1994

Post-Tiananmen Square

Editors Robert Shapard and Frank Stewart
Guest Editor Arthur Sze

 

Russian Far East

Editors Robert Shapard and Frank Stewart
Guest Editor Adele Barker

The summer 1994 issue features post-Tiananmen Square poetry from the People’s Republic of China. Under the government suppression and harsh treatment of dissidents that followed the Tiananmen massacre, many writers fled the People’s Republic of China, landing in different places around the world and making the difficult transition to a life of exile. In this feature, guest-editor Arthur Sze gathers the poetry of eight major writers and interviews two of them about the political, cultural, and artistic difficulties they have encountered since their exile. The writers are Nei Ling, Xue Di, Bei Dao, Wang Jiaxin, Gu Cheng, Duo Duo, and Yang Lian.

This issue also includes nature and travel essays. Tony Whedon recounts his stay in the People’s Republic of China. Other travel essays in this issue take readers to the forest of Kahm in Tibet, the desert towns of India, and cities in the Northern Marianas Islands, Indonesia, and Japan. In his nature essay, Christopher Crossen discusses the interdependence between the natural and the human worlds in the context of Arches National Monument. Edward Hoagland writes about the ways nature writer John Muir celebrates the relationship that human beings may foster with nature through love.

Barry Lopez, best known for his nonfiction books, has a story parabolic in its brevity and mystery about a man who, prompted by the death of his son, struggles to recover personal, familial, and cultural history. Other fiction authors include Sharon Solwitz (“Fossilized”), James McCachren (“Bird-feeder”), John Zuern (“Ascension”), Karla J. Kuban (“Urchins”), and W.D. Wetherell (“Teaser”).

Also in this issue is an interview conducted in Hawai‘i by Steve Bradbury, Joel Cohn, and Rob Wilson with Japanese novelist, short-story writer, and Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Ōe. While still a college student, Ōe won Japan’s coveted Akutagawa literary prize, and now, some four decades later, he has been called the most formidable figure in the literary world of Japan.

About the guest editor: Arthur Sze is the author of River River (Lost Roads Publishers). His poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Paris Review, and MĀNOA. His translations of Wen Yiduo will appear in Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems for the Millennium. Recently, he received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry.

Extracts

“On the snow-covered ground at the door,
a track of claw marks.
Do they belong to a deer, a roebuck,
or the legendary red fox?
I have no way of telling.

The fresh marks
clearer than the ancient inscriptions on marble,
so the poet awakes from a slumber
and begins to write.”

—from “A Visit” by Wang Jiaxin

“Absolutely, in China, everybody knows we don’t have a free situation...I really think every real artist is living a kind of exile, because their heart wants to do one thing but their land, their life situation, really cannot allow them to do it.”
—from “An Interview with Bei Ling
and Xue Di” by Arthur Sze

“In China, since the famous (though anonymous) fifth-century B.C. poet threw himself into a river to protest his government’s corrupt policies, the poet has been expected to be a man of both public courage and private faith. This tradition flows through the courageous ‘public’ poetry of T’ang poet Tu Fu to the revolutionary poems of Mao Ze Dong, and culminates today in the work of exiled dissident poet Bei Dao. Implicit in the tradition are vows of poverty. Tu Fu is said to have remarked, ‘First you must become poor, then you will have a chance at great poetry.’”
—from “Courage and Silence” by Tony Whedon

“Central to our relationship to the Pacific are the Okinawans who have immigrated to Hawai‘i. This is something I am very eager to know about. There are many Japanese studies about Hawai‘i’s Okinawans. In 1981, for example, a major study was published called Okinawan uchinanchu, which is to say, Okinawans living in Hawai‘i. Also, many Okinawan scholars are now coming to Hawai‘i to collect materials on Hawai‘i’s Okinawans. One day I expect some very interesting studies to emerge from this. In Japan, historians always think of Japan as a very static culture whose structure is very vertical and so there is very little concern for horizontal heterogeneity. But I believe that now scholars are beginning to come out with studies of Japanese fishing and maritime culture that might begin to change the way Japanese history is perceived. We must come to see ourselves, Japan, historically as a very organic part of the Pacific. No one as written such a study yet, but I hope that gradually a history of Japan as a Pacific culture will be written. And in that history, Okinawa will hold a prominent place.”
—from “The Myth of My Own Village,”
an interview with Kenzaburo Ōe by Steve Bradbury, Joel Cohn, and Rob Wilson

 

This issue’s feature, guest-edited by American scholar Adele Barker, includes folktales from native cultures on the brink of extinction; remembrances of the horrors of Stalin’s Gulag, which at one time virtually defined the Russian Far East; surprisingly tender fictions about displaced immigrants on the margins of empire; and new poetry by native and Russian writers. None of this work has ever been translated into English before.

The poets are Gennadii Lysenko, who died in 1978 but whose work is only now being discovered; Anna Khodzher, a poet of the Nanai people who writes in her native language and is perhaps the only published poet now doing so; Antonina Kymytval’, a poet of the Chukchi people who writes in Chukchi and Russian and is active in preserving her culture and language; Zoya Nenlyumkina, an Eskimo poet who writes in her native language and in Russian; and Alexander Petrovich Romanenko, whose father’s family is American, and mother’s family, Sioux Indian.

Among the fiction writers is Anatolii Kim, a well-known Sakhalin author of Korean ancestry. The non-fiction pieces include an introduction by guest-editor Barker to the writing of the Russian Far East; a chronicle by Pavel Markovich Nerler of the last days of Osip Mandelshtam, the great Russian poet who died in one of Stalin’s camps for political prisoners; a nature essay by Alaskan writer Nancy Lord on her 1989 visit to the Magadan region of the Russian Far East.

Other pieces include fiction by Vietnamese writer Andrew Lam and María Amparo Escandón; new translations of stories by Yasunari Kawabata; poetry by Cambodian writer U Sam Oeur, Kimiko Hahn, and Carolyn Leilani Lau; and essays on Alaska by Carolyn Kremers and Jennifer Brice.

About the guest-editor: Adele Barker lives with her son in Tuscon, Arizona, and has traveled extensively throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union. She is the author of The Mother Syndrome in the Russian Folk Imagination and coauthor of Dialogues / Dialogi: Literary and Cultural Exchanges between (ex)Soviet and American Women.

Extracts

“As I gingerly make my way inside, two carpenters are discussing how to finish a corner on a display case—a very nice one, I would add. The floors have been smoothed and sanded, inlays and fretwork finished, electrical sockets fitted into the wall. These are the moments that interest me, as the country embarks on the almost unimaginable task of restructuring itself. I look for change not in productivity levels or value of the ruble but in moments like these, which speak eloquently of the texture of that change: two carpenters discussing how to finish a corner, and a woman carefully collecting the artifacts of her people as a sign of the past and, perchance, of things to come.”
—from “Taiga Walks” by Adele Barker

“A gust of wind rose and tunneled through my blue shirt and set Maman’s hair flapping like a torn black flag. The wind carried with it the smell of the ocean—faint stench of dead fish, dry seaweed, salty air—and now, a little touch of Maman’s sweet jasmine perfume. It blew through the boat’s half-moon roof and reached Papa at the other end. The wind tilted the boat a little, and the poor boat creaked and whined its shy complaints. Behind Papa, the skinny boatman in his conical hat had to struggle very hard with his thin oar to keep us sailing smoothly eastward.”
—from “On the Perfume” Andrew Lam

“The women kept their heads down, looking modestly at the floor by their feet. They swayed gently with the drums and song, moving up and down and side to side. Their feet stayed flat on the floor, knees bending in time with the music, while their arms and heads floated like breezes. Their bodies mirrored the motions of the men kneeling before them, but the effect of their fans was different. The women’s soft tundra-grass and reindeer-hair fans brushed the air gently, while the men’s stiff wood-and-feather fans sliced like small knives.”
—from “We Are all Paddling a Kayak through

Open Tundra, Not a River” by Carolyn Kremer

“Once the Blackcrows had usurped the power
they started to evacuate people from Phnom Penh;
they threw patients through hospital windows
(women in labor and the lame), drove tanks
over them, then bulldozed them under.

The sun shone bright, as if it had come close to the earth.
The ground was dried and cracked.
Millions of panicked Phnompenhards jostled each other,
desperately overflowing along prescribed routes.”

—from “Exodus” by U Sam Oeur

“From the streets he could hear the buzzing of motorcycles and cars, first low, and then louder, and then low again, until it disappeared. (Yugoslav inflation, the deteriorating Hungarian economy, and stricter Czech visa policies had almost eliminated tourism from the two countries, and the once busy road was again as provincial as ever.) Voices of adolescents came from the streets, cheerfully and rudely carrying the notes of their hopes, talk of soccer, and girls. Then came the buzz of the quiet, and then the echoes of steps of a solitary passerby, and again the voices of the same adolescents, and then the same frogs, or if they were not the same, they sounded the same. The Japanese alarm clock emitted a hiss as minutes rolled over each other. Ivan looked at the flourescing green digits: 1:10. 1:11.”
—from “from Subterranean Fugue by Josip Novakovich

232 pp., spring 1994 (6:1), $20
ISSN 1045-7909

312 pp., fall 1994 (6:2), $20
ISSN 1045-7909