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Yang Lian was born in Switzerland in 1955, and grew up in Beijing. He began writing when he was sent to the countryside in the 1970s. On his return to Beijing he became one of the founders of the 'Misty' school of contemporary Chinese poetry. Among other things, Yang Lian is known for his poem sequences and long poems which display a profound understanding of, and creative links with, Classical Chinese poetry.
His poems became well-known and influential inside and outside of China in the 1980s, especially when his sequence ‘Norilang’ was criticized by the Chinese government during the ‘Anti-Spiritual Pollution’ movement.
Yang Lian was invited to visit Australia and New Zealand in 1988 and became a poet in exile after the Tiananmen massacre. Since that time, he has continued to write and speak out as a highly individual voice in world literature, politics and culture.
Yang Lian has published eleven collections of poems, two collections of prose and one selection of essays in Chinese.
His work has also been translated into more than twenty languages, including English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Eastern European languages.
His work has been reviewed as "like MacDiarmid meets Rilke with Samurai sword drawn!", "one of the most representative voices of Chinese literature" and "one of the great world poets of our era'". Yang Lian has been elected two times of a board member of PEN International in 2008 and 2011. He has been living in London since 1997.
January of 2012, Yang Lian has won Nonino International Literature Prize in Italy, the juries of the prize were presided by V S Naipaul.
Yang Lian was also awarded the Flaiano International Poetry Prize (Italy, 1999) and his Where the Sea Stands Still: New Poems was Poetry Books Society Recommended Translation (UK, 1999). Among his 12 books of poems in English translation, his most representative works include Where the Sea Stands Still, a collection of short poems and sequence, (Bloodaxe Books,UK, 1999); Yi, a book-length poem (Green Integer, USA, 2002); Concentric Circles, another book-length poem (Bloodaxe Books UK, 2005), and Riding Pisces: Poems From Five Collections (Shearsman Books, UK, 2008), his latest book in English translation is Lee Valley Poems – A project of poems and translation (Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2009).
Yang Lian and the Scottish poet W. N. Herbert together with Brian Holton are the co-editors of Jade Ladder, a brand new Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry (1978 -- 2008) in English, to be published by Bloodaxe Books in Apr, 2011.
Yang Lian has three volumes of collected works, Yang Lian’s works 1982-1997 (2 vols) and Yang Lian’s new works 1998-2002, published in China between 1999 and 2003, and one selection of Essays, A Tower Built Downward, published in Beijing in 2009. He published four books of poems and prose in Taiwan between 1994 and 2009.
Yang Lian’s latest writing was The Narrative Poem, a book-length poem based on his autographical life-experience. The first edition of the book has been collected back and destroyed by Chinese Officials because of the subject of “Reality Elegy” linked with Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing, 1989, however, the book “marked the new altitude of Contemporary Chinese Poetry”, reviewed by Tang Xiaodu, one of the most important poetry-critics.
Yang Lian has been invited to be writer in residence by many international institutions, among others are DAAD (Berlin programme), Amherst College, Bard College (USA), Cove Park (UK), MEET (France), University of Sydney (Australia), University of Auckland (New Zealand).
He was invited to be on the jury for the Lettre-Ulysess Award for the art of Reportage (Germany), International contest of Essays (Germany), and President of the Jury of “The Crystal Vilenica Award, 2008”, as well as having been invited to be an adviser of “Free The Word” (International Literature Festival of PEN), International Literature Festival of Berlin, Poetry International Taipei…etc. Since 2005, he has been the artistic director of “Unique Mother Tongue”, a privately organized international seminar series based on London.
Yang Lian’s website: www.yanglian.net
SELECTED REVIEWS ABOUT YANG LIAN
'The poetic works of Yang Lian, International Nonino Prize 2012, is one of heights of Contemporary Chinese thought. Grounded to the millenary root of his culture, he reinterprets it reinventing and opening it to the tensions of Contemporaneity, touching in his lines all the great questions of our existence and reminding us that “poetry is our only mother tongue”. He lives and writes as an exile not only from his land, pushing his view to the extreme limit. An absolute exile and distant profound poet far beyond our space-time. '
- The Motivation of Nonino International Literature Prize 2012, the jury of the prize, presided by V. S. Naipaul (Nobel Laureate for Literature 2001)
- TIME Magazine
'Yang Lian is one of the most astonishing poets I've read for years. He has a westernist, modernist sensibility allied with an ancient Chinese, almost shamanistic one. He can both excite and frighten you - like MacDiarmid meets Rilke with Samurai sword drawn!'
- W.N. Herbert, Scotsman
'He continues his work bridging Chinese tradition to western modernism. The scope of his creative imagination is astoundingSYang Lian is one of the great world poets of our era'
- Klaus Rifberg, Edinburgh Review
'Yang Lian distinguishes himself in representing the pain of life caught in between historic eras...a new version of an old issue for world literature as well as Chinese literature is proposed: how to continue writing, relying on individual rather than enforced communal inspiration'
- Allen Ginsberg
'It wouldn't surprise me if he became a future Nobel Laureate. His style is one of extraordinary grandeur and ambitionSWithout question, the sequence Where the Sea Stands Still has a monumental drive, a sensuous strength and intellectual clarity; it could prove as enduring an achievement as Montale's Xenia or Elytis's The Axion Esti'
- David Morley, Stand
'Yang Lian stretches poetic language to its linguistic extreme.'
- Orbis Quaeterly International Literary Journal (No1 34)
'Yang Lian's intricate, shocking and baroque masterpiece Concentric Circles is superbly rendered by Brian Holton with Agnes Chan.'
- W N Herbert: Book Of The Year, Scotland on Sunday
‘Yang Lian …… the most important voice of Modern Chinese lyrics.’
- Irmy Schweiger: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zietung.
Those lonely Tang dynasty poets may be Yang’s original blues brother, but he’s much a modernist and symbolist in the vein of Mallarme or Rimbaud, whose famous “The Drunken Boat” is recalled in one poem…… Yang Lian’s work is rooted not in geography but his own imagination……to exist in Yang’s lines can be a gorgeous but frustrating adventure.
- Tim Kindseth: Time Magazine.
This hauntingly beautiful collection, with its Chinese classical sensibility wedded to modernist methods, is a remarkable addition to London's literature of exile.
- Boyd Tonkin: The Independent.
The poem’s timelessness, which equally can be conceived as a receptivity to all times…… it is not some withheld knowledge but a lure toward the unpredictable: “Forever excavating the darkness behind the eyes” (“Thunder 7”, YI)…… Yang Lian points out that exile and dissent are simply the condition of Poetry.
- Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas: Chicago Review.
It is Fascinating how Yang Lian’s poems uncover memory, explore archaic depth and create a timeless space related to Taoist “emptiness”.
- Ilma Rakusa: Neue Zürcher Zeitung