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My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree

Selected Poems
Yi Lei; Translated from the Chinese by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi

Upon the magnificent extravagance of my beloved stilettos,
I want the world back. I’ve been alive—could it be?—

Near a century. My face has closed up shop.
My feet are a desolate country.

For a single woman, youth is a feast that lasts
Only until it is gone.

You didn’t come to live with me.

—from “A Single Woman’s Bedroom”
Yi Lei published her poem “A Single Woman’s Bedroom” in 1987, when cohabitation before marriage was a punishable crime in China. She was met with major critical acclaim—and with outrage—for her frank embrace of women’s erotic desire and her unabashed critique of oppressive law. Over the span of her revolutionary career, Yi Lei became one of the most influential figures in contemporary Chinese poetry.
Passionate, rigorous, and inimitable, the poems in My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree celebrate the joys of the body, ponder the miracle of compassion, and proclaim an abiding reverence for the natural world. Presented in the original Chinese alongside English translations by Changtai Bi and Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith, this collection introduces American readers to a boundless spirit—one “composing an explosion.” 

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One of China’s most significant contemporary poets, cotranslated by former US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith

About the Author

Tracy K. Smith
Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Tracy K. Smith is the author of Wade in the Water; Life on Mars, winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award; and The Body’s Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the editor of an anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, and the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. From 2017 to 2019, Smith served as Poet Laureate of the United States. She teaches at Princeton University.
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Yi  Lei
Credit: Hei Ming
Yi Lei, born Sun Gui-zhen in Tianjin, China in 1951, was one of the most influential figures of Chinese poetry in the 1980s. Sent to the countryside to work on a farm in 1969, she two years later became a reporter for the Liberation Army and a staff member of the newspaper The Railway Corps. Yi Lei studied creative writing at the Lu Xun Academy, and earned a BA in Chinese Literature from Peking University. In 1991, she moved to Moscow, where she lived and wrote for a number of years. She has published eight collections of poems, among them A Single Woman’s BedroomThe Love Poems of Yi LeiWomen’s Age, and Selected Poems of Yi Lei. A recipient of the Zhuang Zhongwen Literature Prize, Yi Lei’s work has been translated into English, Japanese, French, Italian, and Russian.
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  • “These poems in English are a tour de force. . . . In our own moment of urgency, this collection is, as Smith says, essential.”—RHINO
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