Poetry

Waterfall of Youth

A seminal Tibetan poem, in a new translation by Lowell Cook

The tragic yet prolific life of Dondrup Gyal (1953-1985) was one of foremost catalysts for the birth of modern literature in Tibet. Having grown up during the Cultural Revolution, Dondrup Gyal was one of the first Tibetans to attend Chinese universities in the Reform and Opening era. Not only did studying with renowned Tibetan and Chinese scholars at the Central Nationalities Institute in Beijing hone his writings skills and give him access to a new world of literature, it also shaped his progressive vision for the Tibetans. It was this combination of literary skill and innovative thinking that Gyal would soon become famous for. Unfortunately, his progressive views also made him a target for criticism and ostracization in the highly conservative Tibetan society of the day. This, in addition to strained relationships with colleagues, local officials, and his wife Yumkyi, contributed to his suicide in 1985 at the age of 32. Despite Gyal’s short life, his collected works contain six volumes of poetry, fiction and essays.

Review

Look Behind Your Eyes

Lowell Cook reviews Burning the Sun’s Braids: New Poetry from Tibet

The past year has been an exciting one for Tibetan literature in English translation. Not only was a collection of twenty-one Tibetan short stories, Old Demons, New Deities, released in October, but at the same time an anthology of contemporary Tibetan poetry, Burning the Sun’s Braids, was published by the independent imprint Blackneck Books. These collections act as companions for understanding the literature being written by Tibetans today, both prose and poetry.

While there have been smatterings of Tibetan poetry in translation across the web for a while now – for example on the excellent website High Peaks, Pure Earth –  Burning the Sun’s Braids is the first book devoted to new poetry written inside Tibet

Q&A

New Tricks, Old Dogs

First of all, welcome and tashi delek.

Thank you very much. Tashi delek.

You started your career off as a fiction writer before moving to film. How do you see your art, your worldview, and your identity changing?

Both film and fiction were my main interests growing up. I read a lot of novels and watched a lot of movies as a kid. However, as far our hometown is concerned, there aren’t any opportunities to major in film or join a film school. So all I could study was Tibetan and Chinese. All throughout high school and university my focus was Tibetan literature. Nevertheless, I never let my love for film fade during my childhood or university days. In 2000, I went to the Northwestern University for Nationalities in Lanzhou, Gansu, for a masters in literary translation. It was then that I really felt a desire to study film.

Review

Off the Plateau

Lowell Cook reviews Old Demons, New Deities

The world of Tibetan literature just got a little bigger. A collection of twenty-one contemporary Tibetan short stories edited by Tenzin Dickie, wonderfully titled Old Demons, New Deities, was published by OR Books in December. The collection brings together some of the best fiction from the Tibetan world, featuring authors from both inside and outside Tibet. For many readers, Tibet means “Free Tibet” bumper stickers and Shangrila fantasies, but these stories evoke a different vision. They offer us windows into the lived experiences of ordinary Tibetans today, capturing the joys and sorrows of modern Tibet as it grapples with both the old demons of tradition and the new deities of modernity.