Cambria Press author Professor Mark Bender (The Ohio State University) spoke about his new book The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry at the Cambria Press reception. This book is in the Cambria Press Sinophone World Series headed by Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).
Below is a transcript of Professor Mark Bender’s speech:
“Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank-you to Toni Tan, Michelle Wright—and, of course, Victor Mair—of Cambria Press for helping me with this project. I am endlessly grateful for their vision and hard work.
This project began as a side interest to my study of oral traditions in China. It has grown organically from the translation of a few poems concerning cultural and environmental change written in Nuosu language by Yi poet and academic Aku Wuwu of Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu. The present volume includes the works of 48 poets from Northeast India, Myanmar, Southwest China, Inner Mongolia, and Mongolia.
It has been my great pleasure to work with a number of onsite collaborators who helped in many ways to put me in touch with local poets. These include Desmond Kharmawthlang from the Northeast Hill University in Shillong, Meghalaya in Northeast India; the poet ko ko thett, a former Burmese ex-pat, now living in Mandalay, Myanmar; poets Aku Wuwu and Burao Yilu, of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, China; Prof. Chen Ganglong of Peking University who connected me to poets of Inner Mongolia; and the inimitable Delgermaa Ganbat of the Union of Mongolian Writers in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
The theme of the volume is the experiences of cultural and environmental change as channeled through the voices of poets from among the many ethnic groups within and without of the border areas of China and India. As I note in the Preface the array of poets included in this volume would have been different if I had met different people and if my travels had taken me to other places. That said I feel strongly that the themes of cultural and environmental change treated in the volume have a sharp relevancy in many areas Asia and elsewhere on the planet. One theme that I raise in the Introduction is that of “place-competency” – the deep familiarity with local environments and how to live in a place – knowledge threatened by new styles of living that require new competencies for survival. Many of the poets in this volume have written poems that reflect their own adjustments to changing circumstances, and often speak for their local communities. To quote from page 15:
“Many of the poets in this volume reflect perceptual and experiential attitudes towards the lands and waters of specific places that belie deep place-competency—whether the environment they evoke is a humid jhum field in Northeast India, the sublime spaces of the northern steppes, the disorienting streets of an urban megalopolis in Southwest China, or a somehow familiar myth-world inhabited by speaking animals. Some of the poets stress the de-linkage from these familiar relationships with the environment, exhibiting nostalgia for an imagined world of harmony in contrast to the traumatic changes of the present. From another angle, poems such as Desmond Kharmawphlang’s “Thaiang Buried Roots,” reflect an attitude adopted by poets who seek to renew aspects of tradition amidst the chaos of cultural upheaval and environmental destruction and heal intimate ties between community and place (Syiem 2011, 129–130).”
Other themes, such as the imagery of ritual and material culture in relation to imagery are prominent in the poems, but as my three minutes are rapidly coming to a close, I will end here with an entreaty that we pay take advantage of the opportunity to listen to these voices from the borderlands of Asia and see what they have to teach us.”
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The Borderlands of Asia is a rare collection that brings together the works of poets of diverse cultural backgrounds located in places that are only beginning to be recognized globally as sites of intense poetic work. This book contributes to raising global awareness of this poetry of land, waters, and cultures in less-highlighted parts of Asia. The subjects of environmental and cultural change are inescapable in the poetry represented in this volume, and many ethnic communities are on the front lines of development, affected in various ways by resource extraction (especially mining and logging), damming of rivers (a severe international issue), loss of wildlife and habitat, population displacement, and the effects of climate change. Likewise, the local cultures have variously experienced the effects of invasion, colonization, revolution, social engineering, insurgency, multi-spectrum development, and globalization contributing to often challenging (or worse) cultural changes. The intense contemporary poetry being produced is an index of the magnitude of these changes. An important book for Asian studies, Indigenous literature studies, and literature of the environment studies, this volume offers a substantial glimpse into contemporary poetry from exciting but under-represented poetic voices speaking out in the border areas of eastern Asia.
Title: The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry
Author: Mark Bender
Publisher: Cambria Press
396 pp. | 2017 | Hardback & E-book