By Song Lin
Translated by Dong Li
In The Gleaner Song, the lauded poet brings joy and contemplation of poetic expression.
Publication Date: November 16, 2021
Song Lin is one of China’s most innovative poets. When the Tiananmen protest exploded in Beijing in June 1989, Song led student demonstrations in Shanghai and was imprisoned for almost a year before leaving China soon afterwards. This selection of poems, made by the translator Dong Li and the poet himself, spans four decades of poetic exploration, with a focus on poems written during the poet’s long stay in France, Singapore, Argentina, and more recently, his return to China.
As a result of his wanderings, Song Lin may be thought of as an international poet, open to an unusual extent to influences – though informed by the classics and a thorough study of the Chinese language, his poetry weaves through American, French, and Latin-American traditions. His influences are the modernists, the surrealists, the romantics, the deep imagists and the objectivists—but what distinguishes Song is his ability to absorb them all, and make them his own. From the experience of displacement and exile, his poetry continues to open and expand its horizons.
“This is a curious poet that opens himself to the world around him and gives back with his songs that migrate from one word to another, from one language to another. The landscape of his travels becomes a map of his poetry, which, in turn, amounts to a sensitive anthropology of our migratory world.” – Translator Dong Li
“Throughout his career, as The Gleaner Song attests, Song Lin has sustained a courageous clarity about poetry.” —David Woo, Harriet Books (Poetry Foundation)
"Formed by his personal travails and layered experimentation, Song Lin's work explores a freer and wider spectrum of poetry." —Bei Dao
“'Should our homeland be not barbaric?' Song Lin asks, I think, for all of us. Because his poetry is influenced by, but independent of Western poetries, you may want to abandon your expectations in order to encounter it. Thematic and grammatical shifts, temporal instabilities, and disconcerting image and tonal repertoires juxtaposing the fantastic ('a word strangled by the umbilical cord') with the quotidian ('a girl by the window'), the violent (executions) with the mundane (pimples) convey the profound unsettlement at the heart of Song Lin’s work and world. We’re so fortunate that these remarkable poems break into English for us through Dong Li, himself an exceptional poet and multi-lingual translator." —Forrest Gander
"Dong Li is a poet’s ideal translator: he dexterously and comfortably teleports himself across all elegiac portals of reality. Even if sound is capable of experiencing exile from language’s sonic foreign monsoon, Li is there to transport the fugitive moon back to its transcontinental home from the geopolitical chaos that once exists in the original poet’s heart. In his intelligent, prismatic translation of Song Lin’s, we inevitably see, how could we not, Li pressing his left ear against the floorboard of Lin’s idiosyncratic words and his right against their antipodic Englishness and delivering a deftly classic marriage between the two with breathtaking symmetry of melancholy and transparency. Here, Li has turned translation into a pagoda, an empire, where his imagination and his high aptitude for polyglottal share the same thunderbolt as a hot spring. It is a translation worthy of their persuasive, bizarre edge, elusive in their tortured gadgets, and has a birch-bark way of leaving a faintly invisible, familiar, expatriated ink in the reader’s soul after a short time sitting still with a fugacious blueberry." —Vi Khi Nao
"The Gleaner Song, is a deeply moving ‘letter from elsewhere,’ shaped by Song Lin’s exiled life and existential restlessness. The gifted, multilingual poet Dong Li has attentively translated and tracked Song’s language that paints ‘the true picture of the earth’ as it orbits history, memory, distance, and nearness as well as clusters of stars such as C.D. Wright, Paul Celan, and Anselm Kiefer.” –Don Mee Choi
"Song Lin asks: 'If the urn of memory / is buried in an unknown place, / how will you tell your own story?' This question could be a gutting dead end. Instead of giving into the wound of place, Song makes places known to us, connecting lands and lives—Borges, Celan, Ernst, Mandelstam, CD Wright—into a web of specificity. He writes through the pain of dislocation, without easy generalizations or flattery, but with deep seeing. Translator Dong Li keeps the language of these poems surprising, felt, and unprecious. Like local dirt, these poems are mineralized and compact. 'Dear poet, pour your exiled voice into the long-forgotten cranial cavity, not too late, nor too early.' Song shows us a way." —Jennifer Kronovet
Praise for Sunday Sparrows:
WINNER of the 2020 Northern California Book Award for Poetry in Translation
"Whether quiet or loud, Song’s poems range out from an intensely private viewpoint, encapsulating deep feelings of sorrow, joy, passion, solitude, and even anger as they glide from place to place, season to season—from the ancient Cambrian period to the present day." — Danielle K. J. de Feo-Giet, Cha Asian Journal
Song Lin is one of the most distinctive poets from the People’s Republic of China. The author of numerous books of poetry, poetry anthologies and prose, his Sunday Sparrows was published in English translation by Zephyr Press in 2019 and two previous collections Fragments and Farewell Songs and City Walls and Sunset were published bilingually in France. He is the poetry editor of the journal Jintian [Today]. Among his honours are fellowships from the Nederlands, Romania, and Hong Kong as well as the Shanghai, Dong Dang Zi, Chang Yao Literature Prizes. He has held residencies at OMI Ledig House Translation Lab and Vermont Studio Centre.
Dong Li is a multilingual author who translates from Chinese, English, French and German. He is the English translator of The Wild Great Wall (Phoneme Media, 2018) by the Chinese poet Zhu Zhu, the German co-translator (with Lea Schneider) of Gesellschaft für Flugversuche (Carl Hanser Verlag, 2019) by the Chinese poet Zang Di and the Chinese translator of 《相伴》Be With (East China Normal University Press, 2021) by the American poet Forrest Gander. For his own literary projects, he has received fellowships from Akademie Schloss Solitude, Camargo and Humboldt Foundations, and Yaddo. As a translator, he has received support from a PEN/Heim Translation Grant, Ledig House, Henry Luce Foundation/Vermont Studio Center, and The American Literary Translators Association.