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Beidao, Author, Bei Dao, Author, Eliot Weinberger, Translator New Directions Publishing Corporation $13.95 (113p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1447-6
In America, exiled poet Bei Dao (a pen name) is the best-known member of the Misty School, a group of Chinese poets now in their 40s and 50s. In China, Bei Dao's American-influenced poems were thought to have helped inspire the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. (He has reportedly been often shortlisted for the Nobel Prize.) This fifth collection to be translated here presents more of the weird, breathless poems that are his signature, and owe as much to the thrifty paradoxes and mood lighting of Tom Waits's songs as to more standard voices of dissent. ""The newspaper boy sets out in the morning/ all over town the sound of a desolate trumpet/ is it your bad omen or mine?"" he writes in ""Delivering Newspapers""; ""Leaving Home"" ends with the quatrain: ""at night the wind steals bells/ the long-haired bride/ quivers like a bowstring/ over the body of the groom."" Solo instruments in fact appear, like ""crowds of strangers,"" in almost every poem, and readers will wonder whether the melancholy is better sustained in the original versions of the poems, since it often falls apart here. Translators Weinberger and Man-Cheong follow David Hinton's precedent with a (mainly) punctuation-free verse that accommodates Bei Dao's odder phrases (""authorized blizzard,"" ""mint-flavored mailman""), but also calls attention to the botched getaways of many of the endings (""sound of the beginning/ color of the end"" closes ""Time and the Road""; ""someone climbs a ladder/ out of sight from the audience"" finishes ""Deformation""). More annoying is the use of the continuous present to yoke poetic-seeming details together arbitrarily, which comes off as an intent to mystify, one that is not back up by the poems as presented. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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