Foreign Echoes & Discerning the Soil at SFSU

SFSU_Foreign_Echoes_&_Discerning_the_Soil

Foreign Echoes & Discerning the Soil: Translation, Chineseness, & World Literature in Chinese Poetry

Department of Foreign Languages and Literaures / Department of Creative Writing, San Francisco State University
–supported by the Poetry Center.

2/8/2016 @ 3pm
SF State Poety Center, Hum 512

Li’s Song Lin at PEN

The PEN website has published new translations of the poetry of Song Lin 宋琳 by 2015 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant-winning translator Dong Li 李栋, as well as his essay, “The World Migrating: On Translating Song Lin.”

Paul Celan by the Seine

This unavoidable speechlessness: alone, in a foreign land. Alas, “winter warms us.” This impossible supineness: a dead man floats over the Seine.
Paul Celan drinks the Seine to his heart’s content. The more he drinks, the thirstier he becomes. From partial darkness to the full: he drinks away the root of the last word.
The purest go for death the earliest. Resistance off the map—you, glorious deserter, abandoned the concentration camp, the youth, the laughable Nazis. You returned all the shame to the Jews and they wandered still, were beaten and sought salvation.
Afloat, from the Seine to Jordan, from Paris to Jerusalem. Paul Celan drinks with his eyes, drinks in his own inventive ways. Alone, he drinks the two rivers from heaven and hell.
His eyes open in our eyes. “When God asks me to drink,” he says.

Click the image above for the full suite.

Goodman on Chinese Poetry Scenes in LARB

http://static.projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/styles/profile_full/public/fairbank/files/goodman_eleanor_headshot_henan_crop.jpg?m=1436712818&itok=M9XJuU4TLast November Austin Dean interviewed Eleanor Goodman for the Los Angeles Review of Books:

What aspects of the lives and works of Chinese poets and writers are under-reported or under-acknowledged in English-language writing on China? In other words, what types of question should we be asking that we aren’t currently thinking about? 


This is a wonderful question because it assumes that there are aspects that are widely reported and acknowledged. I would say the American reading public lacks virtually any exposure to or understanding of the contemporary poetry scene in China. Part of this is the paucity of translations (let alone of quality translations), and part of this is a lack of interest. Compared to Chinese readers, American readers tend to be incredibly narrow in their choices. We don’t like to read literature in translation, we aren’t curious about other literary scenes, and we’d rather just be fed something sweet and simple than work to extract something from a foreign text. This is all a vast over-generalization, but I think it holds true writ large. If you go into a Chinese bookstore, perhaps a quarter of the shelf space will be taken up by translated books, many if not most of them recently translated into Chinese and prominently displayed. If you walk into an American bookstore (does anyone still do that?), you’re unlikely to find anything similar.

Click the image above for the full interview.

Owen’s Complete Poetry of Du Fu

http://www.degruyter.com/doc/cover/9781501501890.jpgThe Poetry of Du Fu 杜甫, edited and translated by Stephen Owen, is now available from the Library of Chinese Humanities (a new venture started by Owen and Paul Kroll and edited by them and Sarah Allen, Christopher Nugent, Anna Shields, Xiaofei Tian, and Ding Xiang Warner). It is not only available for sale, it is also available for open-access free download in .pdf format.

This six-volume opus, totaling almost 3000 pages, is to my knowledge the first translation of the complete poetic output of any individual Chinese poet in history. The promotional materials say,

The entirety of Du Fu’s works provides a more nuanced portrait of the author than the standard selections. It gives testimony to the great rebellion of 755, but also poems on building a chicken coop and repairing bamboo plumbing. In the whole we discover how the sublime and quotidian are united in a larger vision of life.

Likewise, in his introduction, Owen writes,

If there is a justification for translating all of the poems,  it may be deepening our sense of his engagement with the mundane and  not allowing it to resolve into simply a way to talk about “big things.” It is the persistence of his vision of large significance in the everyday—sometimes ironically—that makes a whole Du Fu more satisfying than a selected Du Fu.

This is true. As is Tfrom high-minded loyalist to bereft father to woeful exile to irritable curmudgeon to sycophantic hack to meditative imagist,” which is “a welcome counterbalance to the stereotyped image of Du Fu as a great ‘Confucian’ poet, the sort of thing you find in introductory textbooks to Chinese literature, both in China and abroad.”

But I also think there is a poetic argument, not limited to the specifics of Chinese literature, for a complete Du Fu (or any poet) in English, which is the one Eliot Weinberger makes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987:

to study the topography of a major poet we need to see both the peaks and the valleys. One does not exist without the other; the “minor” poems not only lead to, but often illuminate, the more important work. (And, of course, what one editor or critic considers “minor” may turn out to be a revelation for another reader.)

Click the image above for more information and the full free download.

Goodman on Wang Xiaoni on New Books in East Asian Studies

Carla Nappi interviews Eleanor Goodman about her translation of Something Crosses My Mind by Wang Xiaoni 王小妮. From the intro:

Goodman offers a fascinating introduction to the work of this “poet of place.” Wang’s poetry evokes a sense of dislocation and distances traveled, a sense of isolation while being embedded in a community of everyday material and nonhuman beings – corn and pigs, peanuts and windows, potatoes and blades, dust and mountains, farmers and colors. In the course of our conversation we talked about the challenges and opportunities of the translator’s practice, and Goodman was exceptionally generous in reading several of her beautiful translations and guiding us through some of the most powerful and evocative moments therein.

Click the image above or listen here.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Roberts & Chen on Li Shangyin

Li_Chao-tao_001Chloe Garcia Roberts and Guangchen Chen 陳廣琛 talk about Li Shangyin 李商隱 at The Critical Flame. Roberts says:

The poem opens with the sounds of imminence, the Eastern Wind, and with these rustlings of the approaching rain the rain arrives. Where? To the subject. Who is not there, to the reader who is not named, to the I. Here. By not giving you a subject, the I is fractured, you are there, he is there, the I is there. In the next line the focus moves back out, beyond () to another sound which calls our/the I’s attention, out on the horizon, the edge of hearing/awareness, the thunder, and just like that in the first pair of couplets, Li Shangyin has succeeded in pulling us forcefully into this poem along the path of sound and then repelled us back out also following sound at an incredible, almost breakneck speed. We are stunned, disoriented, and thus in the perfect state to descend further into his world.

She’s talking about this poem, and her translation:

Untitled

Rush, rustling of the East Wind, a fine rain arrives
Beyond the Lotus Pool, is a delicate thunder

Golden Toad bites the lock, burning perfume enters
Jade Tiger weights the cord above the water well, circling

Young Secretary Han: glimpsed by Lady Jia though curtains, briefly
Talented King Wei: bequeathed Princess Fu’s pillow, only afterward

Spring Heart, refrain from competing with flowers in effusion
One measure of longing, one measure of ash

無題
颯颯東風細雨來,芙蓉塘外有輕雷。
金蟾嚙鎖燒香入,玉虎牽絲汲井回。
賈氏窺簾韓掾少,宓妃留枕魏王才。
春心莫共花爭發,一寸相思一寸灰。

Click the image above for the dialogue in full.

Goodman’s Xu Lizhi in China Labour Bulletin

Eleanor Goodman’s new translations of the work of Xu Lizhi 许立志 have now been published on China Labour Bulletin. She writes:

As I translated the poetry … I was immediately attracted to Xu’s straightforwardness, honesty, and darkness. Although his life was clearly unhappy–indeed, he committed suicide a little over a year ago at the age of 24 by jumping from the 17th floor of a building in Shenzhen not far from the Foxconn factory where he worked–there is very little self-pity evident in his poetry. Rather, he casts a cold eye on the larger society, on the conditions in which he worked, and on himself … He keeps the reader (and translator) on her toes, and given his rhetorical skill and highly topical subjects, he has become an important voice in Chinese poetry, one that was silenced much too soon.

Here’s an excerpt of the poetry.

I Swallowed an Iron Moon

I swallowed an iron moon
they called it a screw

I swallowed industrial wastewater and unemployment forms
bent over machines, our youth died young

I swallowed labor, I swallowed poverty
swallowed pedestrian bridges, swallowed this rusted-out life

I can’t swallow any more
everything I’ve swallowed roils up in my throat

I spread across my country
a poem of shame

Click the image above for more. For my translations on China Labour Bulletin from November, 2014, click here.

Morse Reviews Balcom’s Xiang Yang

Canaan Morse reviews John Balcom’s translation of Grass Roots: Selected Poems by Xiang Yang 向陽 (Zephyr) for World Literature Today:

Balcom’s ubiquitous preference for merging verbs into adjectival phrases or deleting them entirely strengthens static image and removes dynamic energies that might be considered noisier in English than in Chinese.

And yet the poems are not quiet. They are vividly aware of the aporias and ambiguities inherent in the classical Chinese narrative that iterates time through space, and they speak to them … Balcom’s flexible English represents some of these differences with facility; lines like “A bloody rain falls on fields plowed by bullets” stand apart from lines like “The surprise encounter of the fish and the leaves,” which are brilliant for entirely different reasons. Yet many of his decisions, especially his frequent deletions, seem hard to justify … Balcom’s introduction makes no mention of his process. Translation is frequently maligned as either a derivative act or a violent, domineering one. Perhaps greater transparency could prevent it from being either.

Click on the image for the full review.