When launching the Buddhist Poetry Festival in 2018, David Hinton was one of the first writers who came to mind and it was no accident that we scheduled him to open up the event on the first morning. Hinton bridges past and present, distinguishing himself as one of the foremost translators of ancient Chinese poetry and philosophy working today. His translations strive for accuracy while coaxing the aesthetic potential out of each phrase. The results are fresh takes on early Daoist and Buddhist literature, inviting us into the heart/mind of practitioners who lived centuries and even millennia before today.
After many years of publishing highly lauded books of translations and essays about translation, Shambhala Publications recently brought out an original collection of Hinton’s own poetry, influenced by the hermits, scholars, and monastics of antiquity that he’s studied so deeply. At the Buddhist Poetry Festival, he read from that new collection, Desert, on the cusp of its release. He also read from No-Gate Gateway, a recent translation of Master Wumen’s koan collection, and from Mountain Home, an anthology of ancient Chinese poetry that helped cement Hinton’s reputation when it was first published in 2002.
Following the reading, festival director Hokyu JL Aronson sat down with David Hinton for this live conversation that also included the festival audience.
A video of the reading, featuring Achong Jusan Chen reading some of the poems in their original, classical Chinese: