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Sidetracks (Paperback)

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Sidetracks By Bei Dao, Jeffrey Yang (Translated by) Cover Image
By Bei Dao, Jeffrey Yang (Translated by)
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Staff Reviews

It’s hard to know where to start with Sidetracks, Bei Dao’s first collection of poetry in over a decade. That it is brilliance and remembrance set in an incantatory long poem, an entire life of ruminations. That it was written after Dao made his way back from a stroke, that a painting he did during his recovery now graces its cover. That it is bilingual, lyrical, political, bearing witness to his experiences, in China, in exile, some here in California. I do know how to end though, with his illuminating afterward, and then right back at the beginning, and this time out loud.

— Melinda


A lyrical masterpiece by the renowned poet with a “Whitman-like rhetorical immensity coupled with a passionately eccentric sensibility” (Carol Muske Dukes, Los Angeles Times)

Sidetracks, Bei Dao’s first new collection in almost fifteen years, is also the poet’s first long poem and his magnum opus—the artistic culmination of a lifetime devoted to the renewal and reinvention of language. “As a poet, I am always lost,” Bei Dao once said. Opening with a prologue of heavenly questions and followed by thirty-four cantos, Sidetracks travels forward and backward along the divergent paths of the poet’s wandering life—from his time as a Young Pioneer in Beijing, through the years of exile living in six countries, back to the rural construction site where he worked during the Cultural Revolution, to the “sunshine tablecloth” in his kitchen in Davis, California, and his emotional visit home after a thirteen-year separation (“the mother tongue has deepened my foreignness”). All the various currents of our times rush into his lifelines, reconfigured through the “vortex of experience” and the poet’s encounters with friends and strangers, artists and ghosts, as he moves from place to place, unable to return home. As the poet Michael Palmer has noted, “Bei Dao’s work, in its rapid transitions, abrupt juxtapositions, and frequent recurrence to open syntax evokes the un-speakability of the exile’s condition. It is a poetry of explosive convergences, of submersions and unfixed boundaries, ‘amid languages.’”                             

About the Author

Bei Dao, (the pen name of Zhao Zhenkai) was born in Beijing in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution, he worked as a concrete mixer and blacksmith for eleven years. Forced into exile after the Tiananmen Massacre, he lived in Europe and the US until 2007, then settling in Hong Kong until, only recently, moving back to Beijing. He has been hailed as “the soul of post-Mao poetry” (Yunte Huang) and praised for his “intense lyricism” (Pankaj Mishra). Bei Dao has received numerous awards for his poetry all over the world, and founded the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong. His photography and paintings have been exhibited in China, Hong Kong, and Japan. New Directions publishes ten of his books.

Jeffrey Yang is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Line and Light. His translations include Ahmatjan Osman’s Uyghurland, The Farthest Exile and Bei Dao’s autobiography City Gate, Open Up: “crafted with poetic precision and enriched by Yang’s assiduous translation” (The Wall Street Journal).

Praise For…

The Chinese poet Bei Dao is among the strongest poetic impressions of my lifetime. To me, his poems are the work of a genius, a genius of juxtaposing, of simplicity, of acceleration, of tunneling through emblem and image.
— Michael Hofmann - The Baffler

Bei Dao’s poems are intense, elegant, and impressionistic. A dream-like push and flow.
— Dwight Garner - The New York Times

Bei Dao has always warned against interpreting his works politically, but the unmistakable messages of rebellion in his verses resonated with my college peers when we massed in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
— Wenguang Huang - The Wall Street Journal

Alternately gnomic and laconic, these poems of motion are a forceful accomplishment, yoking together lyric and epic to narrate one man’s journey and to propose an expansive idea of history.
— Publishers Weekly (starred)

Product Details
ISBN: 9780811238441
ISBN-10: 081123844X
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: May 14th, 2024
Pages: 176
Language: English