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Forms of Distance, the Zen and Shadows of the Poetry of Bei Dao.

Byline: Reprint from Subterranean Blue Poetry

Title of Book: Forms of Distance

Author: Bei Dao

Publisher: New Directions Books

Date of Publication: 1994

Page Count: 87

“Cold as the northern winds,
In December mornings . . . “
- from Exile by Enya

The voice of a new generation calling out for freedom, Forms of Distance by Bei Dao, a book of poems published in 1994, is a reflection of his life in China and his exile after the violence of Tiananmen Square in 1989. He is a citizen of China who was recruited for the Red Guard, later re-educated to be a construction worker and his years as a member of The Misty Poets, publishing a poetry magazine for 10 years that was banned. Currently, he is a university professor in Hong Kong.

Of the Summer, the dark and beautiful music of Enya rolls out, into the night. This poetry of exile, he was reunited with his wife and child 6 years later, writing and living in Europe and the United States. The images are haunting, the development of the industrial economy in China, the machine age and the shadows of the cityscape, the modern are juxtaposed with traditional nature images (flowers, sea, birds, fire, snow etc.) and the Poet’s everyday. Influenced by the rich and powerful history of the ancient civilizations of Asia, the mystique and enigma are coached in the political realities of a country with a huge population, and the contrast of personal freedom vs. social control. Highlighting the fracture or “absurdist theatre” that can come with being only one of 1.3 billion people, the poetry is broken and exists as a voice within silence. The broken poetic images of the modern contrast with beauty and create violence, existing as protest and as “Apocalypse Poetry”.


incandescent arc welding the sky
like long-lost passions
searching for new wounds
searching for blizzards amid archives
sparks in the bellows-chamber

dreams drop with sweat
like underwater mines longing for a ship’s touch
now the sea’s gone suddenly dry
a forest of tents appears
and we wake like wounds

dignitaries speaking some other language
stroll through the refuge camp”

Also, the idea of violence and the monolith, the state, infuse the poetry with death imagery and the Zen and healing of voice, speaking the truth.

Apple and Brute Stone

in the prayer ceremony of ocean
a storm bows down

stone watches over May in vain
guarding against that green contagion

as the four seasons take turns axing huge trees
stars try to recognize the road

a drunk using that talent for balance
breaks out from the time-siege

a bullet soars through the apple
life’s on loan”

The poem, Exit is based on an old Chinese saying, “that if you fall into a well, people will throw in stones.” This Writer interprets that to mean when there are enough stones thrown in, you can climb on top of them and get out of the well.


for Donald Finkel

nearly everyone’s
tossing stones into my dream
wellwater and I rise together
and people find that thirst moving

like an alarm startled awake
he’s smiling at us
a moon leading the heavens away bails out of
dawn’s emergency exit
where his visa’s expired”

As New Age thought through the magic of the Internet recreates the thinkspace of the people of China, self expression, see and be seen, the arts may help create personal and actual peace. The poetry of Zen and shadows, Forms of Distance, helps create a new way, the way of the artist as truthteller, healer and peacemaker in the New Age. A brilliant read.

Available @ Amazon Canada.

Available @ Amazon United States.

Available @ Amazon United Kingdom.

Genre: Poetry, New Age

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