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Landscape Over Zero

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About the Author

Bei Dao was born in 1949, and was first nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1993. His other collections in English and published by Anvil are 'The August Sleepwalker' (1988), 'Old Snow' (1992) and 'Forms of Distance' (1994).David Hinton studied Chinese at Cornell University. As well as two of Bei Dao's Anvil collections, he has translated 'The Selected Poems of Tu Fu' (1990) and 'The Selected Poems of Li Po' (1998), both also published by Anvil. He lives in Vermont.


Escaping his native country after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Bei Dao currently teaches at the University of California at Davis. In his fourth collection, he continues his exploration of existential themes and political redresses in a distinctly frantic and compressed expressionistic style that is transposed onto the structure of traditional Chinese verse. In the original pictograms (which rely on vigorous nouns and verbs and forgo punctuation altogether), the poems could well be successful. But their translations in this bilingual edition they have not been fine-tuned to the nuances of English. Instead, they possess a raw and amateurish quality, as if they'd be penned by a highly emotional teenager ("gathering sobs look up/ scream out/ in their God's amnesia"). Bei Dao's own imagistic, surreal bent, however, contributes to the overall obliqueness ("hurry a lion into the cage of music/ hurry stone to masquerade as a recluse/ moving in parallel nights"). Fortunately, for patient readers, there are flashes of odd, ephemeral, stream-of-consciousness beauty ("night birds singing together/ you set smoke drifting free/ toward a place where song vanishes") that almost redeem this unexpectedly awkward work. (Oct.)

'One of the great poets of our time' - Michael Hofmann'Bei Dao's genius and his menace consist in a seamless merging of metaphor and politics; his is a guerrilla battle fought at the level of language' - Nate Johnson, Chicago Tribune

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