Reality Elegy

by Yang Lian, translated from the Chinese by Brian Holton


part of Narrative Poem






Yang Lian 楊煉(author) was one of the original Misty Poets who reacted against the strictures of the Cultural Revolution. Born in Switzerland, the son of a diplomat, he grew up in Beijing and began writing when he was sent to the countryside in the 1970s. On his return he joined the influential literary magazine Jintian (Today). His work was criticised in China in 1983 and formally banned in 1989 when he organised memorial services for the dead of Tiananmen while in New Zealand. He was a Chinese poet in exile from 1989 to 1995, finally settling in London in 1997. He now lives in Berlin. Translations of his poetry include four collections with Bloodaxe, Where the Sea Stands Still (1999), Concentric Circles (2005), Lee Valley Poems (2009) and Narrative Poem (2017), as well as his long poem Yi (Green Integer, USA, 2002) and Riding Pisces: Poems from Five Collections (Shearsman, 2008), a compilation of earlier work. He is co-editor with W.N. Herbert of Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), and was awarded the International Nonino Prize in 2012. Both Where the Sea Stands Still and Narrative Poem are Poetry Book Society Recommended Translations.


Brian Holton (translator) translates poetry and prose from modern and classical Chinese into English and Scots. He has published several collections of Yang Lian’s work, most recently, Narrative Poem (Bloodaxe Books, 2017). His collection of classical poems in Scots, Staunin Ma Lane, was published by Shearsman Books in 2016. Brian makes regular appearances at literary festivals, and has lectured at universities in the UK, Europe, the USA, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, and elsewhere. He has won several prizes for his poetry in Scots and for his translations. He lives in the Scottish Borders.

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