Night Train To Shanghai
And Other Memories of China
by GERALD NICOSIA
Available Now | Non-fiction / USA $15.00 | Canada $18.50 | ISBN 978-0-9839264-3-6
Night Train To Shanghai, Gerald Nicosia's fourth collection of poetry, traces the writer's love affair with a country he had trouble even imagining in his Fifties childhood in the American Midwest. Among the surprises in store for him were adopting his first child, Wu Ji (who became the American Amy), in Hefie; teaching his great literary love, the Beat poets, to Chinese graduate students at Sichuan University in Chengdu; and taking the train ride of his life on a night express between Beijing and Shanghai. These are poems of an American face to face with America's greatest terror, Communist China, and finding that dreaded foe wearing human faces just like the ones he has known elsewhere. And they are the poems of a father learning to know his adopted daughter in the land that gave birth to her.
Primarily known as a first-rate literary and social historian (Memory Babe, Home to War), Gerald Nicosia has given us in Night Train to Shanghai something I, for one, would never have imagined coming from him: a fluent, heart-felt, large-minded narrative poem about visits he made to modern China both by himself and with his wife and two children—one of whom was a Chinese orphan. Nicosia brings alive this huge land—in essence, the new America—as nothing else I’ve read has done, and at the same time emerges as a wonderfully witty, rueful, seasoned passenger, the perfect companion on the journey.
–Aram Saroyan, author Last Rites, Day and Night, and Complete Minimal Poems
Night Train to Shanghai reads as smoothly and directly as one of China’s high speed trains. Stories, attitudes, glimpses of life, politics and policies, museums and temples, all flow by the poet learning to see with more than Western eyes.
–Joanne Kyger, author of About Now and The Japan and India Journals
There’s good observation in Night Train to Shanghai; there’s good feeling it; there’s warmth and original wit. What Nicosia has written is a travelogue and meditation partly on aging and on travel and on his feelings for China and the Chinese. I have admiration for this book.
–Herbert Gold, author of Fathers, Bohemia, and Still Alive
About the Author:
Born and educated in Chicago (University of Illinois, Highest Distinction in English, 1971 and 1973), Gerald Nicosia has for decades been best known as the author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac and a critic and historian of the Beats, the Sixties, and the Vietnam War. But even before his undergraduate years ended, he was publishing poetry as well, mentored by Chicago poets he loved such as Carl Sandburg and some he knew personally such as Paul Carroll, founder of Big Table Books and Magazine. And while his poetry quickly absorbed the influence of the Beat writers in its insistence on clarity, narrative coherence, and incorporation of common speech, it also drew heavily upon the down and dirty blues voice and sometimes black humor of Chicago writers like Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Richard Wright.
Nicosia is the author of three previous books of poetry, Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets & Bargirls; Love, California Style, which was a Small Press Review poetry selection for 2002; and Embrace of the Lepers. Several of his poems have received Pushcart nominations as well. Since the early 1980’s, he has read his poetry extensively in public throughout the United States, and has read it in other countries, including England, France, Italy, and China. He read his poetry at the international Beat festival at NYU in May 1994, on the same stage with Allen Ginsberg, and he has also given featured readings of his poetry at such notable venues as the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Wales, and the Three Horseshoes Pub in Hampstead, London, at a reading organized by Michael Horowitz, the same man who had organized the first Beat reading in England in 1965 at the Royal Albert Hall. Nicosia himself has organized many marathon poetry readings, sometimes with more than twenty performers and for audiences of 500 or more, at such venues as the Koret Auditorium in San Francisco, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and Bob Weir’s Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California.
The poems in Night Train to Shanghai grew out of Nicosia’s several trips to modern China, beginning with his trip to Hefei in 1995 to adopt his six-month-old daughter Wu Ji (now Amy). He later traveled to Chengdu to guest-teach Beat poetry and other subjects to graduate students at Sichuan University, and took his daughter Amy to many cities in China, including her birth-place of Wuhu, when she was ten and had already learned to speak Mandarin. In the “Author’s Preface,” Nicosia explains the origins of these poems in “the richness that has come to me by digging a hole in myself that inadvertently let in the other side of the world.”
In his introduction, Beat poet Jerry Kamstra describes Night Train to Shanghai as “clearheaded and respectful, bighearted but critical, knowledgeable but not pedantic, modern China seen through the middle eye of a poet who is much more than the best biographer of Jack Kerouac (Memory Babe) or the scholarly author of Home to War, his seven-hundred-page opus on the Vietnam War and the plight of returning veterans.” Kamstra further claims that “Gerald Nicosia is a poet of the first rank, following in the tradition of Irving Layton and Theodore Roethke.”
Maxine Hong Kingston, arguably America’s greatest living Chinese-American writer, declares in her foreword that “Gerald Nicosia has written a truthful, beautiful collection of poems.