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Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond [Paperback]

by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal, Ravi Shankar, Carolyn Forché
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 17, 2008 0393332381 978-0393332384 1

A landmark anthology, providing the most ambitious, far-reaching collection of contemporary Asian and Middle Eastern poetry available.

Language for a New Century celebrates the artistic and cultural forces flourishing today in the East, bringing together an unprecedented selection of works by South Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian poets as well as poets living in the Diaspora. Some poets, such as Bei Dao and Mahmoud Darwish, are acclaimed worldwide, but many more will be new to the reader. The collection includes 400 unique voices—political and apolitical, monastic and erotic—that represent a wider artistic movement that challenges thousand-year-old traditions, broadening our notion of contemporary literature. Each section of the anthology—organized by theme rather than by national affiliation—is preceded by a personal essay from the editors that introduces the poetry and exhorts readers to examine their own identities in light of these powerful poems. In an age of violence and terrorism, often predicated by cultural ignorance, this anthology is a bold declaration of shared humanity and devotion to the transformative power of art.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This ambitious yet accessible gathering of hundreds of poets from various parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, America and elsewhere is likely to excite poetry fans as well as those new to poetry. Seeking a response to 9/11, the three editors, who are poets and teachers of Asian-American descent, hoped to share an alternate vision of the new century in which words, not weapons, could define our civilization. Divided into nine idiosyncratic sections—with titles like Bowl of Air and Shivers that cover topics including Eros and the meeting of the political and the personal—the book is more an esoteric journey than a systematic reference. Readers may recognize the names of major international figures (Nazim Hikmet, Taha Muhammad Ali) and famous American writers (Michael Ondaatje, Li-Young Lee), who may draw attention to many writers unknown in the U.S., such as Hsien Min Toh of Singapore, who, upon seeing sport hunters shooting crows, awakens to an all-too-familiar ambivalence about my unkind nation, in whose name only I will be/ able to walk up the lane with lowered head. While the book's sheer size can be overwhelming, it is packed with treasures. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This monumental thematic anthology is like a crowded party of exceptionally brilliant people. At the end, you are dazed and dazzled, and everyone seems to run together in memory: the Chinese man who writes in his native ethnic tongue, the exiled Tibetan who lives in San Francisco, the persecuted Bangladeshi feminist, the emigrant from Turkmenistan who is now a prominent Swedish poet. Even a diligent reader of contemporary poetry will leave this gathering feeling humbled by ignorance of the immense poetic energy of what used to be called the East. The breadth of its sweep is both the anthology’s strength and its weakness, for hundreds of poets are represented by single poems. What the poems share is an almost aggressive modernity, for the poets are as easy in airports as in souks, as familiar with the Internet as with ancient myths, as conversant with subaltern theory as with the smell of mangoes in a bazaar. They share, too, a political consciousness and conscience, making this as impressive a collection of poets of witness as has ever been assembled. --Patricia Monaghan

Product Details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393332381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393332384
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
In this age of information, poetry is perhaps the most efficient method of expressing grand concepts. Language for a New Century, a collection of contemporary poetry from the Middle East, Asia (including parts of North and East Africa) and its Diaspora, contains one poetic masterpiece after another. Complete with humor, love, anger, despair, confusion, contempt, sadness and joy, the poems open a window into the experience of the world's most populous continent. Lovingly compiled by its editors, who are towering artists in their own right, this collection of 400 voices from the "East" is the culmination of six years of research and collaboration with thousands of people in the 55 countries from which the works are drawn.

The poems were carefully translated from their 40 original languages into English--many for the first time--by expert regional artists who have succeeded in expressing concepts and ideas often difficult to convey. The poems contained in this massive volume represent some of the best in their modern craft, and stand in stark contrast to the disposable monotony we slog through in our daily search for truth. Evocative and provocative, familiar and shocking, the poets pose questions more often than they make pronouncements. Eliciting thought and reflection, they challenge the consumer of "information" to instead become an information producer.

Arranged around nine themes related to the human experience, the structure of the book itself combats Orientalism with humanity. It defies borders, many artificial, many imposed, reconnecting regions in a continent where, prior to Western imperialism, war and the modern nation state, identities, ideas and people interacted more fluidly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Language for a New Century July 25, 2008
The presentation gives a fairly complete rendition
of poetry from the Middle East and Asia. Renditions
from Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, Iran, Japan,
Palestine and Iceland are provided for the readers'
enjoyment. Tidbits of typical poems are provided
together with the applicable authors. i.e.

Jennifer Dobbys-Elesy wrote "Pure Music" which contains
the following passage:

" Child among night flowers , opening their dark eyes
to the moon , "

Hamid Ismailov wrote "The Shaping Clay" containing the
following passage:

"Crack open your door, silence to the murmurs of a
cottage under the cradle of the sleeping clay."

Kyimay Kaung wrote "Eskimo Paradise" containing the
following passage:

" Eskimo paradise is warm paradise of Bedouins cold-
my paradise. "
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whets the appetite rather than feeds the soul October 21, 2008
'World literature' -- what is that? It seems to mean, literature produced around the world. Apparently, universities have decided that this is somehow an original concept. Still, if anthologies such as this introduce poetry lovers to the broader spectrum of verse (albeit in the lingua franca of English), then the editors have done their job. It is only to our betterment that a thousand flowers bloom -- and indeed so much is what is gathered here.

But an anthology based on such a massive premise is bound to exceed its grasp. Culling top poetry from the four corners is a worthy challenge -- but the price of expanse is depth. What procedures were in place to decide who represents a 'Central American' author? Why were they selected, and others left out? Specialists of the region may certainly quibble about choices -- but the editors give us no clues as to what determined their choices.

Some of the choices, in fact, are bizarre. An American expat who lives in Japan is filed under 'Japanese' poetry. Huh? And many selections are guided by certain . . . well, I won't call them prejudices . . . but it's pretty apparent that poetry selections were based on which authors are receiving the most airplay right now. Ko Un, for example. Darwish. Tamada Chimako. No doubt, all three are excellent poets -- and the translations are decent. And these poets are very popular in their home language -- but they do provide certain thematic realities (sex, Buddhism, colonialism) that fit nicely into certain expectations of North American audiences.

See, the problem with these anthologies is that they become museums of stones: nice poems, translated, put on pedestals, with the headlamp glowing above.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the new era of contemporary poetry March 17, 2014
By maura
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Definitely a "must own" for any poet's, educator's, or student's bookshelf. Refreshing to read, chock-full of necessary and relevant voices, "Language For A New Century" is the most important anthology of our age. The ultimate source for a generation of voices, this carefully collected volume emphasizes the human experience and attempts to break down the barriers that have up to this point defined and claimed us. I love that rather than being divided into countries, or regions, the book is divided into life's regions - childhood, identity, politics, the erotic, etc., and this further pronounces the effervescent transcendence our own utterances desire to proclaim.
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