The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry

by Mark Bender


"In translating these poems into English, the global 'language of interaction' (p. xxi), the voices of poets from the borderlands of Asia can be heard by a wider audience. Bender’s informative introduction gives his readers a broad context for understanding the complicated histories and cultures of the areas and the poets included in the volume. .... In addition to highlighting the ecocritical aspects of the poems in the volume (p. 14), Bender’s introduction contributes to a growing awareness of the peoples and cultures of Zomia and Sinophone communities of the margins. People transform space into place through the process of inhabiting an environment; the cultural adaptability and knowledge they obtain through human interactions help them shape and conceptualize that environment. The different conceptualizations of place in this collection are associated with various histories and ethnic identities. ... In the borderlands of Asia, people suffer from war, economic inequality, and environmental degradation because of modern development and nation-state building. In this collection of poems, we also encounter the anxiety, rage, and trauma felt by the poets and their peoples as they confront the daunting challenges of the nation-state system, modernity, globalization, and the Anthropocene. ... The editor has done impressive work to offer background knowledge for understanding most of the poems, especially the ones from Southwest China. ... Taken together, this work is a timely publication in dialogue with many scholarly trends, including the Sinophone, Zomia, and the Anthropocene, as understood through the medium of poetry. Although the contributors of this collection hail from a variety of nationalities and cultures, they share common difficulties and concerns in their lives. This volume is a crucial contribution to the fields of literary anthropology, literary studies, and Asian studies and is destined to become required reading for students in anthropology and comparative literature." —MCLC

"With poems from established and upcoming authors and a thematic focus on poetic expressions of place and 'place-competence,' the collection includes voices from northeast India, Myanmar, Mongolia, and some of the borderland regions of China: the southwestern provinces, Qinghai, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia. Bender’s detailed Introduction provides historical background on the political situation and the situation of poetry in each of the regions from which poems are included. ... If anything unites borderlands within Asia, it may be these themes of rootedness interacting with environmental and political-economic precarity. These incisive poems bring the concerns of these poets and their regions to us with clarity and feeling. ... This volume will be appreciated by scholars of border regions within Asia, indigenous and minzu studies, translation, and all who appreciate taking a closer look at the senses of place conveyed in these poems. It may be especially valuable for those wishing to bring a contemporary humanities perspective to courses on inter-Asian connections. And, perhaps most importantly, these translations bring the poets’ unique voices and collective concerns to a wider readership, drawing our attention to the timely relevance of their perspectives on our changing world." —China Review International

“From the well-informed critical introduction that provides a conceptual and cultural framework for the present volume to the wide-ranging, high-quality selection of poetry, to the bios that follow, The Borderlands of Asia will be invaluable for classroom instruction and world literature connoisseurs alike. When it comes to issues of translation, Bender is also to be commended. His commitment to semantic fidelity does not trump his eye for how a poem should look on the page or sound in the ear and as many of these poems exist as much in the aural dimension as in the textual one, his clear efforts to keep the textures of the originals intact comes through. When it comes to other books on the market, there is nothing close to this book in terms of quality or range of material. This is a unique and valuable addition to the field of literature and Asian studies.” —Jonathan Stalling, University of Oklahoma; and Editor, Chinese Literature Today

"This collection introduces poets whose first language is Chinese, Burmese, Khasi, Nuosu, or Mongolian. But here, their poems can be read in English, which Bender brilliantly wields as a 'language of interaction.' In the spirit of myth, these poets introduce us to entangled worlds, from the microscopic to the planetary. They reveal a cosmos of intimate relations between animals, plants, landscapes and waters, and urge us to be cautious about environmental changes taking place at scales that are endangering all life on the planet. This is the first and most authoritative book I have seen on the folk cultures, poetic worlds and geographies of the Eastern Himalayas, Myanmar, and Southwest China. It is a sparkling 'cosmography' that will immediately become required reading in Chinese and Sinophone literary and cultural studies." —Joni Adamson, Arizona State University

“Because our reading is usually sorted with abstractions such as ‘China’ or ‘India,’ this work of adventurous scholarship and illuminating translation is wonderfully disorienting because its organization is to the human scale of community. In his introduction, Bender insightfully explains the histories and cultures of peoples resisting the gravitational pull of nation-states, standard languages, and global capitalism, which is severing our connection to our environment and ecosystem; and the poems—of memory, vision, lament, and celebration—are an unprecedented, thought-provoking collection that will inspire much intellectual empathy.” —Thomas Moran, Middlebury College

"This is an annotated selection of poetry from northeast India, Myanmar, south-west China and Mongolia. The poems are presented in the shifting literary cultural dynamics of their regions, their ideological and ecological systems, the interplay between traditional and modern poetic form. ... It’s also a pragmatic handbook. The introduction lays out a heuristic framework for Bender’s reading of the texts that form the bulk of the book. ... A substantial bibliography makes it clear that Bender isn’t just pursuing a line of his own, but rather is crystallising a particular geographical instance — the 'borderlands' — of a larger and growing body of academic interest, the role of poetry in its ethnographic and ecological context. ...this is an anthology designed to get the poetry out there in an accessible and engagingly informative format." —Mekong Review


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