The poetry of Zen masters such as Ikkyū, Bashō, and Dōgen has haunted and nourished readers for centuries. Poet-translator-editor Stephen Berg has wrestled with these poets and their ideas for fifty years, incorporating their poetry into his own. Driven to know “what these people thought, believed, felt,” Berg rewrote existing translations to create provocative, vigorous, and multilayered versions of some of the most revered poems of the Zen tradition.
These are not new poems, nor are they old poems. They are timeless in their ambitions. They manifest explorations into the deeper resonances of Zen and the art of the poem by expounding on age-old, frequently overpowering themes. This is essential Zen poetry to the marrow, and Berg acknowledges those who came before while simultaneously breathing new life into a long-established tradition.
“Berg’s versions are utterly original, breathtaking, audacious. He doesn’t so much translate a poem as totally reconstruct it—and his take is radical. These poems—versions—are wild and tumultuous, fragmentary and elliptical. They challenge the reader to rise to new heights, to engage with the poem in a way that demands total presence, total readiness to be transformed in the image of something completely new. They are also haunting and beautiful.” —Powell’s Books Blog
“We need poets like this. Mr. Berg relentlessly describes what we would often prefer to forget, but can’t allow ourselves to forget.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Alone among his contemporaries, Stephen Berg is a Translator without a Mask. Giving his passions and his mind to the texts (i.e. to the Bodies) of other languages, he gives entirely, demanding nothing save their continuity and, thus, insuring their continuity.” —Donald Revell