Bill Porter, the renowned translator of Chinese poetry and Buddhist texts who goes by the pen name Red Pine, is the subject of a new anthology and documentary, both titled Dancing with the Dead and set to come out in the spring of 2023. The projects come from nonprofit publisher Copper Canyon Press and production company Woody Creek Pictures respectively, two organizations that have teamed up on a Kickstarter campaign to ensure their work stays on schedule. The campaign aims to raise $80,000 by June 1 to fund costs associated with publishing the anthology, as well as research and post-production costs for the film. 

Porter is the author and translator of over twenty books and a beloved figure in the American Buddhist landscape. As Ward Serrill, director of Dancing with the Dead, points out, Porter’s biography also makes him a great subject for a documentary. His father was a bank robber, he flunked out of three different colleges, he lived in a Buddhist monastery for years, he was a popular radio host in Hong Kong, and he discovered hermits in the China’s Zhongnan Mountains after officials told him that there were no hermits to be found there. Using interviews, animation, archival footage of Beat poets, and footage from Chinese television productions on Porter, the film will tell the story of the translator’s life and contribution to his field. The anthology, meanwhile, will collect his poetry translations in the final volume of a series of books called “Essential Poems”—a series that includes writers like W.S. Merwin, June Jordan, Jim Harrison, and Ruth Stone.

Depending on the level of support, contributors to the campaign could receive an advance copy of the anthology,  a digital download of the documentary,  a collector’s edition movie poster, their name in the credits of the anthology and film, and even a dinner and private reading with Porter.

The whole endeavor is a real homegrown affair. Porter, the filmmakers, and Copper Canyon are all based in Port Townsend, Washington. Rocky Friedman, the producer of the Dancing in the Dead, ​​owns and operates the Rose Theatre, an independent cinema in Port Townsend that has become its own community landmark. And Porter is currently building a meditation center in the heart of town. Though the project is still getting off the ground, it will be a non-denominational community center meant to welcome Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. The focus on inclusivity starts with the structure itself. It’s in the center of town, easily accessible to all, and will be built in the Chinese style with a bench around the perimeter for anyone who has trouble sitting on the floor. Artist James Turrell will also contribute to the design, in part as a gesture to his late roommate, artist Tom Jay, who constructed a meditation bell for the center just before he died two years ago. The documentary will offer a sneak peak of the meditation center’s construction. 

“We’re very positive about this,” Porter told Tricycle about the meditation hall. “I don’t think there’s anything that can stop this from going forward.” With the Kickstarter campaign, Copper Canyon Press and Woody Creek Pictures hope for the same with Dancing in the Dark

Read a 2000 Tricycle Magazine interview with Red Pine here.

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