The new issue of the Kenyon Review has just launched, a special feature on “Literary Activism,” coedited by Rita Dove and John Kinsella–and in it, Xi Chuan’s poem “January 2011 in Egypt” 2011年1月埃及纪事 in the online edition. Here are some lines:
Eight thousand years after its founding the people are in a backwater earning too little always hearing about others making too much.
The piss stench of mules drifts through the alleys. Trash covers the wilderness.
Corrupt politics can’t manage the trash covering the wilderness; it can only keep the grand hall clean.
The midlevel official making E£500 a month and the doctor making E£150 a month demand change.
The youths banding together to vent their anger and despair don’t know each other. Vent first, then we’ll see.
So the smoke from burning tires rises from three sides of the temple, choking the gods inside—they proclaim themselves to be aliens so they should get respect and protection.
Anxious foreigners are smoking in the airport waiting area and no one cares.
The Romanian girl who worried about having nowhere to put her feet later disappears in the chaos of the crowd.
Yana, where are you?
Among the rioters looting the flower shop may be one who wants a rose for his beloved.
Whether you can be his beloved depends entirely on whether you’re lucky enough to survive.
The whole looks great. In addition to Xi Chuan, there’s new work by Anne Carson, Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, and others online, and in the print edition new work by Brenda Hillman, Nathaniel Mackey, and more.
Click here for the feature, starting with the introductions by Dove and Kinsella.
There is a room in which a remarkable online conversation is going on with thinkers and poets in China. A streaming system is in place and we are having these interviews and conversations with folks in China who have read translations of our poems and while it does not feel like it, we are told that thousands are viewing the stream in China. This strikes me as uncanny. I am not sure what I have said. I read a poem by a man whose pen name is Cricket. It is a fine poem. It is a poem that reminds me of something I heard when I was in Hong Kong: that there exists a fascinating genius of transformation in China that makes ancestral worship secular and non-mystical. It must be by fiat. It is also by faith. If we believe that they live among us, as so many in Africa and around the world do, then we are actually engaged in reality. I have not stopped thinking about this.
And here is where I can end in praise of poetry festivals like this one. When poets make their personal lists, and especially if they have had a chance to attend such festivals, their lists may not be myopic, limited by geographies and cultures, but may at last begin to engage writers from around the world. For my part, after this week, Roland Jooris, Liu Waitong, Ester Naomi Perquin, Mustafa Stitou, and Yang Lian will occupy my interest for a while. Not bad, not bad at all.
the international poets sat down one by one with Yang Lian, or Liao Weitang, or Qin Xiaoyu in front of a Skype-connected computer to read their poetry and the Chinese poets’ poetry, and to interact with a faceless, presumably multitudinous online audience. Interpreters and questioners were everywhere; back in a half-lit meeting room in the top floor of a building on the Third Ring Road, a team of ants, armed with laptops, scrambled to turn Chinese into English, English into Chinese, send all of it over QQ to everybody else, then post it to a Tencent microblog stream on which audience members could pose questions to the poets.
Who came? Kwame Dawes, from the Caribbean; James Byrne, British poet and editor of The Wolf; Canadian poet Ken Babstock; Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky; Syrian poet Adonis; and several others whom I would name in full, but the site’s server has stopped responding. They were all well-known, well-published poets and editors, and if the medium of their correspondence, which required stop-and-start maintenance along with as many as three translators (in the case of Adonis, who spoke in French, and therefore had to be translated from French to Dutch, to English, to Chinese), hadn’t been such an obstacle, they might have been able to engage in some truly meaningful discussion. Tang Xiaodu moderated the event on the Beijing side, while Yang Lian moderated most of the event on theirs — and “moderate” may itself be too moderate a description, as a lack of audience questions early on prompted YL to take on the interpreter’s and moderator’s mantles himself, which resulted both in interesting leads and a lot of distracting hand-waving.