My good friend Joe Nigg, wrote an extraordinary 2016 book, The Phoenix: An Unnatural Biography of a Mythical Beast. It includes a chapter on “Poetic Fire,” which itself includes a poem of mine—rooted in the phoenix image—called “Revenant.” Now, between Joe’s inclusion of “Revenant” and the book’s appearance in print, I revised the poem, making several minor and a few substantial changes. In particular, the arc of the second version became … well, darker … and it was that second, darker version that subsequently appeared in my collection The World As Is: New & Selected Poems, 1972-2015.
I mention all this only because Joe’s book has been translated into Chinese, and along with it, the original version of my poem. There is something magical about seeing one’s work in another language; and when the language is foreign in every way, the magicality seems to grow stronger. So I thought I’d share the new Chinese version, side-by-side with the original English and the revised English versions. This is what you’ll find below.
There was a wrinkle, though. In the Chinese version of Joe’s book, the title was folded into an introductory paragraph, and when looking over the proof, neither of us could figure out where in the block of Chinese characters it lived. To solve that mystery, I wrote to an acquaintance of mine, the excellent poet (Nine Dragon Island) and translator (Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, The Roots of Wisdom: Poems of Zang Di, and Something Crosses My Mind: Selected Poems of Wang Xiaoni) Eleanor Goodman, asking her to identify the title. Thanks to her, I can offer a hint at the Chinese version and the two English versions of the poem below. The full Chinese translation of The Phoenix is scheduled to appear from Nutopia Publishing later in 2018.
One last comment. If I ever get to do a collected poems, I plan to change “damper’s load” in the second version to “chimney-load” (the damper could only be loaded with cold, after all, if it were closed—a bad idea when starting a fire). Sigh. How I envy poets with ultimate faith in their process, such as W. S. Merwin, who—in the Author’s Note to The First Four Books of Poems—wrote: “These poems are reprinted exactly as they appeared in the four books in which they were originally published. They have not been revised, rearranged, or altered for better or worse.” Write, then move on! How I wish I could do it….