For nearly two thousand years, the condensed language of classical Chinese has offered the possibility of writing poems that may be read both forward and backward, producing entirely different creations. The genre was known as the “flight of wild geese,” and the poems were often symbolically or literally sent to a distant lover, in the hope that he or she, like the migrating birds, would return.
Its greatest practitioner, and the focus of this critical anthology, is Su Hui, a woman who, in the fourth century, embroidered a silk for her distant husband consisting of a grid of 840 characters. No one has ever fully explored all of its possibilities, but it is estimated that the poem—and the poems within the poem—may be read as many as twelve thousand ways. Su Hui herself said, “As it lingers aimlessly, twisting and turning, it takes on a pattern of its own. No one but my beloved can be sure of comprehending it.”
With examples ranging from the third to the nineteenth centuries, Michèle Métail brings the scholarship of a Sinologist and the playfulness of an avant-gardist to this unique collection of perhaps the most ancient of experimental poems.
Michele Metail, born in France in 1950, is a Sinologist, a photographer, and an avant-garde poet. She was the first female member of Oulipo and the co-founder of Dixit, a group dedicated to sound poetry. She is the author of two dozen books of poetry and translations from the Chinese, which she often performs accompanied by music and projected images. This is her first book in English translation.
Jody Gladding has published three collections of poems—most recently, Translations from Bark Beetle—and more than thirty translations from the French. She has received the French-American Foundation Translation Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Yale Younger Poets Prize. She lives in Calais, Vermont.
Jeffrey Yang’s most recent poetry collection is Vanishing-Line. His translation of Bei Dao’s autobiography, City Gate, Open Up, will be published in Spring 2017. He works as an editor at New York Review Books and New Directions Publishing.