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The Orange Tree

With a Foreword by Srikanth Reddy
Debut collection of poems that weaves stories of family history, war, and migration.  
Dong Li’s The Orange Tree is a collection of narrative poems that braids forgotten legends, personal sorrows, and political upheavals into a cinematic account of Chinese history as experienced by one family. Amid chaos and catastrophe, the child narrator examines a yellowed family photo to find resemblances and learns a new language, inventing compound words to conjure and connect family stories. These invented words and the calligraphy of untranslated Chinese characters appear in lists separating the book’s narrative sections.
Li’s lyrical and experimental collection transcends the individual, placing generations of family members and anonymous others together in a single moment that surpasses chronological time. Weaving through stories of people with little means, between wars and celebrations, over bridges and walls, and between trees and gardens, Li’s poems offer intimate perspectives on times that resonate with our own. The result is an unflinching meditation on family history, collective trauma, and imaginative recovery.
The Orange Tree is the recipient of the inaugural Phoenix Emerging Poet Book Prize for 2023.

88 pages | 7 halftones | 6 1/2 x 9 1/2 | © 2023

Phoenix Poets



"What Li, the recipient of the inaugural Phoenix Emerging Poet Book Prize, does in his first collection is combine the excruciatingly personal with an essential oral history of China. The poet compounds words into feelings so readily familiar that by reading them one is immediately transposed to a different place and into a story. . . . The Orange Tree is, simply put, transformative."

Booklist starred review

"Dong Li’s debut collection is tenderly premised around the multiplicity of language. With a translator’s precision and an ethnographer’s comprehensiveness, The Orange Tree narrates generations of a family’s 20th-century history."

Harriet Books

The Orange Tree is a remarkable, powerful book of innovative lyric that recaptures the horrors of contemporary Chinese history by use of personal and collective memory—along with the memory of rivers, blossoms, fruit, and flesh. Li seeks and invents a language of grief that meanders, exquisitely and unflinchingly, across family lineage, historical violence, and trauma as he channels the lives of those who have met unspeakable atrocities. Li, a multilingual, transnational poet and translator, is a time traveler of our endlessly violent world.”

Don Mee Choi, author of "DMZ Colony," winner of the National Book Award

The Orange Tree is a polyphonic, kinetic, book-length poem that is at once lyrical, historical, and deeply personal. With his dynamic leaps, Li takes us down the long river of modern Chinese history as it shapes the lives of one family and his imagination. His elegant phrases and crystal images probe the traumatic space between self and world. An inventive first book with fresh music.”

Peter Balakian, author of "Ozone Journal," winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The Orange Tree is a sui generis book of exigent, raw, brutal, and intimate poems. We’ll forget neither their rhythms nor their effects, the tense, staccato sentencing, the Chinese waymarks, the vertical typography, or the evocative, metaphorical kennings. Li braids fragmented histories, fable, biography, and dream into a startlingly potent art. His formally restless lines suddenly waylay us, penetrating so deeply we hesitate to look up. And as we discover, their gravity holds us back from casually moving on.”

Forrest Gander, author of "Be With," winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“Is poetry possible after the particular atrocities of World War II? This book inverts Adorno’s well-known question and asks instead, ‘Is war possible after such poetry?’ The answer is ominous—where we are now, our reading of the world affirms that daily. The other thing that recommends Li’s book is the language. On the page is the physical act of Chinese being converted to English and vice versa—a conversion, more than a translation, it is electrifying.”

Wong May, author of "Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978–2013," winner of the Windham-Campbell Prize

Table of Contents

Foreword: Srikanth Reddy
Aviary of Water and Fire
The Orange Tree
Live, by Lightning
The Army Dreamer
The Maple Bridge
Glossary: In Search of Words

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