Bei Dao


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Carcanet Press Ltd
25 July 2024
ISBN: 9781800174276
178 pages

From the publisher

Translated by Jeffrey Yang

Sidetracks, Bei Dao's first new collection in fifteen years, is also his first long poem and undoubtedly his magnum opus – the artistic culmination of a lifetime devoted to the renewal and reinvention of language. 'As a poet, I am always lost,' he once declared. Opening Sidetracks with a prologue of heavenly questions and following on with thirty-four cantos, the poem travels forward and backward along the divergent paths of the poet's wandering life. From his time as a Young Pioneer in Beijing, the poem roves through the years of exile living in six countries, back to the rural construction site where he worked during the Cultural Revolution, to the 'sunshine tablecloth' in his kitchen in Davis, California, and his emotional visit home after a thirteen-year separation ('the mother tongue has deepened my foreignness'). The various currents of our times rush into his lifelines, reconfigured through the 'vortex of experience' and the poet's encounters with friends, strangers and with other artists living and dead. He moves from place to place unable to return home.

As the poet Michael Palmer noted: 'Bei Dao's work, in its rapid transitions, abrupt juxtapositions and frequent recurrence to open syntax evokes the un-speakability of the exile's condition. It is a poetry of explosive convergences, of submersions and unfixed boundaries, "amid languages".'