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FINALIST: 2017 PEN Poetry in Translation Award

FINALIST: 2017 Northern California Book Award (Translation / Poetry)


So great is Ya Hsien's influence on younger generations of Taiwanese and Chinese writers that he is sometimes referred to simply as "The Poet." Yet he never wrote a second book after Abyss appeared in an expanded edition in 1971. This single book's variety and virtuosity have made it a modern classic and the poet something of a legend. A new documentary, "Ya Hsien: A Life that Sings," was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2015 Taipei Film Festival.




Under the Barber Pole


The barbers sing


Always it's the same wheat-harvest festival
Always an abundance of rye without ears
Always it is reaped, reaped
On the land of inspiration
A small southern path leads to ears of grain
And it's also a kind of horticultural school
A kind of beauty
A kind of agricultural reform
A kind of taste for something other than Greek sculpture


The barbers sing




Ya Hsien's poetry runs the gamut from realism to surrealism, incorporating elements of folksong and modernist poetics, expressing a wide emotional range, and deftly capturing the critical spirit of the times. The sixty poems are divided into seven sections that present differing styles and themes, including "Wartime," "Songs without Music", and "Wild Water Chestnuts." The pen name Ya Hsien (his given name is Wang Ching-Lin) means "mute string." Ya Hsien lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Award-winning translator John Balcom lives in Monterey, California.

Abyss, by Ya Hsien

  • Abyss

    By Ya Hsien

    Translated from the Chinese by John Balcom


    112 pages | English only

    December 13, 2016


    Paperback | ISBN-10: 1938890213 • ISBN-13: 978-1938890215

    5.9 x 0.4 x 8.4

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