Gewirtz on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

The Poetry Foundation has published “Bei Dao’s Beijing: The eminent Chinese poet on exile and his native city,Julian Gewirtz’s review of City Gate, Open Up, the newly published memoirs of Bei Dao 北岛, translated by Jeffrey Yang. The review also weaves in decades of Bei Dao’s poetry, creating a compelling narrative of his development and longstanding interests. It ends:

Faced with the weight of history and the force of politics, Bei Dao’s struggle to “refute the Beijing of today” and “rebuild” his Beijing ultimately—perhaps inevitably—proves unattainable in either poetry or prose. He writes in his memoir, “This long-consuming task of rebuilding and reconstruction—I feel it’s almost impossible to achieve.” Yet this does not undermine the value of the attempt. In the 1994 interview, he elaborated on this point: “On the one hand poetry is useless. It can’t change the world materially. On the other hand it is a basic part of human existence… [and] what makes human beings human.” His yearning for a lost Beijing might fit the same rubric: a desire at once “useless,” “impossible,” and intensely human. “Writing is a renaming of the world,” he has said, and his memoir, like his poetry, is fundamentally an act of “renaming.” In a recent poem, “Black Map” (translated by Weinberger), Bei Dao imagines a final salute to his lost city:

Beijing, let me
toast your lamplights
let my white hair lead
the way through the black map
as though a storm were taking you to fly
..
I wait in line until the small window
shuts: O the bright moon
I go home—reunions
are one less
fewer than goodbyes
.

Click the image above for the full review.

Wenguang Huang on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

In “A Poet Who Survived Mao,” Wenguang Huang reviews City Gate, Open Up 城门开, the new memoir by Bei Dao 北岛, for the Wall Street Journal. Huang writes:

In 18 essays, crafted with poetic precision and enriched by Jeffrey Yang’s assiduous translation, Bei Dao depicts a cast of memorable characters with humor and insight: a tenacious family nanny always on the lookout for revolutionary opportunities; a talented schoolmate who sneaked across the border to Burma to join guerrilla forces; and the author’s father, a former government propaganda official and a moody authoritarian at home. Bei Dao devotes a long chapter to the universal theme of a troubled father-son relationship.

“City Gate, Open Up” made me want to retrieve my old college journal filled with the poet’s quotable stanzas. When I called my family back in China, however, I found out that it had been tossed out long ago. “There’s no room for old stuff,” a family member said indifferently. That now seems to be the national slogan. It only makes Bei Dao’s book more poignant.

Click on the image for the full review.

Publishers Weekly on Bei Dao’s Memoirs

City GatePublishers Weekly has a brief review of Bei Dao’s 北岛 memoirs about growing up in Beijing, City Gate, Open Up 城门开, translated by Jeffrey Yang (forthcoming from New Directions). It reads:

In this ruminative, lyrical memoir, revered Chinese poet Bei Dao (The Rose of Time) reflects on his father, the Beijing of his youth, and China’s Cultural Revolution. Returning to Beijing after over two decades away, including 13 years of exile from China, the poet was inspired to record his memories of a city he found drastically altered, reflecting on an idyllic childhood of hide-and-seek and ghost stories. He captures the unique timbres of street peddlers, and remembers treasuring a bowl of wonton soup during the Great Famine. There are comic tales as well: two rival cultural discussion groups coming to blows over a Paganini record; a protest of the middle school cafeteria’s less-than-stringent sanitation standards led by the poet as a swaggering youth. As he reached adulthood, the Revolution cast a pall: the Red Guards confiscated “counterrevolutionary” materials, and beatings and suicides became routine. In the final pages, Bei Dao recalls his complicated relationship with his father, whose illness brought Bei Dao back to Beijing after so many years. This is a nuanced account of China in the era of the Cultural Revolution, seen through one young man’s eyes. Since that young man became a poet, it is also beautifully textured, full of the sounds, sights, and scents of a Beijing that is no more.

And for an excerpt from the memoir, see The Manchester Review:

Around age six or seven I composed a musical invention: to the sounds of car horns I hummed a tune in counterpoint. Together these two sounds defined the metropolis for me. As dream became reality, the proliferating noises of the metropolis (particularly the sounds of drills and jackhammers) tormented me to madness; after many long nights of fleeting sleep, I ultimately concluded that to the children of our agricultural empire, the so-called metropolis, the great city, has had little relation to their verbal creativity…

Click on the image for the full review.

 

Jeffrey Yang on Translation

Jeffrey Yang, poet, editor, and translator of Uyghur and Chinese poetry (both classical and modern, including Liu Xiaobo’s 刘晓波 June Fourth Elegies, Su Shi’s 蘇軾 East Slope, and Bei Dao’s 北岛 forthcoming memoir City Gate, Open Up) answers questions as part of Words Without Borders‘ “Translator Relay“:

You are a translator, but also an award-winning poet. Can you speak about how your work as a poet informs your translations? And in turn, do you find that your work as a translator informs your poetry?

I try not to dissect this back and forth too much as the two so naturally fit together, like Adam and Eve. Both require careful attention to the musical qualities of language. The two can also overtly overlap, in that translating a poem is akin to writing a poem in a new language, or when writing a poem includes translated lines from another language. Both practices thrive in obscurity and with patient tinkering at the minutest level of word and line. As the recent Nobel Laureate said fifty years ago, “People have one great blessing—obscurity.” Each revels in an economy of language while persisting outside of the day-to-day economy, where profit never ventures upon its threshold. The one feeds the other in body and spirit, as with the other arts.

Click on the image above for the full Q & A.

Global Times on Bei Dao

Bei Dao Photo: IC
It’s usually best to avoid The Global Times. Nevertheless, they’ve reported on a recent poetry festival in Xiamen, so…

Wearing a white suit and standing at a prominent spot, the 67-year-old Bei read his lines at the closing ceremony on October 24 for the first time in front of the public since his homecoming, except for some small-scale personal gatherings.

Having lived overseas for 20 years, Bei moved to Hong Kong in 2007, working as Chair Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Qilu Xing [歧路行], literally meaning walking in the wrong way, was composed in 2009 in what was his first shot at long poems, before which he only created short poems. However, the writing process was interrupted by a stroke after he finished the 500th line and it remains an unfinished business.

The article also covers a brief and cleansed history of Jintian 今天 (Today) magazine, Shu Ting 舒婷, Mang Ke 芒克, and others. Click the image for the full article.

C D Wright on Xi Chuan

I’ve had a hard time processing C.D. Wright’s unexpected death since January 12, when she passed away as a result of a clot on a flight home from Chile. Death of an admired figure is always hard, and though I didn’t know C.D. well, I’ve long felt a personal resonance and connection. Unlike many American poets, contemporary Chinese poetry was not a stranger to her: she accompanied Bei Dao onstage for his honorary PhD at Brown in 2011. And she blurbed the back cover of Notes on the Mosquito.

In The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All (Copper Canyon), a selection of snippets from her prose writings about poetry, there’s more. Though he’s not mentioned by name, pages 82 – 85 are about Xi Chuan. It’s from “Of Those Who Can Afford to be Gentle,” previously unpublished in English, but translated into Portuguese by Cláudia Roquette-Pinto for Revista Confraria: Arte e literatura (and Ron Slate writes a little about it here). She writes:

The poets who became important symbols of the June 4 events are either those who were not in the country at the time, and could not return, or those who left he country, some at risk of arrest and some not. And inside, since Tiananmen, many began to enjoy, within limits, the autonomy of international urban life. The visiting writer, the poet who stayed with his face, stayed silent, and began again, reconnecting with his language one word at a time–bird, bicycle, city, fire, peony–in a series of prose poems that commence with literal and naive elaborations on the simple nouns and turn toward skeptical, if not wryly antagonistic, investigations of naming and meaning-making. All of this, to what end, what end. “Only when a nail pierced through my hand did my hand reveal the truth; only when black smoke choked me to tears could I feel my existence. Riding sidesaddle on a white horse ten fairies tore up my heart.” Zigzag. Learn to love the enigma, learn to love the paradox. Speak again.

Bei Dao to be awarded “Golden Wreath” Award

The “Golden Wreath” Award, Macedonia’s most prestigious literary prize, will be presented to Bei Dao 北島 at the 2015 annual Struga Poetry Evenings. He is the 50th winner of this international award for poetry. Previous winners include Mahmoud Darwish, W. H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Eugenio Montale, Adonis, Yehuda Amichai, Seamus Heaney, Tomas Tranströmer, and Blaže Koneski.

For more, click the image above.

Sound & Image: Chinese Poets in Conversation

IMGP0652As part of the “Birds of Metal in Flight” event, Columbia University hosted a panel discussion with Bei Dao 北岛, Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Xi Chuan 西川, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Zhou Zan 周瓒, and Xu Bing 徐冰, as moderated by Lydia Liu 刘禾 and John Rajchman and introduced by Eugenia Lean, titled “Sound and Image: Chinese Poets in Conversation with Artist Xu Bing.” Click the image above for more information & photos, or here to stream the discussion via iTunes.

Video of Birds of Metal in Flight Readings

collage by Tara Coleman

Readings by Marilyn Nelson, Bei Dao 北岛, Afaa Weaver, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Pierre Joris, Xi Chuan 西川, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Zhou Zan 周瓒, Charles Bernstein, and Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, followed by remarks from Xu Bing 徐冰, introduced by Lydia Liu 刘禾.

 

For Xi Chuan reading my translation of “Bloom” 开花, jump to 49:21.

For pictures and more information on the reading, click here. For recordings of the readings, visit PennSound.