Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation
Before and since his enforced exile from 1989, Yang Lian has been one of the most innovative and influential poets in China. Widely hailed in America and Europe as a highly individual voice in world literature, he has been translated into many languages.
Narrative Poem, Yang Lian’s most personal work to date, is built around a series of family photographs, the first of which was taken on the day when he was born, on 22 February 1955, and the last of which dates from the time he spent undergoing ‘re-education through labour’ – and digging graves – during the mid-1970s.
The poetry ranges backward and forward in time, covering his childhood and youth, his first period of exile in New Zealand, and his subsequent adventures and travels in and around Europe and elsewhere.
In ‘this unseen structure written by a ghost’ Yang Lian weaves together lived experience with meditations on time, consciousness, history, language, memory and desire, in a search for new/old ways of speaking, thinking and living.
Narrative Poem, or 敘事詩 (Xùshìshī), was published in China in 2011, and this bilingual edition presents the Chinese text alongside Brian Holton’s masterly translation of a technically complex work of great beauty, The book also includes Family Tradition, Yang Lian’s first ever preface to his own work, and Ghost Composer/Ghost Translator, a translator’s afterword by Brian Holton.
‘Trees that desire silence but cannot be silent will murmur at their lack of Sāmadhībala, the meditator’s gentle strength of will. At the same time, the winds of Family Tradition will not cease blowing. I believe they never will.’ – Yang Lian (in Family Tradition)
'Those lonely Tang dynasty poets may be Yang’s original blues brothers, but he’s as much a modernist and symbolist in the vein of Mallarmé or Rimbaud […] Yang Lian’s work is rooted not in geography but in his own imagination […] to exist in Yang’s lines can be a gorgeous but frustrating adventure.' - Tim Kindseth, Time Magazine
'... an extraordinary, unique work of something like autobiography, but one ambitious far beyoned the personal... a single major work that remains humane throughout, recalling small familial actions as part of a vast historical process. It is, in many ways, the summation of Yang Lian's writing so far.' - George Szirtes, Translation Selector Summer 2017, PBS Bulletin
'In Narrative Poem, Yang Lian turns his first-hand experiences of these man-made catastrophes […] into a radically strange montage. Narrative Poem would read as elegiac except that we are repeatedly made to regard that mode as premature […] This is what Yang Lian calls a ‘poem’s affront’. Harm does its thing—and if it then doubles back to do it again, so too must poetry. Both will get there at the same time' - Nan Z. Da, Times Literary Supplement
‘Yang Lian is one of the most ambitious poets writing in Chinese today – indeed, one of the most ambitious poets writing in any language… Narrative Poem represents a stunning achievement of both poet and translator, bringing the two together almost as one.’ - Lucas Klein, Translation and Literature
‘Repressive regimes tend to have little problem acknowledging poets’ power to shape our opinions and our world. Some of those they exile settle in Britain. Yang Lian, a leading member of China’s Tiananmen generation, has just published his autobiographical masterpiece Narrative Poem in translation… A kind of wild lyricism marks the work… a sense of the explosive urgency of writing itself.’ - Fiona Sampson, The i Paper
‘Yang Lian is one of the most astonishing poets I’ve read for years. He has a westernist, modernist sensibility allied with an ancient Chinese, almost shamanistic one. He can both excite and frighten you – like MacDiarmid meets Rilke with Samurai sword drawn!’ – W.N. Herbert, Scotsman.
‘Yang Lian distinguishes himself in representing the pain of life caught in between historic eras…a new version of an old issue for world literature as well as Chinese literature is proposed: how to continue writing, relying on individual rather than enforced communal inspiration.’ – Allen Ginsberg
‘It wouldn’t surprise me if he became a future Nobel Laureate. His style is one of extraordinary grandeur and ambition…a monumental drive, a sensuous strength and intellectual clarity.’ – David Morley, Stand
Yang Lian on Concentric Circles
Chinese poet Yang Lian talks about his book Concentric Circles in English, and then reads the first part of the first poem in Chinese. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley, which includes poems by Yang Lian from both Concentric Circles and Where the Sea Stands Still read in Chinese and discussed in English.
Chinese-English bilingual edition