Written in Exile

Liu Tsung-yuan, trans. from the Chinese by Red Pine. Copper Canyon, $18 trade paper (264 p) ISBN 978-1-55659-562-2
Winner of the 2018 Thornton Wilder Prize for literary translation, Pine (The Silk Road) turns his attention to the poetry of Tang writer Liu (773–819), a major literary figure in China but one largely unknown to English readers. A reform-minded governmental official, Liu was banished to South China, near the juncture of the Hsiao and Hsiang rivers, where he spent the last 15 years of his life. Exile served to sharpen Liu’s artistic lens as closely observed details of everyday life (“the current here frightens people/ the island appears to be moving/ people were digging clay/ cutting reeds and catching fish/ a lovely sight but no relief”) lead to moments of disarming self-awareness: “I was back in my old room singing/ but deceiving myself is no fun.” Liu settled, ultimately, on the Janhsi River, which he nicknamed Stupid River. “While this river is of no benefit to the world, it is, however, good at reflecting the myriad things,” Liu writes, with a characteristic double entendre. “Who can I talk with at night/ if not these texts on bamboo and silk,” he inquires in a poem in praise of reading. This bilingual collection provides readers with generous, thoughtful contextualizing material and a memorable introduction to Liu’s vivid writing. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 09/11/2019
Release date: 09/01/2019
Genre: Poetry
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