Jeffrey Yang on Translation

Jeffrey Yang, poet, editor, and translator of Uyghur and Chinese poetry (both classical and modern, including Liu Xiaobo’s 刘晓波 June Fourth Elegies, Su Shi’s 蘇軾 East Slope, and Bei Dao’s 北岛 forthcoming memoir City Gate, Open Up) answers questions as part of Words Without Borders‘ “Translator Relay“:

You are a translator, but also an award-winning poet. Can you speak about how your work as a poet informs your translations? And in turn, do you find that your work as a translator informs your poetry?

I try not to dissect this back and forth too much as the two so naturally fit together, like Adam and Eve. Both require careful attention to the musical qualities of language. The two can also overtly overlap, in that translating a poem is akin to writing a poem in a new language, or when writing a poem includes translated lines from another language. Both practices thrive in obscurity and with patient tinkering at the minutest level of word and line. As the recent Nobel Laureate said fifty years ago, “People have one great blessing—obscurity.” Each revels in an economy of language while persisting outside of the day-to-day economy, where profit never ventures upon its threshold. The one feeds the other in body and spirit, as with the other arts.

Click on the image above for the full Q & A.

Link on Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Perry Link at the New York Review of Books reviews the expanded re-release of 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, by Eliot Weinberger. Link writes:

Some of the art of classical Chinese poetry must simply be set aside as untranslatable … Weinberger knows all of this and sensibly begins his inquiry at step two—after all the untranslatables have been set aside. Now the question becomes: How can one make another poem from the twenty bundles of meaning that the Chinese characters offer? Weinberger criticizes, astutely if sometimes unkindly, almost every translator he cites … Although he is critical of nearly everyone’s translation in Nineteen Ways, Weinberger wisely adopts the position that “quite a few possible readings” can all be “equally ‘correct.’” Dilemmas about translation do not have definitive right answers (although there can be unambiguously wrong ones if misreadings of the original are involved). Any translation (except machine translation, a different case) must pass through the mind of a translator, and that mind inevitably contains its own store of perceptions, memories, and values.

Link also gives a China-centered take on Weinberger’s new essay collection, The Ghosts of Birds: “Weinberger’s sensitivity to words and gift for clear thinking underlie nearly every page in Nineteen Ways, but in The Ghosts of Birds they spout like a geyser.”

Click the image above for the (paywalled) review in full.

The article is also now available on ChinaFile for free.

Dundee Review on Holton’s Staunin Ma Lane

holtonXinyi Jiang and Lindsay Macgregor at the Dundee Review of the Arts give their take on Brian Holton’s Staunin Ma Lane, a collection of classical Chinese poetry translated into Scots (with English “glosses”). They write:

The archaisms of the classical Chinese language, the multiple meanings of individual Chinese characters, as well as the very different cultural allusions must surely have made translation a daunting task. But if so, it never shows. There’s a natural ease to Holton’s Scots which belies the compromises which translation necessarily incurs when qualities of sight and sound, meaning and allusion jostle for survival in each line. Holton’s improvisations, translations and cover versions – faithful and playful, confident and experimental – make classical Chinese poetry both highly accessible and hugely enjoyable.

Click the image for the review in full.

Mei & Plaks Obituary of Yu-kung Kao

Yu-kung KaoAndrew Plaks and Tsu-lin Mei 梅祖麟 have written an obituary for renowned Chinese poetry scholar and Princeton emeritus professor Yu-kung Kao 高友工, who has died at age 87. They write:

The invaluable contributions of Kao to the academic training of a generation of scholars of Chinese literature in the United States and abroad is matched only by the profound and lasting impact he had, on a personal level, on so many lives. In some ways, he was an enigmatic individual — quiet and reserved, a very private person whose inner thoughts remained a mystery even to his closest friends, reluctant to display his vast erudition and penetrating insight. Yet in his own way, with his inscrutable smile and self-deprecating manner, he was always reaching out to touch the minds and hearts of all the students and colleagues who read his seminal writings with utter absorption, or sat around his seminar table, intent on absorbing even a small measure of the spiritual and intellectual depths of the Chinese “lyric vision.”

For more details of his life, click on the image for the obituary in full.

Australia’s Medal for Excellence in Translation for Minford’s I Ching

The Australian Academy of the Humanities has inaugurated its Medal for Excellence in Translation, and the first winner is John Minford for his translation of I Ching (Yijing): The Book of Change.

Books and Publishing reports:

A judging panel comprising Brian Nelson, Mabel Lee and Peter Doyle said Minford’s work ‘bids fair to become the definitive translation of this primary Chinese classic’.

‘An imposing example of the translator-scholar as cultural intermediary, it is both a tour de force of scholarship and a distinguished literary achievement,’ said the judges. ‘Minford adopts a thoughtful, original, flexible approach to the challenges of his task as translator, offering a significantly new interpretation of a piece of major world literature.’

Click the image above for the full report.

NYTimes Reviews Iron Moon Chinese Worker Poetry Documentary

New York Times has published a brief review of Iron Moon 我的诗篇, a documentary on poetry-writing industrial workers in southern China, directed by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and Wu Feiyue 吴飞跃.

Webster writes:

With arresting images, “Iron Moon” powerfully addresses China’s moral crisis in the wake of economic prosperity. Today, “if you don’t have money or power, it’s really hard,” says Xu Lizhi’s father. Especially if you’re working the line.

Click here for a preview of the movie.

Global Times on Bei Dao

Bei Dao Photo: IC
It’s usually best to avoid The Global Times. Nevertheless, they’ve reported on a recent poetry festival in Xiamen, so…

Wearing a white suit and standing at a prominent spot, the 67-year-old Bei read his lines at the closing ceremony on October 24 for the first time in front of the public since his homecoming, except for some small-scale personal gatherings.

Having lived overseas for 20 years, Bei moved to Hong Kong in 2007, working as Chair Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Qilu Xing [歧路行], literally meaning walking in the wrong way, was composed in 2009 in what was his first shot at long poems, before which he only created short poems. However, the writing process was interrupted by a stroke after he finished the 500th line and it remains an unfinished business.

The article also covers a brief and cleansed history of Jintian 今天 (Today) magazine, Shu Ting 舒婷, Mang Ke 芒克, and others. Click the image for the full article.

Mazanec on Rouzer’s Hanshan Translations

Tom Mazanec has posted about Paul Rouzer’s new translation of Hanshan 寒山 (Cold Mountain) for de Gruyter’s Library of Chinese Humanities–now available for sale and free download.

As Tom notes, some of the Hanshan corpus was “famously translated by Gary Snyder in 1958 [and] later celebrated by Jack Kerouac in his hit novel The Dharma Bums,” which means this publication lacks the punch de Gruyter landed when publishing Stephen Owen’s complete Du Fu 杜甫:

there are already two complete translations of Hanshan out there, by Robert Henricks and Red Pine (personally, I’m fond of the latter), as well as multiple partial translations by such prominent translators as Arthur Waley, Burton Watson, Peter Hobson and T. H. Barrett, J. P. Seaton, and doubtless others. A close reading will show how these translations each contribute something different to our understanding of this poetic corpus, and this in itself is helpful for teaching and understanding Tang poetry.

Worth noting, though, is that Rouzer’s book also includes poems attributed to Hanshan’s companions, Shide 拾得 and Fenggan 豐干. At any rate,

It’s always good to have more translations of Tang poetry in other languages, and especially translations by someone as knowledgeable as Paul Rouzer … He’s a sensitive reader and a smooth writer, and I’m sure his translations are wonderful (I’ve yet to go through them with a close eye).

Tom also notes the forthcoming titles in the Library of Chinese Humanities, Robert Ashmore’s Li He 李賀 and Stephen Owen and Wendy Swartz’s translation of Ruan Ji  阮籍 and Xi Kang 嵇康.

Click the image above for the full write-up.

Cornell Chronicle on Admussen’s Recite and Refuse

The Cornell Chronicle has a write-up on Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry, by Cornell’s own Nick Admussen. “Nick Admussen began his study of Chinese prose poetry eight years ago with the expectation that the genre would be similar to its counterpart in Western literature,” the Chronicle writes:

nonconformist poems that reject the structures of most poetry. But … the Chinese poems shared a method in which they imitated some type of prose – whether it was an advertisement, a travelogue or political speech – and then altered it in some way…

“What surprised me the most when I started the process is I had read a lot of American and a lot of French prose poetry,” Admussen said. “I had read scholars from other languages, especially from France, who would argue that with prose poetry, it’s this rebelliousness – breaking the rules of poetry and breaking the lines. But a lot of Chinese prose poetry tends toward the obedient.”

Recite and Refuse is now out from University of Hawai’i Press. Click on the image above for the full write-up.