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Click-through: Lyrical Suicide Notes and an Ancient Poetry Matrix

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“Reversible poems”, lyrical suicide notes, and a 29×29 character poetry matrix from the fourth century all feature in a fascinating new article in The Times Literary Supplement by Nan Z. Da, assistant professor of English at University of Notre Dame, and a student and teacher of American and Chinese literature, literary theory, and Chinese and Western philosophy and social theory.

Nan uses a clutch of recently published tomes on Chinese verse to launch an engaging exploration of the poetry of exile and imminent death, of “harm, lovesickness and an aesthetic of squandering in Chinese poetry”.

Sound a little heavy? Maybe. But as Nan writes:

Maybe one does not have the training to catch all the allusions (to both Chinese and foreign literature and history), maybe one does not read difficult Chinese, or maybe one does not read Chinese (or poetry) at all. None of this is to suggest that we should not try.

It’s well worth a read of the full article, but if we had to pick out one highlight it’d be the examination of Su Hui’s “Armillary Sphere”, “an 841-character matrix nesting poems that can be made multi-directionally”. The extraordinary work of wordsmithery, which looks a bit like a Ding Yi painting or a piece by Xu Bing, “is able to generate 2,848, 3,120, 3,752, 3,800, or 7,658 poems, depending on whom you ask” and each of the works “are calculated to start at different places in accordance with the movements of the constellations”.

Here’s the full piece:

It is useless to live

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Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.

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