The Gleaner Song: Selected poems
Giramondo, $24 pb, 76 pp
The Chinese poet is so often a wanderer and an exile. The tradition goes back to Qu Yuan (c.340–278 BCE), author of ‘Encountering Sorrow’, the honest official who was banished from court and drowned himself in a river, and it continues to our time. During the Sino–Japanese war (1937–45) a group of patriotic early Chinese modernists were displaced from their Beijing universities to an improvised campus in the south-west, where they read avant-garde Western poetry. The Hong Kong poet Leung Ping-kwan (1949–2013) later studied them, himself a Cantonese-speaking and cosmopolitan migrant from the mainland who, like so many others, crossed the border with his parents when Liberation and the People’s Republic were proclaimed. A later modernist generation – including Bei Dao, Duo Duo, and Yang Lian – left China when they could in the years between Democracy Wall (1979) and Tiananmen (1989). Song Lin is a slightly younger member of that group. Jailed for his protest activities in Shanghai in 1989, he left for France in 1991, living in Europe, Argentina, and Singapore before returning to China and a form of internal exile in Dali in remote Yunnan. The Gleaner Song offers a distillation of his poetry along the way.