Poetry - Winter 2003

Dinesh Adhikhari Dinesh Adhikhari, a senior advocate in government service, is well-known in Nepal as a songwriter and poet. Among his poetry collections are Earth Song, Ancient Voices and Additional Documents. His work can be found online at Nepali Times

Wayne AmtzisWayne Amtzis is a poet, photographer and long-time resident of Nepal. His work from Kathmandu can be seen on the website: www.photo-poems.com in the photo collection flatLine witness, in Studies in Nepali History and Society Vol. 6. 1, June 2001 and in the anthology, an other voice: English literature from Nepal. He is editor and co-translator of Two Sisters: the poetry of Benju Sharma and Manju Kanchuli, and of From The Lake, Love: the poetry of Banira Giri. A complete biography and links is included with the featureof his poems and photos in this issue.

T.E. BallardT.E.Ballard has been widely published in print and on the internet. Her two poems, “Early Hours of Sky” and “Two Women At The River” were recently nominated for Pushcarts. You may find more of her work in Comstock Review, Melic Review, Paumanok Review, Three Candles and as the feature poet in the December issue of Tryst.

Tony BarnstoneTony Barnstone is Faculty Master and Associate Professor of English at Whittier College. He is the author of a book of poetry, Impure (University Press of Florida, 1999), a chapbook of poems, Naked Magic (Mainstreet Rag, 2002), and has edited and/or translated several books of Chinese poetry and prose, including Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry (Wesleyan University Press, 1993), Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Selected Poems of Wang Wei (University Press of New England, 1991), and The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters (Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1996). He has also edited or co-edited several textbooks, including The Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America (2000), The Literatures of Asia (2002), and The Literatures of the Middle East (2002), all from Prentice Hall Publishers. He has won an Artists Fellowship from the California Arts Council, and many awards for poetry including the Paumanok Poetry Award, the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, The Sow's Ear Poetry Contest, the Milton Dorfman Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Competition (Chester H. Jones Foundation), the Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry, and the Cecil Hemley Award of the Poetry Society of America. His forthcoming books are The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry (Anchor Books, 2004) and a number of textbooks for Prentice Hall Publishers, including The Pleasures of Poetry: An Introduction (2004); World Literature (six volumes, 2004, 2005); and Modern Poetry: An Anthology with Contexts (2005).

Rachel Tzvia BackRachel Tzvia Back's collection of poetry entitled Azimuth was published in 2001 by Sheep Meadow Press — a Hebrew version of this collection was published in 2000 by Kibbutz Hameuchad Press (translated into Hebrew by Aharon Shabtai). A new chapbook entitled The Buffalo Poems , a collection which records the heart-breaking cycle of violence and loss defining Israeli and Palestinian lives these last years, was recently published by Duration Press. In addition, Rachel Tzvia Back's poetry has appeared in numerous journals in America and abroad, including The American Poetry Review,Sulfur, Bridges, Tikkun and Modern Poetry in Translation, and in several anthologies including the Suny Press Anthology Dreaming the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers. In 1996 she was a recipient of the Israeli Absorption Minister's award for Immigrant writers, which included a grant to have her collection of poetry translated into Hebrew. Her own translations of Hebrew poetry into English have appeared in various volumes, including the Feminist Press anthology The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poems From Antiquity to the Present and in the recently published biography of Lea Goldberg entitled About Lea. Back's critical work Led by Language: the Poetry and Poetics of Susan Howe was published in January 2002 by The University of Alabama Pess, in their Contemporary and Modern Poetics Series. Rachel Tzvia Back works as senior lecturer at Oranim College, Haifa, and in the MA Writing Program at Bar-Ilan University. She resides in a small village in the Galilee with her life-partner and their three children.

Roger BonnerRoger Bonner was born in Geneva, Switzerland, but grew up in Los Angeles, California. He moved back to his native country when he was twenty-one. He has published poetry and won prizes in England. His first collection of poems Driftwood received the Edmund Blunden Memorial Prize of the International Poetry Society. Recently his fiction and poems have also appeared in the USA in such e-zines as Cross Connect, Samsara, and Thunder Sandwich. He writes regular satirical columns about the Swiss for English publications in Basel, the city where he has now been living for more than 30 years. A collection of these columns will be forthcoming in 2003. He is also working on a new book of poetry.

Alison CroggonAlison Croggon is one of a new generation of Australian poets which emerged in the 1990s. She writes in many genres, including criticism, theatre and prose. Her first book of poems, This is the Stone, won the 1991 Anne Elder and Dame Mary Gilmore Prizes, and her second, The Blue Gate was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Poetry Prize. Her novel Navigatio (Black Pepper) was highly commended for the 1995 Australian/Vogel literary awards. The poem Mnemosyne, was published as a chapbook by Wild Honey Press in December 2001. A book of poetry, Divinations, will be published by Arc Books in the UK next year, and Salt Publishing released a new collection of poems and other writing, Attempts at Being in 2002. She is also the author of a fantasy novel for young adults, The Gift, the first installment of an epic trilogy. She has written and had performed nine works for theatre. Her theatre work includes the operas Gauguin (Melbourne Festival 2000) and The Burrow(Perth Festival, Sydney, Melbourne 1994-95 and broadcast by ABC Radio), both with Michael Smetanin, and the plays Lenz (Melbourne Festival 1996), Samarkand and The Famine (Rules of Thumb season, Red Shed Company, Adelaide 1997 and ABC Radio 1998). Her play Blue was presented at La Mama in Melbourne and the Street Theatre in Canberra in June 2001 by CIA. She was the 2000 Australia Council writer in residence at Cambridge University, UK. She was poetry editor for Overland Extra (1992), Modern Writing (1992-1994) and Voices (1996) and founding editor of the literary arts journal Masthead, featured in Winter 2001 and online. She is interviewed in this issue, which also contains her poems Specula and her essay Specula: Mirrors from the Middle Ages.

Doan Thi Diem was the translator of “Lament of a Warrior's Wife,” originally as written in han Chinese by Dang Tran Con (1710-1745), a Confucian scholar who received his bachelor's degree at Van Mieu, the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi. Scholars consistently note that Doan Thi Diem's translation into Vietnamese script surpasses the original poem in imagery and poetic technique. Doan Thi Diem's husband left for war in China a month after their marriage. Scholars believe she translated “Lament of a Warrior's Wife” into its 408 Vietnamese lines during those years. Doan Thi Diem (1705-1748) died shortly after her husband's return.

Marguerite Duras (b. 1914 -1996) is a French novelist and author of many internationally reknowned books. She was born at Gia Dinh, in Indochina, in the suburbs of Saigon, in 1914, a few weeks before the outbreak of the First World War. She wrote of the war crimes of World War II in her critically acclaimed memoir, The War, of which this issue contains an excerpt. It is based upon Duras's own life and marriage in 1939 to the poet Robert Antelme and events in Paris (c. 1942) under the Occupation and Résistance. Duras's husband was arrested along with her sister-in-law, Marie-Laure, who died in deportation. Antelme survived and was brought back from Dachau by François Mitterrand, who introduced Marguerite to the Résistance and accompanied the Americans as they freed the camps. By the age of thirty, in the stir of creativity of the post-war period, Duras became eminent among the Paris intelligentsia.

Daniel EllisonDaniel Paley Ellison's photographs were featured in the non-fiction book, Majic Bus (Harcourt Brace, 1993). Paley Ellison is currently working on two new books: This Burning, a collection of poems, and The Seamless Monument, a collection of photographs and long poems from Auschwitz-Birkenau and Hiroshima (seamlessmonument). Since 1993, he has shown several solo shows in NYC and participated in group shows. In June of 1998, Paley Ellison’s photographs won The 8th Annual Juried Photography Exhibition in New York City. Paley Ellison’s work has appeared in Ms., Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Abiko Quarterly (Japan), BuddhaDharma, Quarterly West, Buone Notizie (Italy—in translation), Cosas (Chile), Paper, The Sarah Lawrence Review, The New Voice, and in newspapers throughout the United States. Paley Ellison was awarded fellowships from Fundacíon Valpariso, NBC, The Vermont Studio Center, and The Spirit and the Letter Fellowship. He is the Editor of Two Rivers: The Buddhist Arts Journal, which will priemiere in the Spring of 2003. He is a Soto Zen Buddhist monk and studies with Sensei Enkyo O’Hara, founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, at The Village Zendo (www.villagezendo.org.

Paul EluardPaul Eluard, born on the outskirts of Paris in 1895, became one of France's premier poets of the twentieth century. He is considered a founder of the Surrealist movement in France along with Louis Aragon, Andre Breton and others. He served in the Resistance during World War II. Some of his best known collections are The Capital of Pain, Uninterrupted Poems and Immediate Life. He died in 1952. The translations in this issue are from a chapbook titled Prisoner of Madness.

Du Fu is considered the one undisputed genius of Chinese poetry. The Taoist Li Bai was more popular, the Buddhist Wang Wei was sublimely simple and more intimate with nature, but the Confucian Du Fu had extraordinary thematic range and was a master and innovator of all the verse forms of his time. In his life he never achieved fame as a poet and thought himself a failure in his worldly career. Perhaps only a third of his poems survive due to his long obscurity; his poems appear in no anthology earlier than one dated one hundred thirty years after his death, and it wasn't until the 11th century that he was recognized as a preeminent poet. Du Fu is sometimes called “the poet of history” because his poems record the turbulent times of the decline of the Tang dynasty and constitute in part a Confucian societal critique of the suffering of the poor and the corruption of officials.

Greg Farrell is a Master's of Teaching (English) student at The State University of New York at Stony Brook, and works as an ESL instructor at the Beacon School in Harlem, New York. His recent poems were inspired by a trip I took to India in the spring of 2000.

Robert GibbonsRobert Gibbons was recently nominated for The Pushcart Prize for his poem “Ode to New York City,” published in the Summer issue of Slow Trains. His work is forthcoming in: The American Journal of Print, Big Bridge, Canary River Review, Carnelian, The God Particle, In Posse Review, Janus Head, Small Spiral Notebook, Snow Monkey, and Taj Mahal Review(India). He has just been appointed Poetry Editor at Gargoyle. His second online chapbook of prose poems, Time on Water, appeared in the previous issue of The Drunken Boat.

Daniela Gioseffi, peace activist and educator, has been publishing poetry, fiction and reviews in mainstream magazines and presses since the 1960's. Her books of poetry include, Eggs in the Lake, 1979 (Boa Editions, Ltd, Rochester: NY) Word Wounds and Water Flowers, 1995, and Going On, 2000 (VIA Folios @Purdue University. Her compendium, Women on War won the 1990 American Book Award and has just been reprinted by The Feminist Press in New York, 2003, Active in the anti-nuclear and peace movement, Daniela has received three grants from The Ploughshares Fund, a Foundation in Fort Mason, California, that promotes peace and served as President of the oldest chapter of SANE/Freeze during the 1980's. Her book, On Prejudice: A Global Perspective won the 1993 World Peace Award from the Ploughshares Fund. Her ongoing internet magazine Wise Women's Web won a nomination for “Best of the Web,” and a grant from The Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation. In winter 2000, it was expanded into Poets USA. In this issue she has translated Marina Tsvetayeva, Marguerite Duras, and Vesna Parun.

Banira Giri Dr. Banira Giri is one of Nepal's foremost writers. Born in Kurseong, near Darjeeling in West Bengal, she became the first Nepali woman to be awarded a Ph.D from Tribhuvan University. She is the author of three collections of poetry, three novels and a screenplay. Her writing in translation can be found in Himalayan Voices: an introduction to Modern Nepali Literature and From The Lake Love: the poetry of Banira Giri. For online work Kathmandu

Claudia K. GrinnellClaudia K. Grinnell was born and raised in Germany. She now makes her home in Louisiana, where she teaches at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Her poems have appeared in various print and ezines, most recently in such places as Exquisite Corpse, Hayden's Ferry Review, New Orleans Review, River Oak Review, Minnesota Review, Mudlark, Janus Head, and Blue Moon Review. Her first full-length book of poetry, Conditions Horizontal, was published by Missing Consonant Press in the Fall of 2001. She also has an essay in this issue A Question of Responsibility.

Tom HibbardTom Hibbard's translations have appeared in Willow Springs and Another Chicago Magazine. His reviews can be read online at Jacket, Milk and elsewhere. His latest collection of poetry is titled gessom.

Bai Juyi was born in Henan to a poor family of scholars. He took the imperial exam at age twenty-seven and dreamed, with his friend Yuan Zhen, of being a reformer. However, his career as an official was less than illustrious, and his attempts to criticize incidents of injustice only caused him to be banished from the capital (Changan) in 815. He was the Prefect of Hangzhou (822-825) and then of Suzhou (825-827), but finally retired from the political life, which he found ultimately to be a disappointment. He turned to Buddhism. He fared somewhat better as a writer than as a politician. He was popular in his lifetime, and his poems were known by peasants and court ladies alike. He was very popular in Japan, and a number of his poems find their way into The Tale of Genji, he is the subject of a noh play and has even become a sort of Shinto deity. More than twenty-eight hundred of his poems survive. His poems show an interest in recording his times and his private life alike and often reveal an empathy with the poor that belies the heights of his own career. They are often written in a deliberately plain style, and some of his poetry is written in imitation of the folk songs collected by the Music Bureau (Yuefu poems) in the second century B.C.

Manju Kanchuli Manju Kanchuli is the author of the short story collections Some Love, Some Differences and Stories by Kanchuli and the poetry collections My Life My World and Inside and Outside Eyelids. She is the co-translator with Wayne Amtzis of Two Sisters: the Poetry of Benju Sharma & Manju Kanchuli. Her work can also be found online at Suskera, and spinybabbler

Christine Boyka Kluge Christine Boyka Kluge's first book, Teaching Bones to Fly, will be published by Bitter Oleander Press this spring. (These five poems are part of that collection.) Her writing has received seven Pushcart Prize nominations. She was given the 1999 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award by The Bitter Oleander, where she was featured and interviewed in the Fall 2001 issue. Her work will be anthologized in No Boundaries, Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, edited by Ray Gonzalez (Tupelo Press, 2003) and in Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction, edited by Dinty W. Moore (Mammoth Books, 2003). New poems are out in The Bitter Oleander, Natural Bridge, Petroglyph, Red Rock Review, Quarter After Eight, Tar River Poetry, and other journals. She is also a visual artist.

Laozi was the legendary author of the Dao De Jing, a collection of prose and verse wisdom literature that is considered the seminal and essential work of Daoism. Yet about Laozi and the Dao De Jing mysteries abound. It is by no means certain that a historical personage named Laozi ever existed. . The traditional Laozi is said to have been an older contemporary of Confucius (551 - 479 B.C.) who instructed the younger sage in the rites, but this story seems not to have circulated until the third Century B.C. It is now thought that the text dates from no earlier than the third or fourth centuries B.C.

ManjulManjul was born in 1947 in Bhojpur District in the eastern hills of Nepal. He gained renown as a singer of songs protesting the Panchayat regime in Nepal. He is the author of a number of poetry collections, a work of fiction and a travelogue. His translations of Wayne Amtzis' photo-poems have appeared in Nepali journals and newspapers. His work can be found online at spinybabbler and Jouvert.

Steve MueskeSteve Mueske received a MFA in Writing and BA in English and Philosophy from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. His prose and poetry have appeared in Rattle, Water-Stone, The Pedestal Magazine, Red River Review, ArtWord Quarterly, The Wisconsin Review, South Dakota Review, Pierian Springs, and other fine print and electronic journals world-wide. He is the editor for the online poetry journal three candles (www.threecandles.org and regularly reviews books for PopMatters.com.

Vesna Parun (b. 1922) is a celebrated poet of the former Yugoslavia. She published numerous volumes of poems widely read throughout her native Croatia. From a collected volume of her works published in Zagreb, simply titled Poems comes the verse in this issue, expressing the chaos set in motion by World War II —contrasting it with the pristine peace of ordinary life.

Jiao Ran was a monk poet from Changcheng in what is today Changxing County, Zhejiang Province. Deeply steeped in the Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, he was the tenth generation grandson of Xie Lingyun (385-443), the important Six Dynasties period poet and politician. He was born in Zhejiang and after 785 he resided in the Miaoxi Temple on Xu Mountain in Wuxing. In his time, he was considered a very important poet, often anthologized, and his complete works were collected on the Emperor's orders. He wrote significant literary criticism, and was an important influence on the Ancient-Style Prose Movement of his time.

Zhang Ruoxu is a poet about whom little knowledge has survived. Along with He Zhizhang (659-744), he achieved fame as a poet as one of a group of four poets from the Lower Yangtze Basin (the group was known as the “Four Scholars from Wuzhong,” and also included Zhang Xu, and Bao Rong). Only two of his poems survive, but one of them, “Spring, River, and Flowers on a Moonlit Night,” is so admired that he has become a famous poet on the basis of this poem alone.

Benju Sharma Benju Sharma is the author of The Stifled Expression of Revolt. Her work also appears in translation in Two Sisters: the poetry of Benju Sharma and Manju Kanchuli.

Alberta Skaggs received her M.F.A. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she currently teaches as lecturer.

Tony Stewart Tony K. Stewart specializes in the literatures and religions of the precolonial and early colonial periods of the Bangla-speaking world, now the state of West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh. A professor of South Asian Religions at North Carolina State, Stewart is founder and director of the North Carolina Center for South Asia Studies (an educational cooperative of North Carolina State University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University). Stewart's most recent translation was from the Bangla and Sanskrit Caitanya Caritamrta with Edward C. Dimock of the University of Chicago, the hagiography of a 16th c. Hindu saint (Harvard 1999). He currently has a book of Bengali folk-tales in press at Oxford (New York). Stewart divides his time between Raleigh, Charleston, London, and Dhaka.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was the most influential author in Bangla and English in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A prolific author of poetry, short stories, novels, plays, and essays, Tagore captured the imagination of the English-speaking world with his “song offerings” called Gitanjali, for which W. B. Yeats nominated him for the Nobel Prize for Literature, which Tagore won in 1913. He is also credited with the national anthems of both India and posthumously Bangladesh. The poems translated here by Chase Twichell and Tony K. Stewart, represent the earliest literary output, published when he was but 14 years old. They were revised repeatedly over the next 66 years, making them among his last literary endeavors, an obvious testament to their personal power. They have not been translated before.

Chase TwichellChase Twichell has published five books of poems: The Snow Watcher (Ontario Review Press, 1998, and Bloodaxe, U.K., 1999), The Ghost of Eden (Ontario Review Press, 1995, and Faber & Faber, U.K., 1995), Perdido (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991, and Faber & Faber, U.K., 1992), The Odds (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986), and Northern Spy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981). She's also the co-editor of The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach (HarperCollins, 1992). Her poems have appeared in a number of magazines, including Antaeus, The New Yorker, Field, Ploughshares, The Ohio Review, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Nation, Ontario Review, New England Review, The Southern Review, and The Yale Review. Chase Twichell has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987, 1993), the Artists Foundation (Boston), the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1990), and a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1994). In 1997 she won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America for The Snow Watcher. She’s taught at Princeton University (1990–2000), Warren Wilson College, The University of Alabama, Goddard College, and Hampshire College, as well as at various writers' conferences, including Bread Loaf, Stonecoast, The Catskills Writers' Conference, The University of Vermont, Mt. Holyoke, Napa Valley, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. In 1999 she quit teaching to start Ausable Press, which publishes contemporary poetry.

Xue Tao was well-respected as a poet during the Tang Dynasty, when she lived. She was born either in the Tang capital Zhangan or later on when her father, a minor government official, was posted to Chengdu in present-day Sichuan province. A story about her childhood, perhaps apocryphal, suggests that she was able to write complex poems by the age of seven or eight. She may have gained some literary education from her father, but he died before she had come to marriageable age and she ended up being a very successful courtesan (one of the few paths for women in Tang Dynasty China in which conversation and artistic talent were encouraged). After Wei Gao, the military governor, became her literary patron, her reputation was widespread. She seems to have had an affair with another famous literary figure, Yuan Zhen. Late in life she went to live in seclusion and put on the habit of a Taoist churchwoman. More than one hundred of her poems survive. She is often considered (with Yu Xuanji) to be one of the two finest female poets of the Tang Dynasty.

Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941) is considered by many to be among the finest poets Russia ever produced. Pasternak, among others, offered praise for her passionate work. She led a tragic life, caught between her husband's political loyalties to the White Russian Army and the Bolshevik revolution. Much of her life was disrupted by wars and political turmoil. She knew war's resultant poverty and periods of political exile. Though she declared that art for her was apolitical, she wrote many verses in a spirit of opposition to what Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mandelstam or others called “the Terrible Years” of purges under Stalin's dictatorship. She lost her youngest daughter to starvation during the Moscow famine of l9l9 and suffered great despair when her husband was accused of being a Soviet agent. She and her family were suspected of working against the government. Her daughter, Alya, and her husband were arrested, and Marina was evacuated to Yelabuga. In l94l, in total despair, she committed suicide by hanging herself.

Han Yu was born in 768 in Nanyang, Henan province, to a literary family. He is considered to be among China's finest prose writers, second only to Sima Qian, and he is the first among the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song. His father died when he was two, and he was raised in the family of his older brother, Han Hui. He was a Confucian thinker, and was deeply opposed to Buddhism, a religion which was then popular in the court. He believed that literature and ethics were intertwined, and led a revolution in prose style against the formal ornamentation then popular. He championed instead gu wen (old style prose), which was characterized by simplicity, logic and an emphasis on apt and exact expression.

Purna Bahadur Vaidya Purna Bahadur Vaidya is a noteworthy participant in the revival of Nepal Bhasa, the language of the Newars, the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley. His major work is LA LA KHA (WATER IS WATER), a collection of 84 poems refracted through water. Translations of his poetry can be found in A representative collection of Nepal Bhasa Poems and recent issues of Manoa and Nimrod.

Gail Wronsky Gail Wronsky is the author of Again the Gemini are in the Orchard (poetry), Dying for Beauty (poetry), The Love-talkers (fiction), and co-author with Molly Bendall of the Calamity and Belle books. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, Boston Review, Volt, Runes, 88, and other journals. She is the recipient of Artist Fellowships from the California Arts Council and the Utah Arts Council. Her translations of the poetry of Argentinean poet Alicia Partnoy and of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires have appeared in journals and anthologies, including A Chorus for Peace (University of Iowa). She teaches creative writing, women's studies, and Surrealism in the Syntext Program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. BR>
Bao Zhao was born in Donghai (modern Changshu, Jiangsu province) to a family of poor gentry. Though he didn't have access to a high official career, he gained patrons due to his literary talents, held a post as a magistrate, and was murdered while in military service to the prince of Linhai by mutinous soldiers. He is considered to be the most important poet writing in the yuehfu form in the Six Dynasties Period, and his poems were influential in the Tang dynasty, particularly affecting Li Bai and Du Fu. His “Rhyme-prose on the Desolate City” is one of his most famous works.

Yuan Zhen was among the most brilliant poets and statesmen of the Tang dynasty, known by the epithet Yuan the Genius. He was born in Changan to a family descended from the royal house that ruled northern China during the Northern Wei dynasty in the fifth and sixth centuries. Though his father died when he was a child, under his mother's tutoring he became a brilliant scholar. Yuan dreamed of being a reformer, a dream that was to result in a series of banishments. He did, however, help to create a poetic movement, termed “the new music bureau songs” movement, which attempted to recapture the formal freedoms and the simplicity of diction of the yuehfu form of the Han dynasty, and to use poetry for the serious ends of a social reformer.

He Zhizhang came from Yuezhou-Yongxing. He was one of a group of four poets from the Lower Yangtze Basin that were known as the “Four Scholars from Wuzhong.” . He was a politician and a poet who retired from politics at age eighty-five to become a Daoist hermit near Lake Jinghu in Zhejiang Province. He was called one of the “Eight Immortals of the Winecup,” by Du Fu and as he was known for his idiosyncrasy, also earned the appelation “Crazy Zhang.” He was known for his openhearted love of the lower classes, and for his free thinking, and in later Daoist tales is presented as a man who achieved immortality. Only 19 of his poems remain.