Todorova reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications

Writing for Hong Kong Review of Books, Marija Todorova reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications (Zephyr Press, 2018), translated by Lucas Klein, Huang Yibing, and Jonathan Stalling. October Dedications “is arguably one of the most important titles published so far in the Zephyr Press Jintian series of Chinese poetry,” she writes!

Todorova, a translation studies scholar, looks at the book primarily for what it does to highlight translation. She notes the Foreword as a “visible sign of the translators’ contribution to the translated work”:

Klein writes extensively about the poet Mang Ke, his style and importance, helping the reader situate his poetry historically and culturally. His impressionistic poems were among some of the first in China to break free of the imposed didacticism of the Cultural Revolution … Klein dedicates two full pages of the Foreword to explaining his translation decisions and methods. Setting a goal to “respect and recreate [Mang Ke’s] economy”, and preserve his simple vocabulary and repetitive imagery, Klein skilfully manages to achieve this:

pallbearers drift by like a cloud
the river slowly carries the sun
dying the water’s long surface golden yellow
such stillness
such vastness
such sadness
a meadow of wilted flowers (“Frozen Land”, 11)

The translation is a masterful recreation of Chinese punctuation and line length in English translation, omitting the use of any punctuation and capital letters, except in the titles. This “foreignisation” strategy adds to the experience of Mang Ke’s poetry by an English language reader without “compromising” the understanding of the poetic imagery by a reader otherwise unfamiliar with the Chinese language and poetry.

Todorova ends the review saying that October Dedications “is important not only for being the first to make available the experimental poetry of Mang Ke to wider international audiences by rendering it in English, but also because it raises highly important issues in the art of poetry translation.”

Click the image above for the review in full.

Art Talk with Jennifer Feeley

Headshot of a blonde womanThe National Endowment for the Arts website has published its interview with Jennifer Feeley. “When Jennifer Feeley was in high school,” they introduce her,

one of her creative writing teachers encouraged students to read as many books of poetry as possible. It was during forays to the library in search of poetry volumes that Feeley stumbled upon 100 Poems from the Chinese, translated by Kenneth Rexroth … “I fell in love with them, and wanted to be able to read the originals one day,” she said.

In the interview Feeley discusses how she handles the word play of poetry by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西 —

She’s an author whose work hinges on wordplay that is firmly rooted in the Chinese language, and that she uses as both a rhetorical device and for humorous effect. It seems impossible to translate such wordplay into English.

But I love a good challenge.

— and also offers a great metaphor for understanding the work of translation: knitting.

I think of the original text as the pattern the author has made, let’s say [for a] hat. My translation is looking at the pattern and making my own hat. Of course it’s going to turn out differently depending on different factors. What kind of needles I use—do I use bamboo or metal? What’s the needle size? What kind of yarn do I use? What’s the weight of the yarn? What kind of fibers? What kind of color? I always drop stitches and add stitches—these are the accidental mistakes that happen. Sometimes they make the text better; sometimes they’re just mistakes.

I use that to think about the labor in translation. It’s so easy to say, “You’re not the real author.” But in fact when you’re the translator, that’s 100 percent your labor. If I’m knitting a hat, the hat is 100 percent my labor. Yes, I’m basing it off this pattern that someone else wrote and of course it’s going to look different than the product they originally made. But the hat I’ve made is all my work. I have the sore fingers.

Click the image above for the full interview.

The 2018 Lucien Stryk Prize

DarkeningMirrorFinalCoversThe 2018 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize shortlist has been announced, with Diana Shi and George O’Connell’s Darkening Mirror, translations of Wang Jiaxin 王家新 (Tebot Bach) on the list. Congratulations to Shi and O’Connell!
But a look at the rest of the list: There’s Sonic Peace, by Kiriu Minashita, translated by Eric E. Hyett and Spencer Thurlow
(Phoneme Media), which is poetry. But Junichirō Tanizaki’s Devils in Daylight, translated by J. Keith Vincent, and The Maids, translated by Michael P. Cronin (both New Directions), and Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin 邱妙津, as translated by Bonnie Huie (New York Review Books)? Those are works of fiction.
The Stryk Prize is–or was–a poetry translation prize. The prize’s Wikipedia page still makes that clear:
Eligible works include book-length translations into English of Asian poetry or source texts from Zen Buddhism, book-length translations from Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean into English.
But this year, for the first time, works of prose fiction are on the shortlist.
I think this is a problem.
Seems to me that the Stryk prize was endowed with the mission of promoting a certain kind of work–translation of poetry and Zen texts from Asian languages. I believe in, and I’d bet a lot of translators believe in, the room to interpret those categories broadly. But for the Stryk nominations to be suddenly–and without public consultation–open to works of fiction, the poetry translations in question are bound to be crowded out, not recognized or promoted.
A look at Paper Republic’s wrap-up of translations published in 2017 gives a sense of what I’m talking about, even if it also offers an idea why some might want the prize to be eligible to translated fiction. Something like twenty titles of fiction translated from Chinese, but only five books of poetry. And yet look at that list: Liu Waitong 廖偉棠, one of Hong Kong’s most interesting poets; Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼, translated by Brian Holton, and two titles translated by Eleanor Goodman (who won the Stryk in 2015 for her translations of Wang Xiaoni 王小妮), including the anthology Iron Moon, the most reviewed anthology of Chinese poetry to appear in English in decades. I think it’s scandalous that neither Goodman nor Holton are on this year’s Stryk shortlist. Which just goes to show: if poetry is going to compete with fiction, and if the judges are primarily translators of fiction, then poetry translators are not going to get recognized. Are they?
Word is that ALTA didn’t make this change to increase the number of submissions, but rather simply received submissions of fiction from overzealous publishers. They asked the source of the funding about whether prose was eligible, and the source seemed not to have any issues with the eligibility of fiction. So the description of the award was revised.
But this is a problem not only because of crowding out poetry (which indeed already gets the short end of the proverbial stick when it comes to modern Asian literature), but also because this change was not done transparently. If this was really going to be a prize that includes prose, then more presses that published prose translations should have been informed so they could submit their books. Not to mention how this affects the translators–as well as the poets in Asia hoping to gain readership in translation (I don’t know about poets in other countries, but Chinese-language writers are very aware of the Stryk Prize). The more I think about it, the bigger I think this problem is.
Good luck to this year’s shortlisted candidates!

Wang Baihua on “Reading Dickinson in Shanghai”

A portrait of Emily Dickinson. Universal History Archive/Getty images/VCGSixth Tone has published a piece by Wang Baihua 王柏华 of Fudan University (as translated by Katherine Tse) on her project to produce new and authoritative translations of Emily Dickinson into Chinese.

“The mission of the translator is to accurately convey the language, aesthetics, poetics, and the social, psychological, political, religious, and philosophical context of the original work to readers who may be wholly unfamiliar with it,” she writes. In this light, it’s interesting how she has gone about managing what she calls the Collaborative Emily Dickinson Translation Project–a project that bears thinking about in light of Eleanor Goodman’s review of The Reciprocal Translation Project–which she describes as “a global undertaking involving close to fifty Chinese and international writers, scholars, and translators”:

With this in mind, in 2014 I worked with two U.S.-based Dickinson scholars — Martha Nell Smith and Cristanne Miller — to bring together nearly 50 experts from China and abroad to collaborate on a Dickinson translation project. We divided ourselves into 21 groups, with each group assigned a set of Dickinson’s poems to research, translate, and analyze. Participants included Chinese poets, translators, and researchers, as well as a group of senior Dickinson scholars from across North America, and the whole program was backed by Fudan University in Shanghai.

This diversity of backgrounds and perspectives led to lively — sometimes heated — discussions about how best to understand and translate Dickinson’s poetry. As the person in charge, it was difficult to get everyone on the same page, but most discussions were ultimately amiable and productive. For instance, the poet Wang Jiaxin [王家新] incorporated observations he had made during a visit to Dickinson’s home into his interpretation of “There’s a certain Slant of light” (F320), while others worked to recreate what they saw as the “avant-garde spirit” of Dickinson’s work.

So, are collaborative poetry translation projects “a messy, fraught endeavor,” as Goodman writes, or the best way to produce “readable, accurate translations of the world’s greatest works,” as Wang states? Or does it come down to the particulars of the relationship between the various participants, and how able they are to listen to and respect each other?

Click the image above for the full piece.

 

Nan Da on Recent Chinese Poetry in Translation

https://i0.wp.com/www.the-tls.co.uk/s3/tls-prod/uploads/2018/08/Nan-Da-COVER-605x770.jpg?resize=347%2C439&ssl=1Nan Z. Da knows everything.

In a cover story for the Times Literary Supplement titled “Poetry of the suicide note,” or alternately, “It is useless to live,” she reviews five recent books of Chinese poetry–both modern and premodern–in English translation: Hawk of the Mind, the collected poems of Yang Mu 楊牧, edited by Michelle Yeh; Narrative Poem 叙事诗 by Yang Lian 杨炼,  translated by Brian Holton; Michèle Métail’s study of “reversible” poems in Wild Geese Returning, translated by Jody Gladding for Calligrams; and the Calligrams re-release of The Collected Poems of Li He 李賀, translated by J. D. Frodsham and François Cheng’s Chinese Poetic Writing, translated by Donald A. Riggs, with an anthology of Tang and Song poems translated by Jerome P. Seaton.

The essay begins,

There is a type of Chinese poem called the juemingci [絕命詞], which means, roughly, verses to terminate your life. Almost the poetic equivalent of a suicide note, the juemingci … is a formal acknowledgement of one’s negative relation to the present: the world in whatever configuration it finds itself will never be for you, will never work out for you, and the mark of a fine mind is that it will go to waste.

She also writes:

Perhaps this setting aflame, like all those elements of Chinese poetry that foil translation – its grammar, its sonic and visual elements, its “characters’ formidable power of suggestion” … – might be enfolded into the aesthetics of decadence, so that discussion of Chinese poetry in translation does not have to turn endlessly on arguments about translatability. Even if one is set on regarding translation as subtraction (a tally of what is lost or needlessly added), in decadent poetry you can lose almost all of the valences and still have more than enough meaning.

But what I think is her most moving passage is,

Maybe one does not have the training to catch all the allusions (to both Chinese and foreign literature and history), maybe one does not read difficult Chinese, or maybe one does not read Chinese (or poetry) at all. None of this is to suggest that we should not try. We should, not least because these particular books evince their translators’ responsibility and accuracy, and represent the best possible resources for becoming familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese language, and accessing levels of meaning previously closed to the uninitiated.

Click the image above for the full piece.

Kapoor on Bei Dao as “tranquil bard of protest”

As he turns 69, Chinese poet Bei Dao remains the tranquil bard of protest, even in exileWriting for Scroll.in, Manan Kapoor writes about how “As he turns 69, Chinese poet Bei Dao remains the tranquil bard of protest, even in exile.”

The piece is full of imprecisions–it refers to Bei Dao as “Dao” throughout, misattributes poems translated by Bonnie McDougall, and spells his current translator Eliot Weinberger’s name as “Wineberger”–but it’s broadly accurate in its outlines.

At times, it’s even moving:

But even in exile, Dao did not lose his calm. After years of being away from Beijing, he believed that something good would spring up from it. He still questioned authority with serenity, equating his exile to a crusade where someone was needed to be “away from home, suffer a little” so they could gain some understanding of the world and how everything functions. He wrote, “To a certain extent, it’s a historical crusade, but the intention of the crusade is not to conquer the enemy, but for the person to conquer him/herself.” A voice like his is seldom experienced. From the choice of words, to the forms of expression and dissent, Bei Dao will go down in history as an exemplary figure who redefined the poetry of resistance.

Click the image for the full write-up.

Tsai on Bender’s Borderlands of Asia

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture has published Wei-chieh Tsai’s review of The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry, edited by Mark Bender. Tsai writes:

this book is a collection of poems penned by writers from various Asian border regions—Northeast India, Myanmar, the Southwest and Inner Asian frontiers of China, and Mongolia. Although some of the poems, especially those by Northeast Indian poets, were originally written in English, most are translations—from Burmese, Mongolian, Chinese, Tibetan, Nuoso, Hani, Khasi, and Manipuri—done by a group of translators. In translating these poems into English, the global “language of interaction” (p. xxi), the voices of poets from the borderlands of Asia can be heard by a wider audience. Bender’s informative introduction gives his readers a broad context for understanding the complicated histories and cultures of the areas and the poets included in the volume.

For the full review click on the image above.

Commonplace Podcast with Kronovet on translating Chinese poetry

Episode 56: Jennifer Kronovet

On the “Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People)” podcast episode 56, Rachel Zucker speaks with poet and translator Jennifer Kronovet, who (under the pen-name Jennifer Stern) co-translated with Ming Di 明迪 the selected poems of Liu Xia 刘霞, Empty Chairs (Graywolf Press, 2015). Roughly the first half of the conversation is devoted to Chinese poetry translation, and from there it extends to

choosing a pseudonym, the ethics of translation, negotiating appropriation, how to engage other cultures when you’re not from that culture, translating Yiddish poet Celia Dropkin, how to pull an older work into the present, being a Jew in Berlin, learning a new language to find your own lineage, an amazing coincidence about a small town in Romania, Paul Celan, Charles K. Bliss, a perfect language you can’t speak, language diversity, kung fu, writing a sci-fi novel, the body, prepositions, the Sapir Worth Hypothesis, mother-linguists, raising children in another country and language, being with someone who is learning to talk, the trucks in China, and much more.

Click to hear the podcast in full.

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Goodman on The Reciprocal Translation Project

Writing for the LARB China Channel, Eleanor Goodman reviews The Reciprocal Translation Project, edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong 孙冬. And she comes out swinging!

The Reciprocal Translation Project is a messy, fraught endeavor. Here is the back blurb, which is also the first paragraph of the editors’ introduction:

In The Reciprocal Translation Project, six Chinese and six American poets have translated each other’s works. Since few of these poets speak both languages, bilingual specialists have fashioned literal translations including several options for words that have multiple meanings. These literal translations have been given to three poets in the other language to write poetic translations. In this volume, then, the reader will find an original poem, a literal translation, and three poetic translations of each poem as well as explanatory notes and biographies.

One hardly knows where to begin with this tangle. Here we have poets who have “translated” each other’s work, despite largely not knowing each other’s languages. This is done grâce à people mysteriously labeled “bilingual specialists,” who put together something called “literal translations, including several options for words that have multiple meanings.” That is to say: they translate the poems. So why are these “bilingual specialists” not the “translators”? The point, as I take it, is to save that particular appellation for “the poets” involved in the project, an issue which I will return to below.

She comes out swinging, but can she be wrong when she frames Xi Chuan this way?

Forgive me for being stodgy, but to my mind, a “translation” that changes the mode of address, the timing, the references, the places and the priorities of the original is not a translation at all. It is a new poem that stands on its own, or not.

The “literal translation” of Xi Chuan’s poem “Travel Diary” (出行日记) begins:

I drove the car onto the highway, which was precisely to begin a massacre of butterflies; or the butterflies seeing me speeding toward them, just decided to launch a suicide flight. The smashed to death on the windshield. They stubbornly mashed to death on my windshield.

This is an awkward but not inaccurate rendering of the Chinese. Nada Gordon’s “translation” is:

Wanted to massacre some fucking butterflies so drove my fucking car onto the fucking highway to massacre them. They were kamikaze butterflies, they were going to fucking kill themselves on my windshield. Splat. Fuck those fucking butterflies, stubborn assholes all up on my windshield.

Whatever one thinks of this, it certainly does not represent Xi Chuan’s tone or intention.

And she goes further:

The editors comment in their introduction: “Many modern translators present themselves as poets, not simply facilitators of communication. Revaluing translation in this way brings the translator out of the shadow of the author, leveling their identities.”

But this anthology has precisely the opposite effect. By involving “bilingual specialists” who actually do the grunt work of the translation, and then privileging the non-English-speaking or non-Chinese-speaking poet by labeling him or her the “translator,” the real translators are effectively hidden. There is also an underlying assumption that the act of translating involves grasping the literal meaning of a word (“including several options for words that have multiple meanings” – as though there are words that do not!) and that’s all that is needed. There is no acknowledgement of the structure, form, tone, emotional texture, repetition, surprise, rhythm, rhyme, sound effect, level of diction, intent, etc., etc., of the original.

Click the image above for the full review.

Li Shangyin Book Launch at Greenlight, Brooklyn

An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin

Fort Greene store:
Wednesday, August 1, 7:30 PM
An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin
With Chloe Garcia Roberts and Lucas Klein
Wine reception to follow

Greenlight is thrilled to present an evening celebrating Li Shangyin, foremost poet of the late Tang dynasty, on the occasion of a new translation of his work published by the New York Review of Books. This new collection presents Chloe Garcia Roberts’s translations of a wide selection of Li’s verse in the company of other versions by the prominent sinologist A. C. Graham and the scholar-poet Lucas Klein. Combining hedonistic aestheticism with stark fatalism, Li’s poetry is an intoxicating mixture of pleasure and grief, desire and loss, everywhere imbued with a singular nostalgia for the present moment. Rarely translated into English, Li’s work has an esotericism and sensuality that sets him apart from the austere masters of the Chinese literary canon. Garcia Roberts and Klein read and discuss Li’s work during this event, followed by a signing, Q&A, and a wine reception to follow.

Event date: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 – 7:30pm

Event address: 686 Fulton street, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Click here for the Facebook event page.

By Li Shangyin, Chloe Garcia Roberts (Translator), A. C. Graham (Translator), Lucas Klein (Translator)
$16.00
ISBN: 9781681372242
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: New York Review of Books – July 31st, 2018