John Kinsella on Xi Chuan: How Many ‘I’s?

Last week Xi Chuan and I flew to Perth, Australia, to take part in the launch conference in Margaret River for their joint China-Australia Writing Centre. West Australian poet John Kinsella was in attendance, and afterword he wrote a wonderful blog post titled “How Many I-s in the Hotel of Xi Chuan?” Here’s a bit from the beginning:

A few days ago I had the privilege of hearing the Chinese poet from Beijing, Xi Chuan, reading from his work and discussing it, along with his English-language translator Lucas Klein. What grabbed me even before the reading began was Xi Chuan’s statement that his poetry was not of a single ‘I’, but rather a cluster of I-s. I don’t think any poet is a single I, and I have often over the years argued against denoting a unified self …

What Xi Chuan outlined as his reason for stating this, his need for such a declaration, struck me as deeply relevant and vital. He discussed having a ‘hotel in [his] head’ which is inhabited or co-inhabited by a number of other voices which are not his own. This is not so much a conceptual statement of artistic practice as one of deep necessity. In that hotel, or maybe boarding house, are those who have been lost or extinguished, those whose voices were taken from them, who were forced into silence …

It was clearly painful for Xi Chuan to discuss this, and what began as a kind of ironising (of all notions of innovation, of himself, of us all) quickly became a deeply-felt ‘confession’ of obligation and respect, of necessity. It was witness carried to the extent of giving away one’s sense of unified self (should even the idea exist) to a polyvalent (my interpolation) self. Not many selves, but many other selves.

Click on the image for the full piece.

Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson

Edited by Jesse Glass and Philip Williams, this collection of essays, articles, and poems about Chinese and Japanese literature and culture celebrates the illustrious scholarly career of Burton Watson, whose range of excellent literary translations into English from Japanese and classical Chinese is second to none. Over half of the book’s seventeen chapters are articles about Chinese or Japanese literature and culture with full scholarly apparatus; the remainder are tributes to Watson in the form of poetry or informal essays.

Topics include analysis of Watson’s skills as a translator and practical critic; a cultural history of Chinese literati; masterpieces of the Ming essayist Zhang Dai; revisiting David Hawkes’ interpretations of Du Fu’s poetry; China’s earliest science fiction from the late Qing; reflections on cultural change by the early Yuan Confucianist Hao Jing; the multi-dimensional symbolism in Hagiwara Sakutarô’s poetry; the fictional portrayal of a self-sacrificing female Chinese Buddhist saint; key patterns of arboreal imagery in the 300 Tang Poems anthology; and Japanese linked verse across the centuries.

Featuring contributions by Victor Mair, Robert Hegel, Hiroaki Sato, William Nienhauser, Jonathan Chaves, Lucas Klein, Hoyt Tillman, Yenna Wu, Yoko Danno, Hua Li, Duncan Campbell, Stephen Addiss, Robert Epp, Timothy Clifford, Philip Rowland, Sam Hamill, and Gary Snyder.

Click on the image for ordering information.

Criticized Berserk Chinese Poet Official

Xiong Aichun 熊艾春, Communist Party branch secretary and chairman for the Leiyang Federation of Literacy and Art Circles, wrote a poem that was criticized online. Quartz reports:

Apparently he’s rather sensitive about his work. After the poem was criticized in a local online forum, he stormed into its physical office and smashed a computer monitor.

After venting his rage, Xiong decided to write about that, too, in a note he left at the scene.

Read more by following the link above.

Chinese Poetry in New England Review

NER36-2frontcoverThe current issue of the New England Review features poetry translations of Ya Shi 哑石 by Nick Admussen, Xiao Kaiyu 开愚 by Chris Lupke, and Yin Lichuan 尹丽川 by Fiona Sze-Lorrain–as well as prose translations of Wei An 苇岸 by Tom Moran.

Unfortunately, the NER has made none of these available online, but click on the image for ordering information, along with the full table of contents.



Göran Malmqvist on Translation & SOAS

For the centenary of SOAS Göran Malmqvist talks about translation and SOAS:

When asked what his views are on the art of translating he responds: “World literature is translation and translation is world literature – without translation there is no world literature, and that is true.”

He explains: “As far as Chinese literature is concerned there are too few translators and there are too many who are not really qualified as translators. And there are translators who refuse to accept the very important double responsibility of a translator: the responsibility towards the original author… and then his responsibility towards his own readers.

“He must be honest – he mustn’t add anything and he mustn’t detract anything and he mustn’t normalise – normalisation is a deadly sin of a translator. American publishers will simply say they refuse to accept this ending – it’s not good enough, it’s not positive enough – and the translator will happily change it or cut it out and that makes me very angry.

Click the image to read (and listen to) more.

Admussen on Translation

Either during the translation or as a result of the translation, something happens between the artist and their translator, and for a moment there seems to be a very simple, bilateral relationship, one that feels far distant from the shared stage of the final piece of art. The translator is trying to understand the poet, and also to please them; to learn something from them, and then to make something out of what they’ve learned. The poet is trying to provoke feelings and ideas in the translator (and in all readers), and is checking their poem’s effect against their intent. This is a relationship; it’s a conversation. It is hidden from the final English text, but it’s necessary for it.

Click the image to read more.

Zheng Min Looks Back in the WSJ

Under the title, “A Poet From China’s Avant-Garde Looks Back,” the Wall Street Journal has published a brief interview with Nine Leaves 九葉 poet Zheng Min 鄭敏, who “stopped writing along with the other poets in the 1950s after she returned from a sojourn in the U.S. to study literature at Brown University and voice at Juilliard,” but “picked the pen back up in 1979, a period she calls her ‘second childhood,’ when she began to explore poetry as well as philosophy and translation.” She says:

I started to study philosophy to have a better understanding of literature, because I don’t think you can really understand literature without a background of philosophy. I loved both of them. I think philosophy without literature is too hard. Literature without philosophy has no depth. So you have to combine both.

Also, I think I’m influenced by Rilke, because I had that philosophy background. So I’m tied to German poetry more than contemporary American poetry.

Click the image to read more.

Klein’s Mi Jialu in PoetrySky

The new PoetrySky is out, with two poems by Mi Jialu 米家路 in translations he & I did together. Here are a few lines:

An Empire autumn
Tin-can wastage
People still thirsty
Towering black smoke
Rolling up a GDP-grey sky


Click on the image above to read more.