Xi Chuan’s “January 2011 in Egypt” in Kenyon Review

Cover image of Nov/Dec 2019 Issue
The Nov/Dec 2019 Kenyon Review , the “Literary Activism” issue, featuring Xi Chuan’s “January 2011 in Egypt”

The new issue of the Kenyon Review has just launched, a special feature on “Literary Activism,” coedited by Rita Dove and John Kinsella–and in it, Xi Chuan’s poem “January 2011 in Egypt” 2011年1月埃及纪事 in the online edition. Here are some lines:

Eight thousand years after its founding the people are in a backwater earning too little always hearing about others making too much.

The piss stench of mules drifts through the alleys. Trash covers the wilderness.

Corrupt politics can’t manage the trash covering the wilderness; it can only keep the grand hall clean.

The midlevel official making E£500 a month and the doctor making E£150 a month demand change.

The youths banding together to vent their anger and despair don’t know each other. Vent first, then we’ll see.

So the smoke from burning tires rises from three sides of the temple,
choking the gods inside—they proclaim themselves to be aliens so they should get respect and protection.

Anxious foreigners are smoking in the airport waiting area and no one cares.

The Romanian girl who worried about having nowhere to put her feet later disappears in the chaos of the crowd.

Yana, where are you?

Among the rioters looting the flower shop may be one who wants a rose for his beloved.

Whether you can be his beloved depends entirely on whether you’re lucky enough to survive.

开国八千年后人民在一团死水中挣得太少但总听说别人挣得太多。

骡马的尿骚味沿街巷飘荡。垃圾遍及旷野。

腐败的政治顾不到垃圾遍及旷野,只把厅堂收拾干净。

月工资500埃镑的中层官吏、月工资150埃镑的医生要求变革。

抱团发泄愤怒和绝望的青年互不相识。发泄了再说。

于是焚烧轮胎的黑烟升起于神庙的三面,

神庙里的诸神呛了嗓子,声称自己是外星人理应受到保护和尊敬。

惴惴不安的外国人在候机厅里吸烟没人管。

飞机上担心没处落脚的罗马尼亚姑娘后来消失于慌乱的人群。

雅娜,你在哪里?

洗劫花店的暴徒中或有一位想把玫瑰花献给心上人。

你能否成为他的心上人全看你活下来的运气如何。

The whole looks great. In addition to Xi Chuan, there’s new work by Anne Carson, Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, and others online, and in the print edition new work by Brenda Hillman, Nathaniel Mackey, and more.

Click here for the feature, starting with the introductions by Dove and Kinsella.

Narayanan on Bei Dao at Poetry Daily

Poetry Daily has published Vivek Narayanan on “a Poem’s Re-Entering History,” looking at Bei Dao’s 北岛 famous poem from the seventies, “The Reply” 回答 (elsewhere “The Answer”).

“I personally like to read multiple translations against each other,” he writes:

both as a way to see and triangulate what the translator is doing and to think/feel my way into what the source poem could be like. Read the translation on our site, by Clayton Eshleman and Lucas Klein, with its clear lyrical growl, to my ear more explicit in its political echoes, against this one by Bonnie S. McDougall, a little stilted in its language but also perhaps more indirect. If you can, read the version co-authored by Donald Finkel, a seemingly “free”-er version with surprising results. And do read this fourth—unattributed—translation on a “Learn Chinese” site, also very useful, despite what will feel to some like a mildly alienated idiom. Finally, listen to the dramatic recitation of the original Chinese linked on the “Learn Chinese” site above and consider to the extent possible, without fear, the transliterated Chinese. (Tip: also try hovering your mouse over the original Chinese characters!) 

If we look at just the first two lines—

bēibǐ shì bēibǐ zhě de tōngxíngzhèng 
gāoshàng shì gāoshàng zhě de mù zhì míng

—we see that the key lies in repetition—bēibǐ (“contempt,” “debasement,” “shabbiness”) in the first line and gāoshàng (“gravitas,” “nobility,” “refined,” “lofty”, etc.) in the second. This is no simple repetition, however. The translators show us how the word in each case is being turned against itself, in a visceral struggle for personal existence and for language to have any meaning or purpose at all. From this point, the poem should start to emerge. The line “I-do-not-believe”—four stark characters isolated by dashes, like cries from deep within—continues to resonate even in the moment from which I write, thinking of the protestors in Hong Kong, the silencing of Kashmir, or the current American era, with a head of state whose every utterance stokes disbelief. 

(links to the translations and the “Learn Chinese” site in the article).

“But it would be glib to stop there, because we have not yet grappled with the poem’s final paradox: between internal and external, public and private,” Narayanan continues. Click here to read more.

The 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize Shortlist

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October Dedications, shortlisted for the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize

October Dedications, the selected poetry of Mang Ke 芒克 (Zephyr Press), translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein with Jonathan Stalling and Huang Yibing, has been shortlisted for the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, administered by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)!

Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box, poems by Lok Fung 洛楓 (Zephyr) translated by Eleanor Goodman, is the other book of poems translated from Chinese to make the shortlist.

Books by Kim Hyesoon translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi, by Shrinivas Vaidya translated from the Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, and by Jin Eun-young translated from the Korean by Daniel T. Parker and YoungShil Ji, have also made the shortlist. This year’s judges are Chenxin Jiang, Vivek Narayanan, and Hai-Dang Phan.

Click here for the full descriptions of the shortlisted books.

Chinese Literature Today free for Women in Translation Month

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Chinese Literature Today, free for Women in Translation month

The current issue of Chinese Literature Today is free throughout August for Women in Translation month.

The main feature of the issue is of Newman Prize Laureate, the Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西, with introductions, appreciations, interviews, and new translations by Jennifer Feeley, Tammy Ho, Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁, Steve Bradbury, Wei Yang Menkus, and others.

The issue also features an appreciation of scholar Maghiel van Crevel, of Leiden University, with an interview with Jonathan Stalling and an appreciation by Nick Admussen, as well as an article by van Crevel about migrant worker poetry in China.

There is also a suite of contemporary Chinese poetry, by Wang Jiaxin 王家新 (translated by Diana Shi & George O’Connell), Che Qianzi 车前子 (translated by Yang Liping & Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas), Li Dewu 李德武 (translated by Jenny Chen & Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas), Hu Jiujiu 胡赳赳 (translated by Matt Turner & Haiying Weng), Mi Jialu 米家路 (with translations by Lucas Klein, Michael Day, and Matt Turner & Haiying Weng), Huang Chunming 黃春明 (translated by Tze-lan Sang), and Chen Li 陳黎(translated by Elaine Wong).

Click here to read for free!

Goodman’s Lok Fung reviewed at HKRB

Hong Kong Review of Books has published May Huang’s review of Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box, poems by Lok Fung 洛楓 translated by Eleanor Goodman (Zephyr Press).

Here’s a striking–and, I think, apt–line:

The pressures placed on women to appear young and stay beautiful are closely tied to systems of oppression inflicted upon the city itself.

Huang also pays attention to the translation–as all reviews of translated literature must, if they are to be worthwhile at all–and the multilingualism of the book and of life in Hong Kong:

While the visual effect of seeing English words amid a Chinese text disappears in the English translation, Goodman deftly captures the multilingual qualities of Lok’s poetics nonetheless. In “Tracks of Emotion,” Lok cites the English lyrics to Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last” in an otherwise Cantonese poem set in the train station. In Goodman’s translation, her use of the word “tracks” becomes an instance of clever wordplay, as it refers to both song tracks and train tracks. In other poems, rhymes in the English beautifully echo or complement the original Chinese: “I am low as a cello” and “I am slayed, I rot / powerless whether I love or not” are two instances. The book itself, which is printed in parallel texts, speaks to the multivalences that translation can expose—as does the Hong Kong Atlas series, the first to exclusively spotlight Hong Kong poetry in translation.

Click here for the review in full.

Red Pine Interview at Emergence

Emergence Magazine has published an interview with Bill Porter, a/k/a Red Pine, renowned travel writer and translator of classical Chinese poetry.

The interview covers his early interest in China and poetry, and his beginnings as a translator, as well as some of his understanding of translation:

Around thirteen or fourteen years ago, I was invited to a conference on Chinese poetry at a college in Boston called Simmons College. They asked me to give a talk or write a paper about translation, and I had never, ever thought about what I do. You know, you do something, and you don’t know how you do it. That’s when I thought: what am I doing? And that’s when I realized—the metaphor I came up with was this dance metaphor. I see this beautiful woman dancing on a dance floor, and her dance is just so entrancing. I want to dance with her, but I’m deaf. I don’t hear the music. I just see the results of her hearing the music. So, I go on the dance floor, and I try to dance with her. Obviously, I can’t dance across the room. That’s not very rewarding. Also, I can’t put my English feet on top of her Chinese feet to emulate her dance, which is what a lot of people think translation is. You know, it’s accurate, literal, but it kills the dance. But you have to dance close enough to pick up the energy, especially when you’re deaf and you’re not hearing where this stuff is coming from. That, to me, is what translation is about for Chinese poetry. Every day that I go up on the dance floor to dance with that same dance, I’m going to do it differently. And there’s good days and bad days. It could always be better and will always be different, every time I go up on the dance floor. But, I discovered that’s what I like to do. I like to translate.

People ask me, “Well, don’t you write poetry too?” I would never have the chutzpah to get on the dance floor by myself because I don’t hear any music. But, I’m really attracted to the feeling of dancing with somebody else. I would never dance alone. But that’s what I do—I translate. I dance with people.

I was at that conference at Simmons–it was the first time I met Bill (and many others in the Chinese poetry world). His essay on translation, “Dancing with the Dead,” has since appeared in a couple other places, but I published the version as he read it at the Simmons conference when I edited CipherJournal.

Click here read the interview in full.

“Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature at Cha

Announcing the June/July issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, the “Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature, edited by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Lucas Klein, along with a special feature of poems by and in mourning of Meng Lang 孟浪.

The following CONTRIBUTORS have generously allowed us to showcase their work:

❀ REMEMBRANCES
Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, Gregory Lee, Ding Zilin (translated by Kevin Carrico), Andréa Worden, Shuyu Kong (with translations of poems by Colin Hawes), Ai Li Ke, Anna Wang, and Sara Tung

❀ POETRY
Bei Dao (translated by Eliot Weinberger), Duo Duo (translated by Lucas Klein), Liu Xiaobo (translated by Ming Di), Xi Chuan (translated by Lucas Klein), Yang Lian (translated by Brian Holton), Xi Xi (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Meng Lang (translated by Anne Henochowicz), Lin Zhao (translated by Chris Song), Liu Waitong (translated by Lucas Klein), Chan Lai Kuen (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Mei Kwan Ng (translated by the author), Yibing Huang (translated by the author), Ming Di (translated by the author), Anthony Tao, Aiden Heung, Kate Rogers, Ken Chau, Ilaria Maria Sala, Ian Heffernan, Reid Mitchell, Lorenzo Andolfatto, Joseph T. Salazar

❀ ESSAYS
Scott Savitt, Wang Dan (translated by Karl Lund), Hoi Leung, Louisa Lim, Jeff Wasserstrom, Lian-Hee Wee, Jed Lea-Henry, Jason G. Coe, and Guo Ting

❀ INTERVIEW
Han Dongfang and Lucas Klein

❀ FICTION
Boshun Chan (translated by Garfield Chow, Stephanie Leung and Felix Lo) and Christopher New

❀ PHOTOGRAPHY & ART
Daniel Garrett and Anonymous

❀ MENG LANG
Denis Mair, Meng Lang (translated by Denis Mair), Liu Waitong (translated by Lucas Klein), Jacky Yuen (translated by Nick Admussen), Tang Siu Wa (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Kwan Tin Lam (translated by Eleanor Goodman)

Click on the link above to read the issue in full.

Goodman Interviewed for Shanghai Literary Review

Brian Haman of The Shanghai Literary Review has interviewed poet and translator Eleanor Goodman “about translating Chinese literature, gender dynamics within contemporary Chinese poetry, linguistic and geographical liminality, and the meaning of home.”

The questions start out rote, but it’s not long before the conversation gets going:

BH: Do you think that there’s a cross-pollination between the translation work and your work as a poet? Is there a continuity of images, themes, or ideas? And how do you choose the works that you translate?

Goodman: … On a linguistic level, I’m very interested in the plasticity of Chinese, the way that the different grammatical elements can be put together in more configurations than can generally be done naturally in English. For a while I was very interested in this technique that some Chinese poets use where you have what seems to be an integral line of poetry and then the next line casts a different meaning on it. Ambiguous subject or ambiguous nouns, leaving out “he” or “she” or “it,” the lack of certain things like noun markers – there’s a kind of ambiguity that Chinese poets manipulate beautifully and to great effect and I sometimes try to play with that in my own work.

And, on the role of gender in the field of Chinese poetry today, she says:

In Chinese poetry there are shiren (诗人) [poet] and nü shiren (女诗人) [female poet]. Poetry is still considered a male game: men write about the important topics; they have an expansive, outward looking view; they’re philosophical; they have deep thoughts. Women, in stark contrast, write about jiating shiqing (家庭事情) [the household]: they write about domestic things such as children and making dinner. They’re inward looking rather than outward looking. And those kinds of attitudes are deeply entrenched in the Chinese poetry world, and not just among male poets but also to some degree among a minority set of women poets, who have internalized this and who do write about flowers in springtime – not that there’s anything wrong with that (after all, Wordsworth wrote about such things). But the majority of female poets that I come into contact with are infuriated by this assumed hierarchy and the limitations that they constantly come up against.

Follow the link for the interview in full.

Sydney Review of Books interview with Bonnie McDougall

The Sydney Review of Books has published an interview with Bonnie McDougall, by Jeffrey Errington, covering topics ranging from her experiences with translation and poetry and politics.

The interview spends some time on her experiences getting to know Bei Dao 北岛, and translating his work in the eighties:

Did you meet Bei Dao at the Foreign LanguagesPress?
I had published a book of poetry and essays by the 1930s writer He Qifang [何其芳] and this book, somehow, reached Harbin in North China where a young woman read it and, in response, sent a letter to me via my publisher. When I went to China we finally met. Her journalist husband asked me, ‘would you like to meet the best young poet in China?’ This was Bei Dao, and it turned out that he was also working at the FLP, in the Esperanto office. He was obliged to study Esperanto and scour literary magazines to find writers to be translated into that language. Around 1980-81 a lot of the young men and women who were sent to factories or the countryside returned to Peking and other cities at the end of the Cultural Revolution and started to work for educational and cultural institutions such as the FLP. This included Bei Dao. It was a good job: reading through magazines and recommending works to be translated and published. As we worked in the same institution we were able to meet without attracting unwelcome attention—or so we thought. After some time the FLP told my office in the English section, rather bluntly, that Bei Dao needs to stop wasting my time as I was paid a rather large salary while his was less. So they tried to put a stop to us working together.

and

So when you get the world of a Bei Dao poem and bring it into English is it a Chinese reality that we are getting or by being reconstructed using English words is it an English-language reality — or is it swinging back and forth?
I think maybe swinging is one way to put it. There was not such a wide gap between educated young men and women in China and the young foreigners who flocked around them in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The young men and women who grew up in Cultural Revolution China were able to get books by foreign authors including works about foreign writing. So to some extent they were self-educated in twentieth-century English or French or German writing. So the lack of supervision was a major factor in the life of someone like Bei Dao, who for several years was working in a factory. Not surprisingly he was not a very effective factory worker as he was no good at pouring cement. He just sat in a corner and read. So they were self-educated in a way that produced a fairly good understanding of early twentieth-century British and American poetics.

Click through to read the interview in full.

Shaw on Haizi

As part of their poetry month feature, Tristan Shaw wrote for SupChina on Haizi 海子:

Between 1984 and his death, Hai Zi is estimated to have written two million words worth of work, spanning lyrics, epics, and verse dramas. For all his output, however, Hai Zi’s poems attracted little attention from his contemporaries. There is still debate today over his mental state, and why he decided to commit suicide, but one theory might have been his lack of success. Some have pinned his suicide on an idealization of death; others believe, as his final notes indicate, that he suffered from delusions. Another factor might have been a meeting with his former student; Hai Zi was greatly upset when he learned that his old flame was married and planning to move to the United States.

At any rate, in the aftermath of Hai Zi’s suicide, his friends Luo Yihe 骆一禾 and Xi Chuan 西川 helped to spread his work. Posthumous publications of Hai Zi’s work in the 1990s earned him a cult following, with some fans considering him a martyr to poetry. Critics embraced him, scholars studied him, and foreigners translated him. In 1990, Xi Chuan prophesied that “the death of Haizi the poet will become one of the myths of our time.” For his young Chinese fans, who still follow in his path and makes pilgrimages to the places connected to him, Hai Zi has become a mystical, legendary figure.

Click through to read the article in full.