As well as a reader, I'm also proud to be a contributor. Rowboat #1 includes “Bamboo that seems Always my own Thoughts”: Reading Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology," my review-essay on David Hinton's wonderful anthology. Here's how the essay begins:
One weekend each year, in early April, my wife and I pick up her mother and drive north, through the hilly, rocky country above New York City to the Chuang Yen Monastery, set back in the woods outside the town of Carmel, New York. My mother-in-law was born in China, grew up in Taiwan, and moved to the United States more than 40 years ago. We and other families like us—parents and children and grandparents, mostly Chinese, but also a few non-Chinese, or waiguoren, like me—visit Chuang Yen to take part in the Qingming Festival. Qingming, literally “clear bright,” is partly a time to get outdoors and enjoy the green shoots of spring. But it is also—and especially at the monastery—a time to honor departed loved ones. The three of us make this journey to visit my wife’s father, whose ashes are interred in the Thousand Lotus Memorial Terrace, a granite wall at the top of a hill overlooking the monastery. Another translation of Qingming is Tomb Sweeping Day.
“A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day,” Tu Mu (803-852) wrote, in his poem called “Qingming.” I remember sitting in my mother-in-law’s kitchen, two or three Aprils ago, as she extemporaneously translated a poem for me from her Chinese-language newspaper (which includes a poem in each issue) about a funeral on a rainy day: one could not tell the raindrops from the tears. Later I thought that a poem I might write would describe a funeral on a sunny day, the weather confounding the mourners’ desire that it reflect their dark feelings of loss—the way, in Chinese poems, elements of the landscape often mirror the poet’s inner state. Or perhaps that was the gist of the Chinese newspaper poem and my idea was the one that would rehash what Tu Mu already wrote 1,200 years ago. I’m no longer sure which was which. There’s nothing like reading poems written hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago to make you feel that really nothing is new.
Want to read the rest of this essay, as well as many wonderful poems, and interviews with David Hinton and another wonderful translator of Chinese poetry, Red Pine? Then please subscribe or order a copy. (And tell 'em Thorburn sent you!)