Fiona Sze-Lorrain on Jeffrey Yang’s translatoin of Liu Xiaobo’s June Fourth Elegies

Image of Liu Xiaobo’s “June Fourth Elegies” Fiona Sze-Lorrain‘s review of Jeffrey Yang‘s translation of June Fourth Elegies 念念六四 by Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 is now up on Words Without Borders. Strangely, her review doesn’t mention Yang by name, but she does discuss the translation, calling it “a stylistic rendering of Liu Xiaobo’s plainspoken language, which at times can be physical—gnawing and piercing in its implications.”

Here’s how she begins her review:

Poetry charts a circular path to freedom for Chinese political activist and writer Liu Xiaobo. “I am merely / a discarded wooden plank / powerless to resist the crushing of steel / still, I want to save you no matter if you’re / dead or still barely breathing, breathing,” the poet writes in “Memories of a Wooden Plank,” on the twelfth anniversary of the 1989 Tian’anmen Massacre.  Powerless to narrate history as a public intellectual in his own country, Liu finds in poetry a force of resistance and an unlikely promise of solace.  “I’m still alive / with a name of some disrepute / I possess neither courage nor qualifications,” he confesses in the second elegy, “For 17.”  A year after writing those lines, Liu still believes poetry has a singular power to disarm.  As he concludes in the third elegy, “Suffocating City Square:”

This death-cast girl
has become a line of pure poetry
that surrenders all ideograms