All posts tagged: 2011

Report from China: Poets in Chongqing, Friday, April 29, 2011


Near the end of six weeks teaching at Chongqing University, I met off-campus with three “young” poets, Fan Bei, Bai Yue, and Zhou Bin, all of them in their late thirties or early forties. Li Yongyi set up the meeting in a Chongqing bookstore. He studied American poetry with me during my 1997-1998 Fulbright year at Beijing Normal University. In spring 2011 he was my Chongqing University host professor. The bookstore was as new and modern as any in America—coffee, over-stuffed lounge chairs, hardwood floors, ice cream, pastries, floor-to-ceiling wooden bookshelves. Prices at the coffee bar were through the roof—as high as in America. Outside there was the usual chaos of traffic around the edge of a pedestrian mall. A riot of people pushed through the open square. Inside was an oasis: Li Yongyi’s favorite reading spot. We could have been in any of the smaller American Barnes and Nobles.

Fan Bei is a Chinese literature professor at Chongqing University; Zhou Bin teaches at Sichuan International Studies University; Bai Yue works in some position outside academia, so that she could be free, she explained to Li Yongyi, to write whatever she chose. Bai Yue’s name means White Moon. She had just published a book of poems with Chongqing University Press and brought copies for the other poets. Despite Bai Yue’s beautiful new book, handsomely printed, Fan Bei and Zhou Bin claimed that their generation is no longer interested in book publication. The poetry of the younger generation is entirely web based. China made the transition to cell phones long before they were popular in the U.S. Maybe in this area China was ahead of us again, embracing more fully the way technology was changing poetry.

I asked Zhou Bin, Bai Yue, and Fan Bei their opinion of Duo Duo’s poetry. Zhou Bin did most the talking. The conversation was going 90 miles per hour. Li Yongyi translated for me. The fellow who ran the coffee bar repeatedly came over, with greater annoyance each time, asking us to keep it down. There were other people reading quietly, sitting at the bar or in other parts of the café. Zhou Bin repeatedly apologized to the coffee guy and then went on talking with as much force and volume as before. All three poets agreed that Duo Duo is the best living poet in China, but Zhou Bin felt strongly that his poetry is not quintessentially Chinese. Zhou Bin claimed that there are three essential branches of Chinese poetry—Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. He argued that in working from a Chinese poetic tradition, contemporary Chinese poets should not worry about the differences between these three poetic branches. They had a common root and were part of the same tree. Zhou Bin asked me what I thought of Bei Dao’s poetry. I told him that I once had drinks with Bei Dao and liked him and sensed his poetry in Chinese was far stronger than what I had read in English. In English translation, Duo Duo seemed to me the more engaging poet. Zhou Bin said, yes, that’s because you are a Western poet and love Western modernism, and Duo Duo writes like a Western poet. When I arrived back in the States Li Yongyi sent me an email explaining in greater detail Zhou Bin’s position that Bei Dao represents more fully than any other poet of his generation the tradition of Chinese poetry. Here is Li Yongyi, paraphrasing Zhou Bin:

“Bei Dao, even in his overtly political works, usually focuses on the emotional experiences and responses of individuals. His realm is the personal, the lyrical, yet it is always haunted by the ghost of some threatening political presence and by a pessimistic sense of some hostile cosmic force, against which the hero, usually a man, fights with dignity enhanced by a knowledge of tragic fate, defending his love, his private world and the purity of his beliefs. So there is a beautiful tension between, and fusion of, the personal and the social, and his language, in its graceful, natural, smooth texture, has more affinities with ancient poems than that of any other contemporary Chinese poet. Bei Dao, in this regard, is like a Du Fu in the 20th century.”

Then Li Yongyi added:

“I largely agree with Zhou Bin’s judgment on Bei Dao and his description of the core Chinese poetic tradition. To my understanding, classical Chinese poetry is spiritual, not in an other-worldly, religious sense, but in a fusion of the individual, either with history or with nature; essentially it is an awareness and a feeling that an individual’s experience is always connected with that of other fellow human beings, other species, even with the whole cosmos.”

On the far side of the Pacific, where Pound is more famous than Eliot, I loved the idea that the privacy of poetry might open always to the wider “ghosts” of politics, history, and cosmic force.

Julia PikeReport from China: Poets in Chongqing, Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I Write in a Tannery


If you walk into the building that houses the tiny studio space in which I write – the old Southern Saddlery Factory in Chattanooga – the first thing you’ll see is a wall of framed invoices dating from the late 1800s:

Sold to Mr. Phipps, Bristol Country Club, Bristol, Tennessee:  2 leather utility bags, Brown Elk, $5.00.

Julia PikeWhy I Write in a Tannery

“Periodical Wisdom: Advising Student-Run Lit Mags”

Event Date: 
Thursday, March 1, 2012 – 3:00pm4:15pm
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th floor

Jen Acker–along with Jay Baron Nicorvo and Don Lee–will take part in this panel discussion at the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Literary Publishers Conference at Association of Writers and Poets, Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor. The Common will also exhibit our wares at AWP’s Bookfair, Space M22.

Emma Crowe“Periodical Wisdom: Advising Student-Run Lit Mags”

Christmas in India


Dispatches will be taking a two-week holiday break and will resume publishing on Wednesday, January 11thUntil then, please enjoy this seasonal dispatch about a Christmas vacation gone wrong…

I always say that I fell in love with my husband at Kinko’s.  Charged with printing blown up photographs for the annual fundraiser for the afterschool program where we both worked, I arrived to pick them up only to find the pictures grainy and only half of the job completed. While I panicked that I’d be fired and was ready to scream at the woman at the counter, Terence calmly, but firmly explained what needed to be done and the urgency with which it had to be completed. We’d been dating for less than two months, but in that moment I thought, this is the person I need by my side. Three years later, we were engaged. For our Christmas affianced, we booked a trip overseas, eager to show our independence, and maybe even create a new tradition apart from our families. On December 22, 2009, we arrived to New Delhi, India. Our plan was to spend a few days there, and then on Christmas Eve we would take a train to Agra so that we could see the Taj Mahal on Christmas Day. From there, we’d travel through Rajasthan and eventually fly to Mumbai.

Emma CroweChristmas in India



Every time I eat a watermelon I remember that day. It was the dry season, when the rust-red floodwaters of Quebrada Fierro or “Iron Creek” subside to a lazy trickle, exposing wide, meandering beaches near its mouth on the upper Manu River in southern Peru. I was with a group of Matsigenka men and boys, we had spent the past few hours under a feverish noon sun portaging boat, motor, and gear to circumvent a stubborn Dipteryx trunk, impervious as tempered glass, that blocked dry season passage along the creek. It was the summer of 1995 and I was taking Hiram, a dear Matsigenka friend who called me “brother”, to meet up with a film crew camped out at the research station of Cocha Cashu down river. I was helping Hiram’s community negotiate for an upcoming shoot. Cheronto, who came from a rival community nearer the station, was the best boat pilot in the region. He was taking us down the river to close the negotiations.

Emma CroweBittersweet

Bennington Roadshow in Brooklyn

Event Date: 
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 – 7:30pm9:30pm
The Invisible Dog
51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11201

Issue 02 contributor Phillip Lopate and nine grads of Bennington College’s MFA program in Creative Writing (including Dispatches contributor Julia Lichtblau and editor Jennifer Acker) will read at Brooklyn’s Invisible Dog Art Center, an exhibition/performance space in Cobble Hill, on Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 7:30-9:30 pm. Wine and book sales will follow. The event is one of an evolving roadshow of readings by established and emerging writers from the Bennington program.

“Commons” at Bennington College

Emma CroweBennington Roadshow in Brooklyn

Discovering Houghton: Views of Newton’s Secret Garden

Event Date: 
Tuesday, January 10, 2012 – 7:00pm8:30pm
Newton Free Library, Newton Center, MA

An event at Newton Free Library, in Newton Center, MA, at Houghton Garden, the subject of contributions to Issue 02 from Daniel Jackson and Sarah Luria. 

Emma CroweDiscovering Houghton: Views of Newton’s Secret Garden

The Macon Motel


I’d leave as early as I could and head north, straight up US 51 for three hours. Just a few years before, I was living in the same small Illinois town that my great-great-great grandfather, Hezekiah Gill, had come to from Tennessee, just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Then he turned around and fought for the Union, surviving the battles through Kentucky, Mississippi, his own native Tennessee, and on to Atlanta. But he returned back to Illinois, and it was there in that tiny village that my family stayed for the next 130 years.

Emma CroweThe Macon Motel

Review: Cutting for Stone


Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese’s debut novel, is nothing less than an epic in prose. The long narrative, setting, characters, conflicts, and quotations that read as invocations all set out to prove this. It begins with the lines from Gitanjali, the celebrated poetry collection of the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore

Olivia ZhengReview: Cutting for Stone

“The Last Nail in the Coffin”: Ilan Stavans Interviews John Sayles

John Sayles

“Not just a place, but a place in its time, has a character. That character affects who people are. In a movie it certainly affects the way that you shoot.

Today we are thrilled to feature an original, exclusive interview between The Common contributor Ilan Stavans and filmmaker and writer John Sayles. Stavans and Sayles discuss the differences between fiction writing and filmmaking, the challenges and comfort of writing historical fiction, and the importance of place in both book and movies. Sayles recently published A Moment in the Sun (McSweeney’s, 2011) and directed the newly released Amigo (Variance Films, 2011).

Julia Pike“The Last Nail in the Coffin”: Ilan Stavans Interviews John Sayles