Poetics of Emptiness: Transformations of Asian Thought in American Poetry

Poetics of Emptiness: Transformations of Asian Thought in American Poetry

Poetics of Emptiness: Transformations of Asian Thought in American Poetry

Poetics of Emptiness: Transformations of Asian Thought in American Poetry

Synopsis

Poetics of Emptiness traces the historically specific, intertextual pathways of a single, if polyvalent, philosophical term, emptiness, as it is transformed within twentieth-century American poetry and poetics. This conceptual migration is detailed in two sections. The first, focusing on "transpacific Buddhist poetics," discusses Ernest Fenollosa's "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry" as an expression of Fenollosa's Buddhist poetics, explores classical Chinese poetics as it was known by Fenollosa, and talks about the role of emptiness in Gary Snyder. The second half, on "transpacific Daoist poetics," explores the career of poet/translator/ critic Wai-lim Yip and engages the weave of post-structural thought and Daoist and shamanistic discourses in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Formulating interpretive frames as hybrid as the texts being read, this book unveils one of the most important yet still largely unknown stories of American poetry and poetics.

Excerpt

In his essay “The Poem behind the Poem,” the translator/anthologist Tony Barnstone offers an extended discussion of his experience translating the poem reproduced above, by the Tang poet Liu Zongyuan ( b. 773-d. 819). Before offering his translation, Barnstone leads his readers in what appears to be a guided meditation: “Let us take a minute to read it aloud, slowly. Empty our minds. Visualize each word.” His translation follows:

A thousand mountains. Flying birds vanish.
Ten thousand paths. Human traces erased
One boat, bamboo hat, bark cape—an old man
Alone with his hook. Cold river. Snow.

Barnstone then comments: “Snow is the white page on which the old man is marked, through which an ink river flows. Snow is the mind of the reader, on which these pristine signs are registered, only to be covered with more snow and erased. … I like to imagine each character in 'River Snow' sketched on the page: a brushstroke against the emptiness of a Chinese painting—like the figure of the old man himself surrounded by all that snow.”

Barnstone asserts that each line of the translation “should drop into a meditative silence, should be a new line of vision, a revelation. The poem must be empty, pure perception; the words of the poem should be like flowers, one by one opening, then silently falling.” Michelle Yeh, a wellknown scholar of modern Chinese poetry, might notice, as I would, that . . .

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