Poem by Chinese dissident stalks Olympic torch; Billy Collins passes it on

Today, the International PEN Poem Relay, following the path of the Olympic torch, hits the US, with Billy Collins reciting the poem “June” by Shi Tao, translated into English by Chip Rolley, from PEN Sydney.

My whole life

Will never get past “June”
June, when my heart died
When my poetry died
When my lover
Died in romance’s pool of blood

June, the scorching sun burns open my skin
Revealing the true nature of my wound
June, the fish swims out of the blood-red sea
Toward another place to hibernate
June, the earth shifts, the rivers fall silent
Piled up letters unable to be delivered to the dead

Here is the story of Shi Tao and “June”:

Shi Tao is a Chinese journalist, poet and PEN member, serving 10 years in prison on the charge of “revealing state secrets abroad.” In April 2004, Shi Tao (Shi is his family name) attended an editorial meeting of the Contemporary Commerce News, where he worked, and where a document was read out from the Office of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party warning the media on their reportage during the upcoming 15th anniversary of the June 4 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests and Beijing massacre. Using a Yahoo! Email account and another name, Shi Tao sent notes he took of this document, to overseas pro-democracy websites that publish news and information from China. His notes were published on Demoracy Net, Democracy Forum and others. He was convicted and sentenced for that email. According to court documents, Yahoo! (Hong Kong) Holdings Ltd provided the Chinese authorities with Shi Tao's identity. Shi Tao wrote the poem “June,” a meditation on the 1989 protests and massacre, less than two months after he sent that fateful email - on June 9, 2004.

You can follow the path of the poem here, and read more about the relay here and here. And here is the press release from PEN American Center.

Update: The New York Times has a good write-up of the torch's bizarre path through San Francisco today: The torch was lit at a park outside at AT&T Park at about 1:17 p.m. Pacific time, briefly held aloft by Chinese Olympic officials and promptly taken into a waterfront warehouse, where it stayed for a half-an-hour as confusion spread crowds along the oft-changing relay route.” Apparently the Olympic officials were dodging the protests, so they could film the torch's travels with minimum embarrassment. As Jason Zengerle writes, over at The New Republic: the torch relay is pure propoganda, both for the benighted International Olympic Committee and for the Chinese government. There's no reason that the U.S. has to be a party to it.


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