In the bold tradition of the “Misty Poets,” Ha Jin confronts China’s fraught political history while paying tribute to its rich culture and landscape. The poems of A Distant Center speak in a voice that is steady and direct, balancing contemplative longing with sober warnings from a writer who has confronted the traumas of censorship and state violence. With unadorned language and epigrammatic wit, Jin conjures scenes that encompass the personal, historical, romantic, and environmental, interrogating conceptions of foreignness and national identity as they appear and seep into everyday interactions and being. These are poems that offer solace in times of political reaction and uncertainty. Jin’s voice is wise, comforting, and imploring; his words are necessary and his lessons are invaluable. Question your place in the worlddo not be complacentlook for strength and hope in every nook: “Keep in mind the meaning of / your existence: wherever you land, / your footprints will become milestones.”
|Publisher:||Copper Canyon Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Ha Jin was born in Liaoning Province, China and grew up during the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s while serving in the People’s Liberation Army. He left the army at age 19 to study English and earned an M.A. at Shandong University before traveling to the United States for his Ph.D. at Brandeis University. Electing to remain in the U.S. after the massacre of students at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Jin has since published eight novels, four short story collections, three poetry collections, and a book of essays on the language and literature of migration. He has twice received the PEN/Faulkner Award, for War Trash (2004) and for Waiting (1999), which also won the National Book Award. A leading voice in Asian-American literature and one of the so-called of “Misty Poets,” Jin now serves as Director of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University.
Date of Birth:February 21, 1956
Place of Birth:Liaoning, China
Education:B.A. in English, Heilongjiang University, 1981; Ph. D. in English, Brandeis University, 1993
Read an Excerpt
A CenterYou must hold your quiet center,where you do what only you can do.If others call you a maniac or a fool,just let them wag their tongues.If some praise your perseverance,don’t feel too happy about it—only solitude is a lasting friend.You must hold your distant center.Don’t move even if earth and heaven quake.If others think you are insignificant,that’s because you haven’t held on long enough.As long as you stay put year after year,eventually you will find a worldbegin to revolve around you.If Eating Is a CultureWe eat mice.Mice have nice glossy furand can give you a head of thick hair.Even if you’re baldthey can restore your hair.We eat cats.Cats, quick by nature,can make you smarter,or at least livelier.We eat frogs.Frogs can swim and crow loudly.They can make your voice resonant.Even in the rainy seasonyou won’t develop rheumatism.We eat foxes.Foxes are cunning and swiftand can increase your agilityin dodging traps laid for you.We eat tigers.Tigers, powerful and fierce,can strengthen your bodyand enhance your potency.They can help you conquerand dominate anywhere.We eat phoenixes and dragonsbut cannot catch them throughoutheaven and earth and ocean.So we eat snakes for dragonsand chickens for phoenixesso that we can eat them up as well.
WeaselsIn those days weasels often hexed villagers,bewitching young girlsand women of frail health.Such a victim would rave in a weasel’s voice,trembling and brandishing her arms.Her family would rush out,shouting and beating a basinto scare away the weasel casting the spell.Some carried broomsto thrash the creature if they found it.Once the rascal fledthe crazed person would return to calm.Nowadays no one believesthat animals can hex humans.Instead we send the possessedto a shrink or hospital.Sorcery is nothing but a superstition.Yet if a voice cries out,“Go chase the weasel away!”I might hurry out to search throughhaystacks, bushes, firewoodin hopes of finding a weaselshrieking and rocking in spasms.
A 58-Year-Old Painter Leaving for AmericaTomorrow you will leave Shanghai,the city you used to love,to look for another life far away.“Probably another death,”you often joke with a smile these days.You have attempted death several times.Expel it from your mind.No matter how hard life is thereyou must continue to live.As long as you are alivethere will be miracles.Indeed, you have no Englishor youth for starting over,only your painting brush and fortitude.In that strange landyou must live, as always,with stubbornness and care.You must quit drinking and avoidstaying up all night.Keep in mind the meaning ofyour existence: wherever you land,your footprints will become milestones.
CemeteryI have seen the beauty of that cemetery,where grassy slopes glow with sunshineand the North Atlantic tides lapat the pebbles and granite steps.Tombstones spread from winding paths,where Mexican workers trim flowers.It’s so peaceful and sunny everywhereand everything is neatly organized.I can see why both of you want to go thereand even purchased lots for your familieswho are yet to leave our motherland.Knowing where to end can helpto curb your wandering heartand stabilize this drifting life.In fact, a fine cemetery is a villageor town of another kind, wherepeople can settle afterward.I envy your clarity about your journey’s end,but I’m still not sure where to go,never attached to any place.Even after this life, I might continue to roam.
Missed TimeMy notebook has remained blank for monthsthanks to the light you showeraround me. I have no usefor my pen, which lieslanguorously without grief.Nothing is better than to livea storyless life that needsno writing for meaning—when I am gone, let others saythey lost a happy man,though no one can tell how happy I was.The One Following YouBecause of you, that coastal cityhas appeared on my map.In my mind it’s no longera fishing village far away.Every morning I waketo follow you on the bus to work,passing the bay enclosed in mistand through a long tunnel into town.We then walk along the street shaded by maples,enter a gate to a schoolhouseand finally stand before a room of children.You open a textbook and read out with themlegends of triumph and updated fables.You also draw on the chalkboarda tomorrow that might be more colorful.Whether you know it or not,whether you like it or not,you always bring alongan invisible guard.