Jeffrey Yang

Portrait Jeffrey Yang
© Ali Ghandtschi

Poet and translator Jeffrey Yang was born in Escondido, California in 1974. At university, he studied animal physiology and literature.

In 2008, he published fifty-five short poems in »An Aquarium«, his first book of poetry. In this debut work, Yang presents a colorful and simultaneously ominous underwater world that moves in alphabetical order from »Abalone« to »Zooxanthellae«. Hidden within this universe are observations on war, environmental destruction and language. He also uses traditional Chinese poetry, Hindu myths and political wit to complement his oceanology and ichthyology: »The U.S. is a small fish / with a false head«. Past and present come together in Yang’s work: while one poem praises the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi, another argues that Google is an ocean of consciousness, and yet another criticizes America’s nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll. Using free verse and concise metaphors, Yang interweaves Asian, European and American literature with the natural sciences, and even draws connections to Hawaiian proverbs, ancient Egypt, Aristotle, Jules Verne, Borges and many more. Indeed, the beginnings of his poems might be described as verbal surges – that precede the compression of scattered words into a grammatical structure that then flows into a linguistic melody. Jeffrey Yang’s follow-up long-poem »Vanishing-Line« (2011; German: »Yennecott«, 2015) examines different lines – horizon, blood, time and lyrical lines – behind which many things disappear from view and from memory. »Yennecott« was the name given by the Corchaug Indians to a section of Long Island where most of the original place names have long since vanished, as have the original inhabitants. Yang creates a poetic memory space and delves deep into the layers of centuries of settlement in America. With historical precision, artistic virtuosity and a richness of lyrical associations, this poem depicts a collage of private losses, but also losses that define a nation. He uses quotes from historical sources – in one case the text of a 17th century treaty – and introduces them unchanged into the flow of the poem which, in turn, serves to accentuate the documentary nature of the verse. Among the linguistic arsenal of the long-poem are also quotes from other poets that have no relation to the conquest of America and serve to lift it out of its historical milieu into a larger space-time context.

Jeffrey Yang received the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry for his first volume of poetry »An Aquarium«. He also works as an English-Chinese translator. Among the books he’s translated are those by Bei Dao, Liu Xiaobo, Ahmatjan Osman and the classical Song poet Su Shi. He also works as an editor at New Directions Publishing and the NYRB Classics. Yang lives in Beacon, New York and is currently a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.