Aigerim Tazhi is a Kazakh poet whose writings will impress you and move you, a new and exciting voice which, thanks to the work of James Kates, a distinguished translator of Russian, can now finally be heard in English. It goes without saying that the literature of Central Asia and the newly-independent countries of the former Soviet Union needs to be better-known, and this slim volume is a fine contribution to it.
A Vietnamese poet writing in Hebrew?
Many Chinese poets, ancient or modern, seem to Western readers sometimes obsessed with landscapes, and Yang Jian (born 1967) is no exception.
Toward the beginning of his most recent (and thirteenth) collection, Singaporean poet Cyril Wong writes: “I’m a poet of intangible things, so the audience doesn’t quite exist.” This latter assertion is belied by numerous awards, steady book sales and high output over the last twenty years.
“100 poems by 100 poets”: compiled in the 13th century by the famed poet, Fujiwara no Teika, (1162–1241) the Hyakunin-isshu (百人一首) is the most widely-read poetry anthology in Japan. Long celebrated in the arts, including in a famous woodblock series by Hokusai, the anthology is part of the curriculum of all Japanese school children, much as students in England might study Shakespeare.
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.
Of all the literary arts, poetry is the one most tightly tied to culture. Fiction has stories and non-fiction has facts, both of which exist independently of the words used to express them. Poetry, however, is the words, and along with the words, the shades of meaning and context that culture brings along.