28 March 2004

Pardalote Press MEDIA RELEASE: The Poetry of Ancient China

The Poetry of Ancient China

A live reading of poetry from the Tang Dynasty will take place at the Art Gallery of NSW on Wednesday 28th April at 5.30 pm to coincide with the 'Fantastic Mountains' exhibition of Chinese landscape paintings from the Shanghai Museum.

The poems - a selection from the recently published Singing of Scented Grass will be introduced and read in English by translator Ian Johnston, with readings from the original Chinese by Wang Ping (lecturer in Chinese literature at the University of NSW) against the richly evocative backdrop of landscape paintings on show in the new Asian Galleries from March 12 to May 9.

Retired neurosurgeon, Ian Johnston, lives on Bruny Island where he pursues his passion for translating verses from ancient China so they can be enjoyed by today's readers. The poems were first performed at the Ten Days on the Island Arts Festival in Tasmania where audiences were entranced by their beauty, simplicity and enduring power. Pardalote Press is pleased to present the poems, whose lasting relevance bridges the centuries, in the collection Singing of Scented Grass: Verses from the Chinese.

The three poets, Wang Wei, Bai Juyi and Li Shangyin lived during the greatest cultural flowering in Chinese history. The political upheavals during their lives led each of them to turn to the contemplative life and the solace of Buddhism, a philosophy that is strongly present in their verses. The poems, most of which are accompanied by the Chinese text, are illustrated by the Chan school of painting, The Forest of Brushes, also from Bruny Island. The book includes a small selection of Johnston's own poems, responses to his readings and translations of the Analects.

Mabel Lee, Associate Professor of Asian Studies at University of Sydney and translator of the Nobel Prize-winning Soul Mountain, says of this collection:

'Singing of Scented Grass is a unique selection of Tang poetry by Wang Wei, Bai Juyi and Li Shangyin, followed by the translator's own poems that interrogate the Confucian ideal of aspiring to high political office. These elegant translations from the Chinese testify to the depth of Johnston's engagement with these Tang masters: Singing of Scented Grass is his journey to poetry.'

Singing of Scented Grass: verses from the Chinese is the fifth publication from Pardalote Press, which has been commended for its foresight in producing its previous books. This collection continues Pardalote's vision for making available work of the highest quality and excellent design. Books will be available for signing and purchase following the reading at the AGNSW bookshop. This event and entry to exhibition are free of charge. All welcome.
Media enquiries / Further information please contact Imogen Yang on 0415 102 984.

About Ian Johnston

Ian Johnston was born at Collaroy, NSW, in 1939. He completed his schooling in London, and went on to study medicine at St Andrews University. After postgraduate training in neurosurgery in Britain, North America and Australia, he was appointed to two of the major Sydney University teaching hospitals (Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) where he remained until early retirement from clinical work in 1999. At that time he was Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at Sydney University. In 2000 he received the AM for his medical work, particularly in the area of research into aspects of paediatric neurosurgery.

Ian's interest in Chinese literature began during his first undergraduate year and became a life-long passion. Throughout his medical career, Ian studied literature and philosophy, completing a BA Hons in Chinese at Sydney University and a PhD in Chinese. His honours dissertation addressed aspects of Wang Wei's poetry, and his PhD thesis, the writings of the early Qing philosopher, Gu Yanwu. He now has PhDs in Mandarin and Classical Greek and degrees in Latin and Philosophy.

In 2001 his translations were performed at Moorilla Museum during'Ten Days on the Island'. They have been presented on ABC Radio's 'Arts Today' and featured on ABC television. He also appeared on ABC's 'Compass'.

From the solitude of Cloudy Bay on Bruny Island, Tasmania, Dr. Johnston pursues his passion for ancient Chinese and Greek literature, spending his days and nights translating the works of ancient Chinese philosophers and poets as well as Greek medical texts from the 2nd century AD. Ian says, 'Despite the great gulf in time and culture I find a resonance in the writings of these poets, especially Wang Wei; the feeling of increasing disaffection with public life and sadness at the 'strange mutations' of the world, leading to the wish to spend my life in relative solitude, immersed in the beauties of nature, the writing of verse, and the study of Zen Buddhism'.

Source: Pardalote Press 26 March 2004.

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