A Lifetime Is a Promise to Keep: Poems of Huang Xiang
Translation and Introduction: Michelle Yeh
China Research Monograph 63
2009. 128 pp.
"This book is required reading for anyone interested in contemporary Chinese poetry," according to an early reviewer.
Huang Xiang — poet, painter, and performer — is a native of the People's Republic of China now living in the United States in exile. In his homeland, he was sentenced to labor reform multiple times on the charge of being a counterrevolutionary, and his work has been banned there. Although he is a pioneer of the underground poetry movement in China, his poems are only now being appreciated by a wider audience.
A Lifetime Is a Promise to Keep contains an introduction to Huang Xiang and his poetry. According to the translator, Michelle Yeh, "As a poet, he addresses the perennial concerns with the inner self and the meaning of life." Regarding form, "Huang Xiang's prose poetry often begins as a pedestrian narrative, but as it unfolds, unexpected twists and turns are introduced, establishing roadblocks for readers and forcing them to read between the lines."
This book makes Huang Xiang's poems accessible to readers in a unique way — the original Chinese poems are placed on pages facing their English translations. A reviewer explains: "Students who have no Chinese knowledge can read the English; students who have some but not enough can use the English to help them understand the Chinese; advanced graduate students can read the Chinese and see the choices a veteran translator makes in rendering the original into English."
Michelle Yeh is Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Davis. A leading scholar of modern Chinese poetry, she has edited and translated many works of the same, including the Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry and Modern Chinese Poetry: Theory and Practice since 1911.