Famous American traveler, translator and author Bill Porter, who goes by the pen name Red Pine, has teamed up with Copper Canyon Press, a nonprofit poetry publisher, and Woody Creek Pictures, a film production company dedicated to improving the common good. , to create a feature-length documentary about his life and an anthology of his translations of ancient Chinese poetry. The film and the book must be titled dance with the dead. The collaboration is now raising funds to ensure timely production.
Aiming for a total of US$80,000, the fundraising has so far reached over US$45,000. The project will only be funded if it reaches its full goal by June 1. The funds will be shared between the projects, with the film and the book due out in 2023.
Red Pine has written and translated over 20 books in English and published nine books in Chinese. His works, which detailed the lives and teachings of Chinese hermits and mountain poets, reached bestseller lists in China. Enjoying an eccentric life, Red Pine dropped out of graduate school at Columbia University, spent years in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, worked in Hong Kong as a radio presenter, and traveled extensively across the country. China.
Like many of his day, Red Pine was influenced by the Beat writers of the 1950s. When he was at Columbia, studying with famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, he read Alan Watts The Way of Zen (Vintage Books 1957), drawing his attention to the Chinese language, which he began to study.
“Chinese was difficult,” Red Pine said in a 2018 interview. “I met a monk in Chinatown and he taught me how to meditate, and I started spending weekends with him in this place of retirement. I realized that was what I wanted to do. It was much more interesting than studying. So I left Columbia and went to Taiwan. Another graduate student had the address from a Buddhist monastery. I studied Chinese, so I went there. I stayed in two different monasteries and studied philosophy in a Chinese university. (Peninsula Daily News)
Red Pine likened his encounters with Chinese poets to a dance, as he sought to carefully translate the beauty of their words into English: “Every time I translate a book of poems, I learn a new way of dancing. The people I dance with, however, are dead, not recently dead, but long dead. A thousand years or more seems about right. And the music must be Chinese. It’s the only music I learned to dance to. . . .”
“To me,” Red Pine added, “it means a tango with Li Bai, a waltz with Wei Yingwu, a dance with the dead.” (Kickstarter)
The filmmakers – Ward Serrill and Rocky Friedman – will compile interviews, use animation and draw on past footage of Beat poets and Chinese landscapes to illustrate the life and thought of Red Pine, which now calls the small town of Port Townsend, Washington, his home.
As part of the project, the filmmakers will work with Port Townsend-based publisher Copper Canyon Press to release a new anthology of the best Red Pine translations. The book will be part of the press’ “Essential Poems” series, which has previously published works by Buddhist practitioners WS Merwin and Jim Harrison. The press also published works by Ursula K. Le Guin and Pablo Neruda.
Red Pine won the prestigious Tronton Wilder Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his translations in 2018. The award recognized his significant contributions to the art of literary translation and included a US$20,000 award.
“The way I see my work is that I discovered these treasures in China and that I wanted to introduce them to Westerners”, explained Red Pine at the time. “Getting this award is confirmation that, yes, I did. I’ll never get anything like that again. It’s not as much money as a Guggenheim, but it’s respect for your peers. (Peninsula Daily News)
Red Pine: Dances with the Dead (Kickstarter)
Translator of Chinese poets from Port Townsend wins national prize (Peninsula Daily News)
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