Stagnant Water & Other Poems – Wen Yiduo

book cover: Stagnant Water and Other Poems

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On June 6,1946, at 5pm, after stepping out of the office of the Democratic Weekly, Wen Yiduo died in a hail of bullets. Mao blamed the Nationalists and transformed Wen into a paragon of the revolution.

Wen was born into a well-to-do family in Hubei, China, and received a classical education. But he came of age as old imperial China and its institu­tions were being swept away, and the Chinese people were looking ahead to a new China. It was fertile ground for a young poet.

In 1922, Wen came to the U.S. and studied art and literature at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was during this period that his first collection of poetry was published, Hongzu or “Red Candle.” He returned to China in 1925 and took a position as a university professor and became active in the political and aesthetic debates of the time. His second collection of poems, Sishui, rendered by previous translators as “Dead Water,” was published in 1928.

As political trends shifted from an intellectual, elitist base toward a populist one, changes in literature were just as pervasive. Wen was one of the leaders of a movement to reform Chinese poetry— hitherto written in a classical style with a diction and rhetoric so far removed from everyday usage that it had segregated itself from all but the wealthy and the well educated—by adapting common speech and direct observation, while maintaining a strict, albeit new, formalism.

However, Wen never resolved the conflicts that existed within him: The elitist and the proletarian, the scholar and the activist, the traditionalist and the innovator, the personal man and the public man, fought for ascendancy. Yet it was these contradictions that proved so fruitful and give his poetry its singular power.


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By Wen Yiduo
Translated by Robert Hammond Dorsett
Foreword by Christopher Merrill
Calligraphy by Huang Xiang
87 pages, 5 pages of calligraphy | ISBN: 978-0-9795898-4-3 | $18.99 | hardbound | 2014

About the author, translator, and calligrapher:

Author: Wen Yidou (1899-1946)
The son of a well-to-do Hubei family and a product of its privileged status, he was introduced to the West at an early age, eventually studying western painting in Chicago and New York from 1922-25. Upon his return to China, he became a university professor, leading literary critic and scholar, and soon an outspoken critic of the Nationalists. His speeches became more political and defiant as the army’s suppression of student demonstrations became bloodier. On June 6, 1946, at 5pm, after stepping out of the office of the Democratic Weekly, Wen Yiduo died in a hail of bullets. Mao blamed the Nationalists, and thus transformed Wen into a paragon of the revolution.

Translator: Robert Hammond Dorsett
Robert Dorsett studied Chinese at the Yale-in-China Program at the Chinese University in Hong Kong. He received an M.D. degree from the State University of New York and completed his training in pediatrics at Cornell. He also has an M.F.A. degree from New York University, where he subsequently taught creative writing.

Robert has translated many individual poems and essays from the Chinese. With David Pollard, he translated the memoirs of Gao Ertai, In Search of My Homeland: A Memoir of a Chinese Labor Camp (HarperCollins 2009). Stagnant Water is his second book of translations. He has also published his own poetry in The Literary Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, and elsewhere.

Formerly a senior physician at Kaiser Hospital Oakland, he now writes full time.

Calligrapher: Huang Xiang
Poet and master calligrapher Huang Xiang, who provided the calligraphy for this volume, left China after numerous imprisonments due to his advocacy for human rights. On arriving in the U.S., he became the first writer in residence at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (2004-06). During his stay there, he created “House Poem” on the façade of his residence on Sampsonia Way. He also published Pittsburgh Dream Nest Jotting, a book of Chinese-language essays on his experiences in Pittsburgh. City of Asylum/Pittsburgh also commissioned a translation of Huang’s poetry, A Lifetime is a Promise to Keep: Poems of Huang Xiang, published by the Institute of East Asian Studies in 2009. More recently, Huang has collaborated with American painter William Rock on their “Century Mountain Project.”

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