The Dog Years of Reeducation
Poems by Jianqing Zheng
ISBN: 978-1-956440-39-3 paperback $19.95
ISBN: 978-1-956440-40-9 ebook $9.99
In the Chinese Cultural Revolution, millions of middle school and high school graduates, called the zhiqing or Educated Youth, were sent up to the mountains and down to the countryside to receive reeducation from the poor peasants. With deep conviction that they would play an important role in the transformation of rural China, the zhiqing became field hands, never realizing that reeducation was both a physical and psychological challenge. This collection of poetry is the representation of those reeducation years in the fields. Half a century has passed, but memories remain fresh, each a page of suffering, cheering, or dreaming to turn.
What people are saying about The Dog Years of Reeducation by Jianqing Zheng
Jianqing Zheng’s startling collection of poems, a reliving of the author’s experience as a young scholar relocated to a farm, summons nature as companion. The poet’s exile is “a double plow”: “plain laughter / flavor / of plain life”; “We remain silent as if / we must accept the fact that / our bodies deserve / bending or transplanting / like rice seedlings.” As from the work of the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, we absorb history—absorb it the only way we can: as experience. Dazzle of fireflies, leeches glomming to legs in rice paddies. Hard work and rest, lit with hand-rolled smokes. Each night “the moon peeks through / the broken window.” And, finally, there is this compelling invitation: “Tell me when you want to smell the scent of new rice, and I will bring you a whole bag of it grown with my muddy hands. It’s my sweat of love.”—Angela Ball, author of Talking Pillow
What I like best about Zheng’s poems is nearly every line has an image: I see what he’s saying—verbal movies. He shows, rather than tells. I’m entertained by what he says and by the way he says his what. Unforgettable pictures: “Our husky voices / sandpaper the muggy heat,” “Straw hats float like life preservers / in a white sea of cotton,” a roommate bubbling snores, and “Light recedes / field to field / into a big tomato / toothed in half by hills.”—DC Berry, author of Yes, Cancer French Kisses
What will wake the reader here and keep attention from beginning to end is the series of original and important metaphors that reveal how deeply Jianqing Zheng’s memory was cast within the confines of his reeducation. In Zheng’s book, we experience the actual human side through the author’s keen perceptions, as well as compelling moves in the writing of his poetry.—Theodore Haddin, author of By a Doorway, in the Garden
I am so glad to see Jian Zheng writing more about his hard and fascinating youth. It is his story, but it is also one of the great stories of modern history. He shows it to us from the inside. He is writing important poems.—Dana Gioia, author of Meet Me at the Lighthouse
Although set fifty years ago in a time and place foreign to many American readers of contemporary poetry, this collection remains timely in its historical value and perspective, in its humbleness of surrendering to a subsistence life and to hard knowledge gained and carried as lessons into adulthood, and in the beauty and longing captured in his spare writing. One has the feeling that Zheng has been coming to this work all of his life, and we are richer for having glimpsed these years of toil, dreams, and realizations through a poet’s generous heart and eyes.—Linda Parsons, for the Arkansas Review 53.3 (December 2022) … read full review.
Zheng’s poetic style is a masterclass in the poem’s heavy-lifting. Equally comfortable in both the narrative and lyrical modes of the poem, Zheng often gives us the best of both. “Morning Chat” begins: “At fish-belly dawn, we/walk barefoot to the paddies./Yi keeps yawning and complaining,/“Why get up so early to plant/rice seedlings? The sun is still in bed!”
Jianqing Zheng’s “The Dog Years of Reeducation”gives us so much more than a history we need—Zheng’s collection gives us an experience. An experience full of the contradictions of human being: doubt, uncertainty, beauty, love, and will. —C.T. Salazar, author of Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking, for the Mississippi Books Page (February 28, 2023) … read full review.
Jianqing Zheng is the author of A Way of Looking and two poetry chapbooks, editor of Conversations with Dana Gioia, Sonia Sanchez’s Poetic Spirit through Haiku, and five other books. He received the 2019 Gerald Cable Book Prize and two literary arts fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission, among other awards and honors. He is professor of English at Mississippi Valley State University, where he serves as editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature and Valley Voices and is the former editor of Poetry South. A reeducated youth in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zheng has lived in Mississippi since 1991.
Reviews and Interviews
Jian, or John as he introduces himself, is one of the kindest authors we know. Of course his work is special. He is special. And he is also a talented photographer. That beautiful cover is from a photo he took!