Read poems from Long River:
Often compared to the works of Du Fu, Yang Jian’s poems are marked by their unfaltering engagement with the world and their deep compassion for those at the margins of society—which he is able to convey in lucid, unadorned Chinese. We wanted to carry that over into English, along with the complexity of his vision, the emotional immediacy, and naturalness of his idiom. Our collaboration has worked toward that goal. After I made the initial translations of the poems, Paul B. Roth or Gillian Parrish would send back edits and questions. Oftentimes they asked about a particular word choice or phrasing that did not sound right in their ears, which in turn would bring me back to the original poem to see if there was a more resonant rendering. We would keep the exchange going until we found each line chiseled and clean. In “By the River,” for example, our translation of the line “因为大地本是梦幻” changed from the early “Since the earth is an illusion” to the final “Since the land is a dream,” which is more direct, we believe, and also more open and suggestive. While each of us has brought our individual sensibilities to these translations, it’s our shared intent to bring the luminous spirit of Yang Jian’s poetry to English readers. To that end, we offer this collection.
— Ye Chun (with Paul B. Roth and Gillian Parrish)
"The imagistic power of classical Chinese poems gains a new and distinctively modern form in these poems. And what those images reveal is surpising psychological depths: not just depths of the poet, but also of a tenderly-drawn community of ordinary people struggling through their days. These are uniquely accomplished and beautiful poems."
— David Hinton
"As with the best nature writing, Yang Jian’s poetry is about seeing, the practice of being alert and attentive to the particular in the here and now, which for Yang Jian are the blasted rural landscapes of a hyper-industrial China hell-bent on pursuing the Western notion of progress: the fly on the dead man’s lips; the basket of ashes his grandfather rescued from the bonfire of books burned in the cultural revolution; the dead pig in the river that no longer flows through the mountain that is no longer there; the nameless flower on the mountains of garbage on which the poor of so many Chinese cities survive. Yang Jian’s message is often grim, but the language is hard and clear."
— Steve Bradbury
"Yang Jian composes a poetry of slow erosion and quick frosts, of liminal moments that course through and undermine our human-made world’s crude fabrications, clearing the mind for just as long as necessary before its return. 'I need to be more sincere in pain,' he writes, and 'I’m fortunate to be born in a country where sincerity inspires.' In a land where 'Chimneys erupt out of the wheat field' and 'At the foot of the mountain that has been blasted open, / there’s a chunk of old willow, like the corpse of a dragon, / surrounded by scorched grasses' he asks: 'Since the land is a dream, / why look back, why sorrow?' Elsewhere, he reminds us: 'There are hundreds of sealed ancestral temples in your body but you simply ignore them.' So: pay attention. If ever 'You seem to be living a nightmare,' take note: 'Wherever leaves fall, / there is light—'"
— David Perry