An Impossible Present: Five Poets from Nanjing at AAWW

Philippe Bierny 1

Nanjing is a tragic city. Its tourist spots are either places where people died or places people have been buried. Despite having been the capital during imperial China’s Six Dynasties (220-589), the city is scarred by the decline and fall of those ephemeral kingdoms. Today in Nanjing few historic landmarks remain intact, due to successive waves of destruction inflicted by Mongolian nomads, Manchu occupation, the Taiping Heavenly Army, Japanese invasion, the Civil War, and the Cultural Revolution. The city’s real history exists largely in the imagination: in myths and legends, poetry, drama, and art.

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has published a feature of five poets from Nanjing, “An Impossible Present,” with translations by Dong Sun and Josh Stenberg, edited by Andrea Lingenfelter. Poems by Dong Sun, Huang Fan, Lu Dong, Hu Xuan, and Yu Bang. Here’s a sample from Lu Dong:

Men imitate birds
Birds imitate men’s nightmares
The greatest birds
Aim high, fly far
After a lifetime aloft
They drop from the sky
And discover that flying
Out of every kind of magic
Is the lowest trick of all.

Click the image above for the full feature.