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Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin 李商隱 (813–858) is the author of the collection Za Zuan (雜纂, “miscellaneous notes,” translated into the title Derangement of My Contemporaries: Miscellaneous Notes by Garcia Roberts). Li Shangyin’s list poems give us glimpses of his contemporary life and society, with which we can compare and contrast scenes from our time with his. His poems are observant and critical, but are also tinged with humor. After all, without humor, the derangement of our contemporaries can be too much to bear. For this week’s Poetry Tuesday we bring you two poems, “Illusions” and “Aggressive Posturing,” written by Li Shangyin and translated from the Chinese by Chloe Garcia Roberts.

 

 

 

Illusions

 

Winter months, the touch of green cloth suggests cold
Summer months, the sight of red suggests heat
Upon entering a shrine, it seems to hold ghosts
The belly of an abbess suggests pregnancy
Behind a heavy curtain, the suggestion of people
Passing a butcher shop, one feels rank as mutton
The sight of ice jade cools the heart’s core
The sight of plums softens the teeth

 

 

 

 

Aggressive Posturing

 

Seeing another’s writings, aggressively rifling through them
Seeing another’s saddled horse, audaciously riding it
Seeing another’s bow and arrow, aggressively drawing and
shooting it
Reading another person’s essay, aggressively drawing out its
contradictions
Seeing another’s outfit, aggressively asking about each item
Seeing another’s family dealings, aggressively taking charge
Seeing a fistfight, aggressively joining in with punches
Reading another person’s commentary, aggressively pronouncing
its merits and flaws

 

 

Li Shangyin (813–858), the last of the great Tang poets, is renowned for his dense and cryptic lyrical imagery.

Chloe Garcia Roberts is the author of The Reveal which is forthcoming from Noemi Press in fall 2015 and the translator of Li Shangyin's Derangements of My Contemporaries: Miscellaneous Notes (New Directions), which was awarded a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant. Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space, and Interim Magazine among others and she is the managing editor of the Harvard Review.

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