a highly developed range that's very complex, subtle, very beautiful.
—Leslie Scalapino

Zhang Er's poems lead us to another world, where we take a bird's-eye view of our world; dive into the blank of writing and shriek in despair. The eloquence in her poems is a voice debating our time.
—Bei Dao

‘The Bird’ is observed and represented, even as its representation is observed. The bird is material and thought, as well as intention and outcome. The fully imagined bird provides glimpses through history and beyond landscapes, from unusual vantages and perspectives. Thought and experience surround the bird even as they are encompassed by its purview. In Verses on Bird, Zhang Er delivers a vibrant and expansive phenomenology—rich in descriptive and discursive detail, surprising throughout.
—Ed Friedman (Former Director, St. Marks Poetry Project)

Zhang Er grasps for the spiritual through objects of the mundane, quietly detailing the wonder and desperation that courses through human lives. In these poems, the eye watches the eye so that no facet of our existence remains unexplored. “Zhang Er belongs to the generation beyond lament or anger over the hardship endured by Chinese intellectuals, from overthrown rebellion to construction, from confusion to clarity, from darkness to light (ambiguity to clarity). She walks out of suffering and uncertainty, discovers the loveliness, preciousness of life and self-respect…”
New World Poetry Bimonthly

Verses on Bird … constantly invites us to reassess our relationship to language and of language's relations to the world. The wonder of this volume is that most of the translations by the four poets [Eleni Sikelianos, Leonard Schwartz, Rachel Levitsky, and Timothy Liu] who contributed to it are nearly as engaging as the poems they represent. This is no small achievement, and it is a credit to the publisher to have gathered so many fine translations under one cover and to have gone to the no-small expense of presenting them in a bilingual format.
—Steve Bradbury, “Tin Fish”

[from the poem Verses on Bird]

The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying.
From classical fugues to Romanticism, this effort produced
Schubert. When storms attack, the nightjar's cry
Swells. The noble revolution will require great
Sacrifice, yet do not ask me to capture this process on the black
And white keys, nor to switch to another tone.

I could not find two birds with identical pitch.

With nothing to induce it, innocence makes me walk
Into rushing water as if I were brave. Empty space is great, but nothing
Repeats itself there. Whether I do
Or whether I don't; from each, the sum of the piano's voice will rise.
Not to be doubted: bird writes poem, one vowel at a time.

Zhang Er was born in Beijing, China and moved to the United States in 1986. Her writings of poetry, non-fiction, and essays have appeared in publications in Taiwan, China, the American émigré community and in a number of American journals. She is the author of multiple books in Chinese and in English translation. She co-edited First Line and Poetry Current, which are Chinese poetry journals based in New York, and she has read from her work at international festivals, conferences, and universities in China, France, Portugal, Russia, and Peru, and in the US. She has also participated in projects sponsored by the New York Council for the Arts and by the Minetta Brook Foundation.

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