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日落西山 & 蟲蠹的蘭波
Yu Müller / 翟彧
22 November 2023
published in Issue Four

My poems, in Chinese, can be read in two directions (at least!). Translation to English demands a doubling and an inverting. I call them palindromes (回文).

To create a palindrome is to be both the predator and prey: the predator cunningly frames, as bait, a twisted apologia; for the prey, reading is the multi-directional task of making sense, as well as a frenzied search for an exit. At least, I felt it was so.

But let’s sketch a history of the form, starting with Palindromes Categorized (《回文類聚》), a very old book, the editing of which spans many centuries. It began with the scholar Sang Shichang (桑世昌), late in the Song dynasty (960-1279). It paused when Mongolians took over (1271-1368), and resumed through the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when Confucian values and Han traditions made their overpowering return. The version I am reading now is based on the editing work of Zhu Xiangxian (朱象賢), a scholar from Kangxi era (1661-1722). In the late eighteenth century, Palindromes Categorized was included among the tens of thousands of books and scrolls that made up emperor Qian Long’s massive Si Ku Quan Shu (《四庫全書》) — not conspicuously or prominently, but enough for renowned literates to pay homage to this shrine of palindromes.

The diva of Palindromes Categorized is Su Hui (蘇蕙), who, in the fourth century, created the Star Gauge (璇璣圖), an undecipherable (or multi-decipherable) palindrome complex, woven into brocade. Her poetic endeavor began as the tortured indulgence of family drama. (Whose doesn’t?)

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