On Thursday evening, October 15, Bill Porter will bring a slide/lecture presentation titled: The Search for Solitude: China's Hermit Tradition, to Union College's Old Chapel, as part of the Haiku North America 2015 conference. He has published several books describing his travels in China in search of that Taoist/Buddhist hermit tradition. But, Bill Porter is perhaps better known as Red Pine, the name he uses when he translates ancient Chinese poetry and ancient Buddhist texts. (For a partial list of his publications, see Copper Canyon Press, and Amazon.com's Red Pine Page.) Under either name, the more I have learned of about his fascinating life and works, the more I am looking forward to meeting and hearing him at HNA 2015.
Turned off by the life of wealth he was born into, this son of a former bank-robber who later owned a chain of California hotels and became a major force in the election of John F. Kennedy, lived in Taiwan for three years in the early 1970s as a Buddhist monk. He now lives in Port Townsend, Washington. To help himself learn the Chinese language, Bill began translating the poetry of the famous Chinese poet Cold Mountain. Tricycle tells us, in an interview about the Chinese Hermit Tradition, that Bill has made "many long journeys in mainland China that he chronicled for radio audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He produced over 1,100 short programs about different Chinese locales, embellishing his narratives with details from Chinese history and culture." He will surely share many interesting and entertaining details with us on October 15.
It is his approach to translating ancient poetry that may be especially pertinent to a Conference that is focused on how we teach and learn haiku, a genre that suffered greatly due to misguided translations of its classic poets. In the article "Red Pine's Chinese translations rise from Port Townsend to the top of Cold Mountain" (The Oregonian-OregonLive.com, Dec. 16, 2013) arts reporter Jeff Baker tells us that Jim Harrison, poet and author of Legends of the Fall, says he reads Red Pine's translations "religiously." W.S. Merwin, the octogenarian National Book Award-winning poet was even more effusive. Merlin told Baker he loves Red Pine's translations because "they're not like any others. Love of language, love of tradition, accuracy and power of language. I am so indebted to him. I'll be reading his Stonehouse translations for the rest of my days."
Or, as Conference co-chair Hilary Tann told me, "Red Pine should inspire us to reconstruct the ancient haiku traditions in a contemporary and utterly natural way."
You can learn more about Red Pine and Bill Porter in the Oregonian article mentioned above. For more background, I also suggest: