Wild Geese Returning: Chinese Reversible Poems

Wild Geese Returning: Chinese Reversible Poems


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A breathtaking introduction to Chinese multidirectional poems, told through the story of Su Hui, the greatest writer of these poems who embroidered a silk with 840 characters—equaling as many as 12,000 multidirectional poems—for her distant husband.

For nearly two thousand years, the condensed language of classical Chinese has offered the possibility of writing poems that may be read both forward and backward, producing entirely different creations. The genre was known as the “flight of wild geese,” and the poems were often symbolically or literally sent to a distant lover, in the hope that he or she, like the migrating birds, would return.
Its greatest practitioner, and the focus of this critical anthology, is Su Hui, a woman who, in the fourth century, embroidered a silk for her distant husband consisting of a grid of 840 characters. No one has ever fully explored all of its possibilities, but it is estimated that the poem—and the poems within the poem—may be read as many as twelve thousand ways. Su Hui herself said, “As it lingers aimlessly, twisting and turning, it takes on a pattern of its own. No one but my beloved can be sure of comprehending it.”

With examples ranging from the third to the nineteenth centuries, Michèle Métail brings the scholarship of a Sinologist and the playfulness of an avant-gardist to this unique collection of perhaps the most ancient of experimental poems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789629968007
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 03/14/2017
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 790,233
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Michèle Métail, born in France in 1950, is a Sinologist, a photographer, and an avant-garde poet. She was the first female member of Oulipo and the co-founder of Dixit, a group dedicated to sound poetry. She is the author of two dozen books of poetry and translations from the Chinese, which she often performs accompanied by music and projected images. This is her first book in English translation.

Jody Gladding has published three collections of poems—most recently, Translations from Bark Beetle—and more than thirty translations from the French. She has received the French-American Foundation Translation Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Yale Younger Poets Prize. She lives in Calais, Vermont.

Jeffrey Yang’s most recent poetry collection is Vanishing-Line. His translation of Bei Dao’s autobiography, City Gate, Open Up, will be published in Spring 2017. He works as an editor at New York Review Books and New Directions Publishing.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Calligrams Edition xiii

Introduction xxxv

A Certain Predisposition in the Language xxxix

Origins of the Reversible Poem xlv

Period of the Six Dynasties (3rd to 6th centuries)

ThePoem on a Tray 3

SuHui: The Map of the Armillary Sphere 9

TheCosmological Foundations of the Poem 15

APoem in Colors 23

Three Thousand One Hundred Twenty Poems 29

The Efficacy of the Form 53

The Poem between Heaven and Earth 67

Fromthe Poem to the Legend 69

He Daoqing (5th century) 83

WangRong (468-494) 85

YinZhongkan (5th century) 89

TheXiao Court 91

Tang Dynasty (618-907)

LiShimin: Emperor Taizong (599-649) 99

Anonymous: The Hermit of the South Mountains 101

Anonymous(7th century): The Map on a Hanging Mirror (Panjiantu) 105

QuanDeyu (759-818) and Pan Mengyang (?) 113

Lü Dongbin (798-?) 115

PiRixiu (834-883) and Lu Guimeng (?-881) 119

Song Dynasty (960-1279): Northern Song (960-1127) & Southern Song (1127-1279)

XuYin (Five Dynasties) 127

QianWeizhi (942-1014) 129

SunMingfu (992-1057) and Pei Yu (?) 135

MeiChuang (?) 143

LiuChang (1019-1068) 151

KongPingzhong (11th century) 153

WangAnshi (1021-1086) 159

SuDongpo (1036-1101) 163

QinGuan (1049-1100) 175

YuwenXuzhong (1079-1146) 179

YangWanli (1127-1206) 187

ZhuXi (1130-1200) 189

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

QiuJun (1418/1421-1495) 193

WangShizhen(1526-1590) 197

TangXianzu (1550-1616) 199

LiYang(?) 201

CaoFengzu (?) 209

Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

WanShu (1625-1688) 219

ZhangYude (late 18th century) 223

Return to the West 235

Appendix: The Ways of Reading Su Hui's Poem 237

Selected Bibliography 261

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