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Part of: Exile and Arrival: Poetry Translation Centre's 20th Birthday Showcase in Norfolk Living in Language: Celebrate World Poetry Day with Yang Lian, Mohan Rana and Brian Holton

National Centre for Writing

What is the reason for bringing a poem into being? - Yang Lian, tr. Brian Holton

This World Poetry Day, we’re thrilled to launch Living in Language, the Poetry Translation Centre’s groundbreaking anthology of lyric essays, fragments, letters and new poems from 21 poets from around the world.

Joining us will be two seminal poets from China and India: Yang Lian, one of the original Misty Poets who reacted against the strictures of the Cultural Revolution; and Mohan Rana, a Hindi poet who has been translated into over a dozen languages.

Yang Lian’s essay in Living in Language is hauntingly titled ‘Nightmare Inspiration’. Throughout Yang’s career, he has seen the nightmares of turbulent current affairs - from the Tiananmen Square massacre to Covid-19 - inspire a generation of Chinese writers. But for him, ‘Nightmare Inspiration is not a slogan, for it runs through the thinking and writing of all poetry.’ It connects contemporary writers to ancient ones across the world, and allows us to interrogate the darkness of human nature through time and space. ‘Nightmare Inspiration’ is translated by acclaimed translator Brian Holton, who will read his English versions and join us in conversation.

Meanwhile, Mohan Rana’s essay ‘The Poem Chooses Its Own Birth’ (translated by Sarabjeet Garcha) grapples with the mysterious processes behind creativity. ‘I do not have a template for writing,’ he states: ‘Surprise is the only certainty.’ This surprise breathes life into the poem, but it also means the poet can’t be sure of what they’ve created. The poem is made and re-made in every reading: ‘Poetry is translated into a language twice: first when it is written down and again when it is read and heard.’

All three authors will read poems and excerpts of their contributions to Living in Language, leading to a conversation chaired by Erica Hesketh, the editor of the anthology and Director of the Poetry Translation Centre.

This event is part of a showcase weekend at the National Centre for Writing, kick-starting the Poetry Translation Centre’s 20th birthday year of celebrations. Throughout 2024, the PTC will be running events and workshops around England, open to all. Find out more about our exciting line-up, upcoming publications, young people’s programme and online activity at

This event may cover themes including political violence, discrimination and exile. All are welcome but age 14+ recommended.

This event is supported by Arts Council England.

More about the writers

Yang Lian was one of the original Misty Poets who reacted against the strictures of the Cultural Revolution. His work was criticised in China in 1983 and formally banned in 1989 when he organised memorial services for the dead of Tiananmen while in New Zealand. He was a Chinese poet in exile from 1989 to 1995, and now lives in Berlin. Translations of his poetry include Where the Sea Stands Still (1999), Yi (2002), Concentric Circles (2005), Lee Valley Poems (2009), Narrative Poem (2017), A Tower Built Downwards (2023), and Anniversary Snow (2019) which won the 2020 Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation. He was awarded the International Nonino Prize in 2012.

Mohan Rana is a Hindi poet raised in Delhi who now lives in Bath. He has published ten poetry collections in Hindi and has performed widely internationally. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages and in 2020 his bilingual poetry collection, The Cartographer, translated by Lucy Rosenstein and Bernard O'Donoghue, was published by the Poetry Translation Centre. A triligual collection Nekje Daleč Sem Uzrl Zvezde (I Saw the Stars Far Off) was translated by Andrej Pleterski and published by Beletrina, Slovenia in 2020. His latest poetry collection Ekaant Men Roshandaan (Solitude in Skylight) is published by Nayan Publications, India in 2023.

Brian Holton has won prizes for his poetry and for his translations in Scots and English: he and Yang Lian won the 2020 Sarah Maguire Prize for Anniversary Snow. He has also translated Yang Lian’s Venice Elegy (Edizioni Damocle, 2019), and his Narrative Poem (Bloodaxe Books, 2017). Holton’s collections of classical poems in Scots are Staunin Ma Lane (Shearsman Books 2016), Hard Roads an Cauld Hairst Winds: Li Bai an Du Fu in Scots (Taproot Press 2022), and Aa Cled wi Clouds She Cam (Irish Pages 2023), the last two shortlisted for Scots Book of the Year. He taught Chinese and translation in the UK and Hong Kong, and has appeared at festivals and lectured in many countries. Brian is the world’s only published Chinese-Scots translator.

Erica Hesketh is the Director of the Poetry Translation Centre and the editor of Living in Language. Previous roles have included managing the Writers in Translation programme at English PEN, being an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing, a literary events programmer at Southbank Centre, and the book campaigns director at The Pigeonhole. She is also a musician and poet, with poems in Ink, Sweat & Tears, harana poetry and The North among others. She is a trustee of Adverse Camber Productions, and serves on the editorial board of the translation journal In Other Words.

Living in Language brings together reflections on the craft and purpose of poetry, by 21 leading poets from around the world. The lyric essays, fragments, letters and new poems in this groundbreaking anthology shed light on topics as diverse and vital as writing the body, writing in exile, writing as witness, writing as a shamanic act, grappling with traditional forms, discovering your own voice, and even translation and self-translation. This is an essential resource for anyone looking to broaden their horizons and engage with the cutting edge of poetry as it is practised, around the world, in the 21st century. Order via

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