March 23, 1993
Contemporary Poets of Taiwan

I cannot remember all the poets, but I do remember Hsiang Ming and his poems.

A Chimney

A flaming throat

An already polluted throat

An already stiffened throat

Perhaps something begins fermenting at the bottom
In a word
It has been Seriously
Breathing for so long
Yet, still

--Hsiang Ming
Translated from the Chinese by R.S. Chen

There was also a young guy from China with little glasses. Bei Ling, the young guy, seemed to be the group's tour guide. Now that I think of it, he was an Asian version of William Blake's Chimney Sweep reincarnate. Yes, the Chimney Sweeper Rinpoche. He "taught me to sing the notes of woe" for China. He wants a space for more discussion in China. We spoke, but his English and my Chinese were not good. I did, however, get an address in Boston and an invitation to call when I got to Boston. I had just moved from Boston to New York, and as these types of things would happen, I did not know that I was soon to move back to Boston, having been offered a artist's residency at Northeastern University.

Soon after returning to Boston, I called Bei Ling. He lived on the backside of Harvard behind the Yenching Library and the Divinity School. Coincidentally, I road my bike by Bei Ling's street to get to work. We used to get together after work. We'd talk poetry. I wanted to talk about Li Po and Tu Fu, and he wanted to talk about Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. He wanted very little to speak of classical Chinese poetry, and I had no desire to discuss the Confessionals.

But, we both had little magazines. Bei Ling had published Tendency in mainland China, and he wanted to continue its publication here in the states. He was looking for funding in the US, and we wrote a proposal that we sent to the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED was generous, which should not have come as much of a surprise. Any publishing vehicle that promotes Democracy in China has a good chance for NED funding. Meanwhile, Bei Ling kept giving me original Chinese manuscripts for compost magazine, the magazine with which I was involved. I began learning about the younger generation of contemporary poets of China, the post-Misty poets: Meng Lang, Chen Dong Dong, Zhang Zhen, et al. Tendency publishes independent writers of China and many western writers whose works are not allowed to be translated in China: Susan Sontag, Vaclav Havel, Allen Ginsberg, Czeslaw Milosz, etc.

The fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre was approaching, and Bei Ling was asked to read a poem at the Yenching Library's memorial program. He asked me if I would translate his poem of exile, "Banishment." I worked with a bilingual journalist who was on work exchange at The Boston Globe, Wang Rong. Rong had written a story on Bei Ling, and once her superiors at The China Sun, China's largest English daily, learned of it, they fired her.

Rong, Bei Ling, and I liked the translation, and we began a long process of translation. Rong transliterated without altering syntax. She and I would talk. I would leave our conversations with questions for Bei Ling. He and I would talk. Finally, after I'd become familiar with the poem, I recorded Bei Ling reading the poems, and I would listen to the poems while looking over my notes over and over again. Finally, through some sort of meditative spontaneity the poems would come through me. Soon thereafter, Rong and I lost touch. The project fell through.

Two summers ago, news arrived that Bei Ling had been imprisoned in China again. I knew why immediately. He used to publish Tendency in Hong Kong and ship them onto the Mainland where he'd get the magazine into the hands of Chinese intellectuals. During the spring and summer of 2000, Bei Ling decided that it would be cheaper to publish Tendency on the mainland. And, it was, but it cost him a loss of freedom temporarily. He was caught as he waited for the magazines to arrive from the printer at a place where he had scheduled an opening with friends and intellectuals that evening. The party never occurred, and Bei Ling went to prison for two weeks. He was released with the help of international pressure from writers and political leaders. When he arrived back stateside, I called him to see how he was feeling. First, he told me that he was fatigued but grateful to be back in Boston, but then he asked, "Did you see the poem in The LA Times Book Review?" I had no idea. A friend had sent my poem with her open letter to President Jeng Zemin to the LAT.

Bei Ling asked about the other translations. He wanted them published. I wanted to find Wang Rong. I unearthed the translations. Serendipitously, Bei Ling found Rong in London at the BBC World Service Mandarin Program studio. Aside from the LAT, the poems have found homes on the pages of The New Republic, The Guardian, MANTIS, and now -VeRT. --Anastasios Kozaitis


Read the Bei Ling Translations >>