Local Writer and Artist Ian Boyden, Releases Debut Book of Poetry

Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:53 am by

San Juan Island writer, artist and trans­la­tor, Ian Boy­den, releas­es his new book, A For­est of Names, today (Sep­tem­ber, 8). Pub­lished by the pres­ti­gious Wes­leyan Uni­ver­si­ty Press, the book is avail­able through local book­stores and online.

The gen­e­sis of the book began in 2016, when Boy­den curat­ed the exhi­bi­tion Ai Wei­wei: Fault Line at the San Juan Islands Muse­um of Art in Fri­day Har­bor. Those for­tu­nate enough to see the exhib­it remem­ber a sim­ple, emo­tion­al­ly charged pre­sen­ta­tion. On the walls were list­ed the names of the 5,196 school­child­ren killed in China’s 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Ian Boy­den — Con­tributed photo

Due to faulty con­struc­tion and gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, the names and num­ber of the chil­dren who per­ished had been hid­den by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. At great per­son­al cost, artist Ai Wei­wei col­lect­ed and pub­li­cized the names of the chil­dren as part of the exhib­it. And from the col­lapsed build­ings, Ai Wei­wei col­lect­ed twist­ed iron rebar. Carv­ing repli­cas of the twist­ed met­al rebar out of marble—what was hard and indus­tri­al, trans­formed into some­thing frag­ile and lumi­nes­cent. He placed these in sim­ple wood­en cas­ket-like box­es. Many who vis­it­ed the exhi­bi­tion were moved to tears by the poet­ic por­tray­al of the unnec­es­sary loss of life.

An image of one of Ai Wei­wei’s works of twist­ed mar­ble rebar graces the cov­er of Boy­den’s beau­ti­ful book, the rebar’s resem­blance to the human spinal cord is uncanny.

As Boy­den hung the names in the exhib­it hall, he asked him­self, “What might I learn from these names? Each brimmed with the love, the hopes and dreams of par­ents, and a chal­lenge from the chil­dren who bore them to not be for­got­ten or have the tragedy of their death cov­ered up.”

Boy­den relates, “I spent a year read­ing, trans­lat­ing and med­i­tat­ing on those names. I chose 108 names and made each the title of a poem, I then used the mean­ing of the Chi­nese char­ac­ters that formed the names as a point of poet­ic depar­ture. The names are so evoca­tive: “Swim the Lus­trous Pool,” “Drag­on-vig­or,” “For­est of Fire­flies.” For me, the chal­lenge was to give these names a kind of lan­guage so they could con­tin­ue to speak.”

A For­est of Names has many lay­ers, it is an indict­ment of polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, a heal­ing trib­ute to peo­ple whose names were almost erased, and a haunt­ing med­i­ta­tion on how lan­guage can sug­gest a new path forward.

As Pacif­ic North­west nov­el­ist David James Dun­can writes: “Ian Boyden’s med­i­ta­tions on the names’ mys­tery and beau­ty have led to a col­lec­tion of poems so del­i­cate they bring to mind the sur­face ten­sion of water.”

And the artist Ai Wei­wei com­ment­ing on this book, states: “I see this work as con­cep­tu­al as can be. It is a beau­ti­ful and per­sis­tent effort of a poet’s heart and mind work­ing togeth­er, deal­ing with our trag­ic reality.”

About the author: Ian Boy­den stud­ied for many years in Chi­na and Japan and ulti­mate­ly received degrees in art His­to­ry from Wes­leyan and Yale Uni­ver­si­ties. His work is inter­dis­ci­pli­nary. Past col­lab­o­ra­tions have involved sci­en­tists, poets, com­posers and visu­al artists.

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Categories: Arts, People

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