poetry in action features work by poets from around the world, translated into English.
It has three rallying cries:
Poets of the world, unite and take over!
Resist the oppressive constraints of good, publishable poetry established by mainstream literary venues!
Only poetry in translation, all the time!
Coming at you on the 20th of each month.
(Available from New Directions June 2nd!)
Suddenly there are lot more people talking and not just outside my window
Suddenly the people talking have gotten louder as if only speaking at high volume
Taking off my shoes, I think of people who take their shoes off on airplanes
Taking medicine, I think of people who dream of eternal life
Swear at someone, to be righteous; sometimes it’s just to let off steam
For a better tomorrow, some people suggest banning all swearing. How’s that
0000supposed to work?
Turn on the computer and the amount of information online swarms like locusts
The disorganization of the internet has assembled into history. So who is
0000responsible for forgetting?
And history, only when hyperbolized can it be seen
While life which cannot be seen continues through repetition
Only life in excess is life other than this there is no life. Some disagree
Only beauty in excess is beauty other than that there is no beauty. Some disagree
Excessive stupidity is observed, praised, inquired about
In the end it makes its way out by becoming a joke. Anyone who disagrees is
0000just laughing along
The snowball ultimately can’t roll anymore so go roll another one
Pigs eventually can’t get any fatter and eventually confront humanity about
Sunset: sensationalist overstatement. The solemn mountains grow cold.
Lyricists still wax lyrical after they vomit but they know their strength is waning.
I’ve had those stupid words “be yourself” in mind for years and I’ve only just
0000now figured them out:
You can’t really be yourself, but you can be a hundred thousand other people.
There’s not a single bird that can’t fly, and there’s not a single monkey that can
Your intelligence will run into the intelligence of another you,
in the Warring States plains, or in the court of the Tang dynasty.
Many people have gone, but how many of them were ever themselves?
But it might still be possible to be someone who used to be:
for instance, Lei Feng,
and if that doesn’t work then be Lei Feng’s coworker,
and if that doesn’t work then be Lei Feng’s boss,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone respected or hated by Lei Feng,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone Lei Feng helped one time,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone Lei Feng read about,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone who bullied Lei Feng,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone who saw Lei Feng from afar,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone who passed right by Lei Feng,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone moved by Lei Feng’s deeds,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone who doubts Lei Feng’s deeds,
and if that doesn’t work then be someone who’s never even heard of Lei Feng,
like those dandies from the late Qing,
or men of integrity and ideals, or their disciples,
or their relatives, or their role models—
those people from antiquity with faces you can’t imagine.
So many people have gone but you want to be yourself.
I sip your chicken soup for the soul, praise your ambition,
and read you this little poem.
March 3, 2020
here, there are no colors but golden
a golden treasure ship in a golden casino
a golden Lion Rock in a golden hotel
a golden bodhisattva on the sea
blessing golden Kin Liu Fook, Chow Tai Fook, and Chow Sang Sang on the street
a golden crocodile flirting in the entertainment center with a dragon and an
they’re happy to be hit on until golden stars fill their eyes and they see gold
oh golden excess, wealth’s malicious delight
even the trash can is golden
even the gold of the sun looks dim
where ideology has gone missing a golden value stands erect
golden grammar school students drink water from golden bowls
learning to gamble before they’ve mastered masturbation
golden men fall in love with women all named Goldy
but these girls only know how to fish for goldfish, to care for goldfish
no imagination, so no sex appeal to speak of
this must be why Aisin-Gioro clan had no princesses named Goldy
before the golden sway
the golden colonists of those years don’t seem golden enough
the elegance and amiability of their descendants
means that they’re irrelevant, and if they don’t like it they can piss off
their up-curling lips, the white of their teeth
just proves old colonial rule may have been evil but they had taste am I right
but shit, now it’s time for the locals to be golden
whoever’s lips curl into a sneer now is an outsider
and is the opposite of golden, is the dull, the dim, the dark
watch golden capital give golden social warfare a golden handshake
just like the Great Unity of Confucius would later be highly regarded by Kang
whoever talks of Great Unity must love the golden
just like the prince starving to delirium under a bodhi tree must love the golden
Thomas More envisioned locking up prisoners in shackles of gold
but utopia is just utopia, and golden handcuffs aren’t cherished here
and so what about people who aren’t so golden?
where have they gone to, as sour as intellectuals suffering from heartburn?
one sour guy is walking up to me
smiling, he flashes a gold tooth, like I know him
another sour guy walks up
smiling, he flashes two gold teeth, and asks: “Have you dreamt of me?”
June 6, 2017
inside stone is stone and the memory of plate tectonics
inside brick is brick and the memory or forgetting of fire
flower the blooming flower has no inside just as in rain there is no inside
but inside seed are the four seasons, the desire for growth
inside the fly is flesh and blood I do not know
inside the chicken are organs blood vessels flesh and bones plus a dullness of the
inside each human is either a mouse or a dragon
inside each human is either a village or else a pool of piss and a pile of shit
inside each human is darkness, obviously—there’s no starlight
everybody’s dreams gradually disappear inside them
inside a group of people there are people and inside a group of people are
0000mountains and valleys
inside a group of people there didn’t used to be but now there is a bank
inside the bank is a branch president who sometimes ends up
a prisoner a teacher an actor a commander
but inside the cell is a universe that did not originate in an explosion
while inside the virus is a cackling demon
just as inside human disaster is scheming is misjudgment is foolishness
or inside breath is panic is sorrow is death
May 10, 2020
Xi Chuan 西川 (pen name of Liu Jun 刘军) was born in 1963 in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province. Poet, essayist, and translator, Xi Chuan graduated from the English Department of Beijing University in 1985, and currently teaches classical Chinese literature at the Central Academy for Fine Arts. His poetry has been widely anthologized, and he has received numerous prizes and honors including the Modern Chinese Poetry Award (1994), the national Lu Xun Prize for Literature (2001), the Zhuang Zhongwen Prize for Literature (2003), as well as various grants that allowed him to visit India, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.
Lucas Klein —Lucas Klein is a father, writer, translator, and associate professor of Chinese at Arizona State University. He is executive editor of the Hsu-Tang Library of Classical Chinese Literature (Oxford), author of The Organization of Distance (Brill, 2018), co-editor of Chinese Poetry and Translation (Amsterdam, 2019), and translator of Mang Ke (Zephyr, 2018), Li Shangyin (NYRB, 2018), Duo Duo (Yale, 2021), and Xi Chuan (New Directions, 2012, 2022).