A friend of mine found Du Ya’s Selected Poems in the library and asked me if I liked them. We had just begun translating together for fun, and up until that point we’d worked with poems already translated into English. I was immediately taken by Du Ya’s lyricism, sense of rhythm, and her almost spiritual connection to place — specifically her native Henan, and even more specifically the rural villages and fields in which she grew up and to which she eventually returned.
Sadly for me, my friend returned to Beijing not long after, and I was left to continue on my own. To this day, I’ve translated almost thirty pages of poems from Du Ya’s Selected Poems. When I began translating, I was hoping to find a doorway back into the country and language of my childhood. While in some ways Du Ya’s poetry has provided that, returning to me the Chinese name of the tree of heaven or of blackbirds, it has become its own rich and surprising world. Through my struggles with her words — their meanings at times dense and laden with political urgency — I was given the gift of access to her specific language and her singular voice.
I’m very excited for her works to be publicly available in English for the first time. I hope my translations capture some of the surprise and deep inflection that these poems offer.
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