Early this summer, we proudly released Duo Duo’s new collection of poems, Words as Grain. Lucas Klein, editor and translator of the career-spanning anthology, notes in his introduction that the poet’s early work has often been seen as an expression of the era, yet his poetry “has never been reducible to a mirror of or straightforward response to the conditions of its creation.” This collection traces the evolution, in a particular historical context and cultural tradition, of one of the most vibrant poets at work in the world today.
We are pleased to excerpt the title poem of the collection, which plausibly relays not only how one of China’s most lauded poets has come to think of his work after decades of writing and after returning to China from many years abroad, but also the “mystery and multiplicity” that poetry seeks to bear.
Words as Grain, Asleep in the Gospels
what’s awaited is never punctual
stern fruit in formation on the bookshelf
is order not knowing the way
only dice can make it through the calendar
in freedom is nothing
no other quality on earth
once metal has eaten enough plums
only the breath of stationery is left in the room
along words’ axle, the core’s veneration
dream and knowledge come from the same library
for load bearing, not for sealing
waiting is just reading all the way through
outside words, inside the jumble
exhausted, waking at earliest
dawn light, only seven cockcrow
abstract gesticulations are fit to grab this hour
writing is what makes antiquity endurable—
Duo Duo is one of the most celebrated contemporary Chinese poets. Lucas Klein is an award-winning translator.