Memories of a Small Town

Ye Lijun
Translated from the Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

A small town among mountains in the southFour distinct seasons, a river loiters freeDawn redwoods line each path, towering on both sidesIn this small town, I teach at Shuige Junior HighA discarded classroomA bed, a table, a chairAfter my classes, I’m on my ownTen whole years, I lead a simple lifeSo why change vocation? When people askI blush in shame and stammernot knowing what to sayTruth is, I’ve grown used to solitudeWhat I can’t bear is the day-in-day-outfacing pair after pair of clueless eyes. The farther I livethe clearer I know, when it comes to mereal learning does not begin at school

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Photo of Ye Lijun

Born in 1972 in Lishui, Zhejiang Province to an impoverished family, Chinese poet Ye Lijun worked as a junior high art teacher and arts administrator for intangible cultural heritage. Currently, she resides in her native city Lishui where she works as an editor. Her first bilingual volume of poetry My Mountain Country (2019) in Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s translation, was published by World Poetry Books.

Photo of Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a poet, literary translator, editor, and zheng harpist. She is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Rain in Plural (2020) and The Ruined Elegance (2016), both from Princeton, and more than a dozen books of translation of Chinese, French, and American poets. A 2019-2020 Abigail R. Cohen Fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, she lives in Paris.

A film on Sze-Lorrain’s poetry, translations, artwork, and zheng harp music, Rain in Plural . . . and Beyond, is now available to watch here, where she reads alongside her
poems, bilingually a poem and translation of Ye Lijun, “In Pingyuan Village,” as well as “I Can’t Stay Here and Love You” by Yin Lichuan [previously featured on Poetry Daily].

"[T]he joys revealed in My Mountain Country, which brings together a selection of poems from her three books, elegantly translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, suggest that for an acute observer of the natural world every hour, secret or not, may become an occasion for opening, 'in clarity,' to the beloved, to nature, to the invisible—leaves and roses and flowering trees that at a moment’s notice may awaken in her soul, alerting her once again to the mysterious bounty of life on earth."
—Christopher Merrill, from the foreword

"Ye Lijun’s quiet, powerful poems accrete from places, memories, affect, and ideas unique to the poet. The distinctiveness of Ye’s diction, metaphors, and associations make her imagination and intelligence anchor in ours. We come away from Ye’s mountain, her house, her books, her loves, and return to those of our own with our senses made more acute. Translator Fiona Sze-Lorrain, a gifted poet herself, creates an English-language voice for Ye Lijun that has all the grace and surprise of the original."
—Thomas Moran

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