Poetry. Translated from the Chinese by Rachel Levitsky with the author. “Zhang Er’s poems in this collection couple sharp (especially visual) perceptions with a tidal sense of forward movement and retraction…the tug between future and past, between affirmation and pessimism leads to the necessity of the present, a seam that is variously cloudy and cutting but is, in the end, all that we have. Zhang Er then refashions necessity as resourcefulness, “Only necessity, imagination’s necessity, to stretch beyond the restriction of a lifetime…Coupled with that…is a muted yet insistent critique of the woman’s role in society. Often this thematic thread is connected with Zhang Er’s Chinese heritage, but opens outward as well to a pointed examination at the feminine in other realms––western religion or familial arrangements in which wives and daughters are expected to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of men. The aptly titled “Sacrifice,” makes this especially evident. Zhang Er writes that the woman’s “endurance, the drudgery, bearing the weight while abstaining…grows his career, social advance, wealth, not her fortitude.” …For a woman, “success is survival, not self-sacrifice”….The book works its own expansion and contraction through varying subjectivities, eras, geographies, and cultures. Zhang Er peers steadfastly into the details that comprise incident and meaning without forcing final conclusions upon what she’s absorbed. “Like wind,” she writes, “you can hear it, feel its very temperature, but you can’t grab its form.” At times, this elusiveness elicits feelings of oppression, terror, perhaps awe. To be a an untethered explorer of the world has its perils; “Out past the sight of shore you lose your direction, your focus/aim” and find yourself displaced, “lacking all anchor of support.” The risk required here comes of that necessity inherent to survival. And it has its payoff, for in pushing at the boundaries, beyond the progress of what one can daily cull by sight, the explorer makes for a more elastic, if sometimes overwhelming, world. Zhang Er writes, “There is a saying,’Imagination needs room to make art that lives.” Sight Progress offers a brave and honest engagement at the border crossing of imagination and survival.” -from Elizabeth Robinson’s Review in CutBank.
Zhang Er was born in Beijing, China, and moved to the United States in 1986. Her poetry and essays have appeared in publications in Taiwan, China, and the U.S. She is also the author of several books in Chinese and in English translation. She has read from her work at international festivals, reading series, conferences, and universities in China, France, Portugal, Russia, Peru, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, and the U.S. She currently teaches at the Evergreen State College in Washington State.
Rachel Levitsky is the author of four chapbooks of poetry: DEARLY (a bend), Cartographies of Error (Leroy), THE ADVENTURES OF YAYA AND GRACE (PotesPoets), and 2(1×1) Portraits (Baksun). She organizes Belladonna, a matrix (readings, salons, press) of feminist poetics. Her long poem UNDER THE SUN was published by Futurepoem (2003).
Other books by Zhang Er
Seen, Unseen, QingHai. China, 1999; Winter Garden, Goats and Compasses; Many appearances in journals, including The Five Fingers Review, Talisman, River City, First Intensity, Tinfish, The World and Poetry New York