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Finalist for the 2020 Big Other Award in Translation


A math teacher by day, Ya Shi lives 1,000 miles from the Beijing literary scene, but is celebrated among lovers of Chinese poetry from the conservative to the avant-garde. His jagged and intense short lyrics, wild nature sonnets, punchy couplets, and genre-bending, surreal poetic essays daringly combine iconoclasm and heart. From poems about rock moths to monks to cartoon cats, his works stand outside conventional structures and forms of Chinese poetry, and find their roots instead in the independent spirit, folk imagination and tough music of the people of Sichuan.


Ya Shi was born in 1966, grew up during the Cultural Revolution and studied mathematics at Beijing University. He embarked on his poetry career in 1990, becoming the editor of an influential underground magazine, winning the prestigious Liu Li'an prize, and publishing several collections of poetry through official and unofficial channels. By remaining in Sichuan province most of his adult life, he has eschewed the Beijing literary scene, and works mainly in seclusion from a larger literary community, engaging with readers online and through the samizdat publications of south China. He has gained a significant following in China of people attracted to his imagination and daring writing. He teaches mathematics in a city near Chengdu.


Translator Nick Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese literature at Cornell University. His scholarly book, Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry, was published by Hawaii University Press in 2017, and his translations of poems by Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo appeared in No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems by Liu Xiaobo (Harvard University Press, 2012). He is an essayist, poet, and translator, and his writings have appeared in Privacy Policy, Boston Review, Queen Mab's Teahouse and elsewhere.

Floral Mutter

  • Floral Mutter
    Ya Shi
    Translated from Chinese by Nick Admussen

    136 pages | Bilingual Chinese/English


    Paperback | ISBN 978-1-938890-89-5 (trade paper)

  • "His vision feels ever new; Ya Shi torches clichés like a divorcé tossing old love letters on the fire. There is also a sinuous melody to this collection that shows Admussen’s poetic hand. He maintains wordplay from the Chinese (“the Way that can waylay”) and even interweaves his own, in a manner that still feels true to Ya Shi... These sublime poems embody the ecstasy, the oddness of our entanglement with the world. —Chris Littlewood, The Paris Review


    "... I leave other treasures for the reader to pick up by and for themselves. The earlier the better, because “in these words, [there is] a heart-breaking urgency” (“White Cherry Poem”). I am tempted to add: “so buy now with one click”, but I guess Ya Shi and his translator would not necessarily support this kind of marketing, and the massed clicks would make them bruise inside. Therefore, let me conclude with the conventional statement that Floral Mutter is definitely worth a read."

    — Joanna Krenz, Cha Asian Journal


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