Yang Lian, a Chinese poet, was born in Switzerland, grew up in China and now lives in London. He published 11 volumes of poetry, 2 volumes of prose as well as 1 volume of essays. His work has been translated into more 25 languages, and his representative works including YIWhere the Sea Stands StillConcentric CirclesRiding Pisces: Poems from Five CollectionsLee Valley Poems… etc. His works have been reviewed as “like MacDiarmid meets Rilke with Samurai sword drawn!’”, “one of the most representative voices of Chinese literature” and “one of the great world poets of our era’”. His latest publication in English was Jade Ladder, an anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry edited by him, W.N. Herbert and others. Among other prizes, he won Nonino International Literature Prize 2012 (the jury of the prize presided by V S Naipaul), and he has been elected a board member of PENInternational PEN in 2008 and 2011.



A sunflower seed’s lines of Negation

For Ai Weiwei

unimaginable that Du Fu’s little boat was once
moored on this ceramic river
I don’t know the moonlight
see only the poem’s clarity
attenuated line by line
to a non-person
to the symbols
discussing and avoiding everything
I’m no symbol
a sun dying under the sunflower seed’s hard shell
nor is the sun
snow-white collapsed meat of children
nor have I disappeared
daybreak’s horizon impossibly
forgot that pain
bones like glass sliced by glass
I didn’t scream, so must scream at each first light
an earthquake never stands still
no need to suffocate the dead
planting rows of fences to the ends of the earth
handcuffing ever more shameful silence
I don’t fear
the young policewoman interrogating my naked body
it was formed by fire
no different to yours
knowing no other way to shatter but a hundred millions shatterings within myself
falling into no soil
only into the river that can’t flow
that cares nothing for the yellow flower within the stone
having to go on
to hold back
like a drop of Du Fu’s old tears
refusing to let the poem sink into dead indifferent beauty

Translated by Brian Holton and William N Herbert.