Synopses & Reviews
A World Literature Today Best Translation of 2015
One of Medium’s Best Human Rights Books of 2015
Finalist for the Best Translated Book Award in Poetry
"A testament to the human spirit when that spirit is confined.... Bold and vital." — The Washington Post
The first publication of the poetry of Liu Xia, wife of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo
I didn’t have a chance
to say a word before you became
a character in the news,
everyone looking up to you
as I was worn down
at the edge of the crowd
and watching the sky.
A new myth, maybe, was forming
there, but the sun was so bright
I couldn’t see it.
— from "June 2nd, 1989 (for Xiaobo)"
Empty Chairs presents the poetry of Liu Xia for the first time freely in both English translation and in the Chinese original. Selected from thirty years of her work, and including some of her haunting photography, this book creates a portrait of a life lived under duress, a voice in danger of being silenced, and a spirit that is shaken but so far indomitable. Liu Xia's poems are potent, acute moments of inquiry that peel back to expose the fraught complexity of an interior world. They are felt and insightful, colored through with political constraints even as they seep beyond those constraints and toward love.
"That [Liu Xia's] grief and poetry can be both full of love and resentment, strength and vulnerability, fierceness and tenderness, is a testament to her humanity. It is what places her body of work and these translations of that work above all discussions of political context and into the realm of universality." Consequence Magazine
"Liu's collection resides in a place of isolation, a place brimming with shadows, specters, and half-issued words.... While her poems are deeply personal, they reveal an ever-present awareness of the perils of relentlessly pursuing art in the midst of an authoritarian government.... Deprived of full freedom and with her everyday life economized by the state, Liu [Xia] subtly militates against forgetting with each poem." Words Without Borders
"The poetry of Liu Xia... employs delicate practical phrases that nonetheless deliver a gut-wrenching punch.... Rendered in Ming Di and Jennifer Stern’s deft translations, her phrases reveal the ordinary and corporeal effects of harrowing political circumstances" Boston Review
"Liu Xia... lends an intimate voice to the experiences of a life stolen by government surveillance, repression, and house arrest.... The translations... balance craft and inventiveness with loyalty to the original.... Liu kindles hope and companionship, even when all is lost." Publishers Weekly
"Each poem is a container that bursts with breath like glass.... The words are delicately drawn, the perception is elegant, yet silk is stronger than steel and this delicate voice brings an immense capacity for a sense of self in an absurd world. She's able to articulate all the things we cannot hold onto. There's an essential seriousness in each line, even grief, but because of her inventiveness, there's a fine understanding of language's play as well." Washington Independent Review of Books
About the Author
Liu Xia is a Chinese poet and artist. English translations of Liu Xia’s poetry by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern have been published by PEN America, Chinese PEN, the BBC, the Guardian, the Margins for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Poetry, the Poetry Society of America, and Words without Borders. Liu Xia’s photographs have appeared in galleries throughout the world. She has been living under strict house arrest since her husband, poet and activist Liu Xiaobo, was imprisoned in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" and then received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
Ming Di was born in China and lives in the United States as a poet and translator. She is the co-founder and executive editor of Poetry East West, a Chinese-English bilingual literary journal. She is the Senior Editor of Translation at Tupelo Quarterly and the co-founder and chief editor of DJS BOOKS, an imprint of Red Hen Press. Publications of her poetry include six books in Chinese published by major Chinese presses, a selection of her work translated into English titled River Merchant’s Wife (Marick Press/USA, 2012), and translations of her work into German and Spanish. She edited and co-translated New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Tupelo Press, 2013), and has translated several English language poets into Chinese. With co-translator Jennifer Stern, she edited and translated Empty Chairs: Selected Poems by Liu Xia.
Jennifer Stern is an American poet who has lived in China.