Robert Hammond Dorsett has translated, along with David Pollard, a book from the memoirs of Gao Ertai, In Search of My Homeland: A Memoir of a Chinese Labor Camp (HarperCollins 2009) and has just completed a five-act play based on the memoir. His book of translations from the poetry of Wen Yiduo is due out from BrightCity Books in 2013. He has published poetry in The Literary Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, and elsewhere.
Robert studied Chinese at the Yale-in-China Program at the Chinese University in Hong Kong. He received an MD degree from the State University of New York and completed his training in pediatrics at Cornell. He has an MFA degree from New York University, where he subsequently taught creative writing.
Formerly a senior physician at Kaiser Hospital Oakland, he now writes full time.
I don’t have books by my bedside, only scientific and medical journals, but those books I carry with me, open up at libraries or coffee shops, read, take notes on, mull over, write about, and bore people endlessly with—they make a different story. Currently, there are two.
The first book is Freedom and Fate, An Inner Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Stephen Whicher, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953. The indefinite article in the subtitle phrase “an inner life” reveals an active interpretation, a self-discovery, twofold, as Whicher searches deep within himself as well as deep within Emerson. I have in my notes from another source, Harold Bloom I think, that Whicher, after completing his manuscript, reached that incendiary point where the freedom of will touches the ultimate fate of death, voluntarily, definitively, through his own suicide. Although I haven’t corroborated this, I’ve read his book as though it were true; the language burns steadily, clearly, with the cold flame of resolute passion. It seems to me, however, to live a creative life is not to live smoothly, uneventfully, but to live, like Emerson, a life—roughened through a series of repetitive crises—that attempts to further, not by ending that life but by living through it, the claim human freedom has on death. Nothing stands between the poet and the next poem—but what a perdurable nothing.
The next is not a book but a text taken from several books in the University of California East Asian Library at Berkeley: the 3,000-year-old, pre-Confucian anthology of Chinese poems called the Qu Ci, and, more specifically, the long elegiac poem called Li Sao. I read slowly, meticulously, taking care I understand every character; frequently, I reference commentaries. The poems are organic, alive—more alive than most of what I read in the current poetry journals—and they have made me think that those popular literary theories that do not distinguish between art and fashion are shallow, because the past is not separate from the present but is the present’s sole, intrinsically woven constituent.
Two recent poems:
although it evolves,
not absolute but