How do we honor the dead? How do we commit them to memory? And how do we come to terms with the way they died? To start, we can name them. When schools collapsed in an earthquake in China, burying over 5,000 children, the government brutally prevented parents from learning who had died. Artist Ai Weiwei, at risk to his own safety, gathered the names of these children, and their names are the subject of this book. Each poem is a poetic meditation on the image and concept suggested by the etymology in the Chinese characters. This act of poetic translation is both a heartbreaking tribute to people whose names have been erased, and a healing meditation on how language suggests a path forward.
He carried no iron into battle.
When he lifted his hand,
he brandished the sky.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
What People are Saying About This
"Through his meticulous aesthetic appreciation of the Chinese language, Ian Boyden has revealed relationships between a person's name, native land, and destiny—laying bare a world with a different language, different water, different soil. And yet, the dreams of all worldly beings are not that different from each other. We sense this especially in the dreams of children, dreams they were not allowed to realize because they were destroyed in a disaster that could have been averted. Ian's poems in A Forest of Names have made us feel all of this—so incredibly heartbreaking."—Tsering Woeser
"Ian Boyden is not just a poet—he is an artist, craftsman, translator, and rebel."—Ai Weiwei
"The courage and art of one man, met by the empathy and art of another, have brought thousands of lost children back into the light of loving perception. A Forest of Names offers healing to human psyches everywhere."—David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K
"This extraordinary collection of jewel-like reflections is a profound meditation on truth, suffering, loss, and beauty. It is also a reminder that whatever we build has to be carefully built to last, even as impermanence prevails. We also must not forget the preciousness of life. This book reminds us again and again of the great treasure of life."—Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center
"With utmost care, Ian Boyden tends to and worships these pure souls who were disparaged and devalued, immortalizing these children in an inner landscape of compassion and affection. From within the shadows, he polished names of hallucinatory beauty, singing the praises of their divinity—108 limitless birds rising from the ashes."—Danhong Tang