The poems of Song Lin, born in Fujian in 1959, are, according to his translator and personal friend, the poet Jami Proctor Xu, “weavings of history, myth, nature, city, everyday life, melancholy, joy, story, image, and classical and modern Chinese.” This would be a formidable range for any poet, but reading Sunday Sparrows leaves little doubt that Xu was completely accurate in her assessment, which is made easier (for her) and perhaps more profound (for us) by its personal nature.

“I’d kill a Chinaman as quick as I would an Indian and I’d kill an Indian as quick as I would a dog.” This chilling remark, recorded in a police report, was made in 1884 by a man who had taken part in the lynching of Louie Sam, a fourteen-year old indigenous boy from the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. He had been waiting to be tried for murder in New Westminster when he was kidnapped by an American mob, taken across the border and lynched, presumably because the alleged murder had taken place in Nooksack, Washington. It later transpired that two members of the lynch mob were likely responsible for the murder.

In  2007, Londoners found a new magazine on the stands called Monocle. Thirteen years later, as we are informed on the back cover, it grew from a fairly modest debut as “a briefing on the world, from diplomacy to design, business to travel, culture to hospitality” into “a fully-fledged media company with a 24-hour radio station, a website, films, shops and cafés—and books.” This book is just what one would expect from such a source—its emphasis is on modern and contemporary Japan rather than on historical aspects (although these are not entirely neglected), and is perhaps an ideal book for younger people who want to know what Japan in the 21st century has to offer.

When we think of Indian rivers, it’s usually the Ganges that comes to mind, that mysteriously holy river now polluted by sludge and city waste. It also features the half-burnt corpses of devout Hindus floating down it on their final journeys and people bathing in it to purify themselves.  Like all rivers, the Ganges was, of course, a river of life as well as death, the reason for people settling along its banks and nurturing themselves with its flowing waters. The West has long been fascinated by the Ganges; writing in the late 1640s, the poet and MP Andrew Marvell imagined his “coy mistress” wasting her time, of which he imagines they had an eternity, in India instead of responding to his advances; “Thou by th’Indian Ganges side shouldst rubies find,” he whinges, while he is left in England “by the tide of Humber” to bemoan his enforced celibacy. But who in 1645 had heard of the Hooghly, a fairly short distributary of the Ganges which eventually finds its way south to the Bay of Bengal? Probably not even Andrew Marvell, writing a hundred years or so after the Portuguese merchant Pedro Tavares first set foot on its bank in 1578, and born a year after the English arrived in Bengal (1620). 

Having recently reviewed Matty Weingast’s attractive collection of poems from the Therigatha, I was somewhat surprised to see that Shambhala had decided to reissue an newly-expanded version of Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha (1996), given that the female half was already available in Weingast’s excellent and sensitively-handled new version. However, in addition to the fact that this edition includes male poets, the choice of female poets is not always identical, and of course it’s also interesting to see how different translators treat the same poems.