- Editor's Note
While my impulse in composing this note was to think it aloud, this first sentence has already been revised more than once. Even my proposed greeting—Dear Invisible Guest—quirky and light as it sounded in first draft, now begs the question of spontaneity. What remains is a Czeslaw Milosz poem that floated to mind:
The purpose of poetry is to remind ushow difficult it is to remain just one person,for our house is open, there are no keys in the doorsand invisible guests come in and out at will.Trans. Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee
What kind of keys—what door—would that be? The words keys and locks—object and metaphor, adjective and qualifier—have always evoked for me an enigma: things that open as well as enact. The suggestive title of Bei Dao's collection Unlock, published in 2000, comes to mind. A new essay by him—perhaps like a key—opens this volume. As if a spiritual herald, Bei Dao makes a case in his essay for poetry as not merely aesthetic self-expression, but as work that addresses difficult social concerns, such as those arising from sweeping changes in the Chinese language. Woeser, a Tibetan exiled in Beijing, addresses these concerns by choosing to write in Chinese. Her essay moves in a borderland of fiction, reportage, memoir, and extended metaphor. Like Bei Dao, she speaks forcefully about an endangered culture and its consciousness. In their implications, both pieces unlock an inner door, and use the power and guile of understatement. Woeser's narrative style of indirection instructs and deconstructs. Bei Dao's restraint opens the way for the voices of a reply.
Knowing that Chinese poetry is represented in the international community predominantly by men's voices—an irony, given the presence of so many Chinese poets who are women—I was interested in gathering for this volume a spectrum of new women writers, from the post-Misty and post-1970s generations. Eight Chinese, Tibetan, and Taiwanese women poets— plus Asian American women poets of Chinese lineage—have contributed [End Page vii]
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to Sky Lanterns. Some are well known, others are emerging. Each offers her own linguistic surprises and poetic intelligence, and all share a preference for lyricism and epiphany.
In A Room of One's Own, the legendary polemic on female creativity, Virginia Woolf observes, "For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet." Not wanting to promote the conventional divisions by gender, however, we include contemporary male poets Wei An (1960-1999) and Hai Zi (1964-1989), both of whom died young; post- Misty generation poets Bai Hua and Zhang Zao (1962-2010); younger male poets Sun Lei and Duo Yu; and the Late-T'ang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin, a representative of the classical tradition.
For those Chinese and Taiwanese poets whose works were composed in Chinese, we have published en face their English translations. Most of the writings are appearing for the first time in the Anglophone world, and their translators have, with different sensibilities, sought to pursue translation as more than pedagogy and an intellectual operation. But translation—with its meaningful defeats, trials, and struggles with authenticity—is not a subject I wish to focus on here, a topic that could too quickly be substituted for the poetry itself. I like to think that the less said, the better. To each dumpling, its own filling. A dish speaks most for itself when the chef chooses to stay in the kitchen. Translation in its purest essence is neither an embellishment for cultural tourism nor a literary fashion in thrall to globalization. Li Po says it all: "This is music enough. Why tell / flutes and pipes our troubles?"
After Bei Dao's opening essay, we have presented the authors in order of age, not as a bow to hierarchy, but to trace a possibility sensitive to time...