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Unfamiliar Riverbank: Contemporary Chinese Verse

August 2019

There have been lamentably few Chinese poets throughout history translated into Western languages, a problem that we still face today. This small sample size gives a limited and misleading picture of religion in China, which is in fact highly varied and complex. The poets presented here are among those who write explicitly on religious themes, sometimes in ways that directly challenge the state’s desired hegemonic control over religion.

Unfamiliar Riverbank: Contemporary Chinese Religious Poetry
By Eleanor Goodman
The Tang Dynasty poets translated by the Beat Generation poets are often associated with the totality of “Chinese poetry.”
A Night Sama
By Tahir Hamut
Their wailing won’t let me sleep, won’t let me sleep . . .
Translated from Uyghur by Darren Byler & Anonymous Uyghur Translator
Phone Call
By Tahir Hamut
On a mattress / amidst an armful of hair / a beautiful woman tosses and turns
Translated from Uyghur by Joshua L. Freeman
Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser (left) and translator Ian Boyden
The Presence of the Dalai Lama’s Absence: A Conversation with Tibetan Poet Tsering Woeser
By Ian Boyden
At a time when Tibet is largely ignored by the international community, Woeser vividly conveys what it is like to experience the destruction of her culture.
Absent, Or Not Absent
By Tsering Woeser
right in the center, / sat the completely empty dharma throne, / richly decorated, the heart’s dream waiting / like a balloon floating through desire
Translated from Chinese by Ian Boyden
Perhaps: Love Poems
By Xi Wa
I dare not use mortal eyes to contemplate you
Translated from Chinese by Chloe Garcia Roberts
I Want to Walk Toward the Altar of the Lord
By Li Hao
my body, / like a spoon, here on this earth, sweetly scoops out / my brain.
Translated from Chinese by Eleanor Goodman
By Li Hao
I see your unfamiliar riverbank / and walk toward you.
Translated from Chinese by Eleanor Goodman