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First Mountain offers a poetic recollection of Zhang Er’s journey from her home in the United States to her ancestral village in Shanxi province to bury the ashes of her paternal grandparents, who had left the village 25 years earlier. Zhang Er and her family gathered from afar for a ritual that lasted several days. The narrative arc of the story —First Mountain has the scope of a novel —movingly explores death and life, a multi-branched and multi-generational clan, and ancient and modern belief systems, as it moves toward a tragic climax.


Zhang Er collaborated with noted American poet Joseph Donahue for six years to produce this English language edition, and whenever possible, wove cultural references into the text so that there would be as few footnotes as possible.


Zhang Er was born in Beijing, China and moved to the United States in 1986. She is the author of numerous Chinese publications, and has published several works in English translation, including two other collections with Zephyr Press: Verses on Bird and So Translating Rivers and Cities. She  co-edited Another Kind of Nation: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Talisman House, 2007). She lives in the Pacific Northwest and teaches at Evergreen State College in Washington.


Joseph Donahue is an American poet, critic, and editor. The third volume in his ongoing poem Terra Lucida, entitled Dark Church, was published by Verge Books in 2015. Other recent titles include Red Flash on a Black Field and Dissolves. He teaches at Duke University.

First Mountain, by Zhang Er

  • First Mountain
    Zhang Er
    English version by Joseph Donahue and Zhang Er
    ISBN 978-1-938890-93-2 (paper) 
    6 x 8
    240 pages | English only]

  • Watch a reading and discussion of First Mountain with Zhang Er and Joseph Donahue at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC, March 24, 2022.

    Poet and interviewer Paul E. Nelson interviewed Zhang Er in April 2019 about First Mountain. Listen here to the interview, which includes Zhang Er reading sections of the book, discussing lineation in the poems and the process of translation into English, how the experience in China affected her beliefs about life and death, and much more.


    "First Mountain... is towering. Monumental... The book follows the programmatic representation and homage to the deaths of the poet’s grandparents. Death, end, completion. And also: cycle, reflection, repetition. The act of dying does not complete the person’s existence; the subject continues, sensibly vicarious, through the acts and respects of their family." — Greg Bem, Yellow Rabbits


    "Zhang Er brings us startling 'burial ritual' poems from Chinese that are striking in their perspective and elegant in style and presentation. They represent a poetic sensibility that is unique and often profound, and I read them with great surprise and gratitude." — Sam Hamill


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