June Fourth Elegies

This collection by Liu Xiaobo—a noted activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion of state power," and who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize—pays tribute to fellow protesters through a series of emotionally stark elegies. From "June Fourth, a Tomb"

Beneath the forgetting and the terror
this day's been buried
In memory and bravery
this day lives forever
It is an immortal stone
and though stone, can cry out
It is the grave's wild grass growing eternal green
and though wild grass, it can take flight
The blade-tip that pierces the heart's center drips
with the blood of snowbright memory

A bilingual volume, the book presents the poems in their original Chinese alongside English translations by Jeffrey Yang, who also wrote the book's afterword. Paul Auster notes that Liu's poems "are a monument of rage against the murderous powers of injustice, one man's counter-argument to the logic of totalitarian oppression."

This book review originally appeared in American Poets.