Lucas Klein Talking Translation with Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

As a follow-up to Xi Chuan’s being October 2018 author-of-the-month at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, the Centre is now hosting a Talking Translation interview with me!

They ask, and I answer:

Do you have any advice for readers new to Xi Chuan about where best to begin or how to approach his poetry?

My advice to new readers of Xi Chuan would be different depending on what those readers are used to reading, because he made a pretty big stylistic change in the early nineties. If you like well-crafted lyrical poems, calm and deep, then start with his earliest publications at the beginning of Notes on the Mosquito and work your way through the whole book. If you like more expansive prose poems, long sequences, and the poetics of knowledge with a good sense of humor, then maybe skip Xi Chuan’s earliest work and start with his prose poetry—or what he calls “poessays”—coming back to his earlier lyrics later.

Click the link above for the full interview.

James Sherry’s reply to Goodman’s review of The Reciprocal Translation Project

As I posted in early August, Eleanor Goodman reviewed The Reciprocal Translation Project (Roof Books), edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong, for LARB‘s China Channel. She called the book a “messy, fraught endeavor”:

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.

Well now James Sherry has replied, in the form of a letter to the editor of China Channel. “I agree with Goodman,” he writes, “that we should expand our description of the ‘bilingual specialists’ to include these translators’ other roles as mentioned above. In the second printing, we have amended that.” He concludes, though:

I do appreciate Goodman’s term “responses” to describe some of the poetic translations of the original poems, but her tendency to look at the translation process from a single perspective undermines her own well-framed statement “translation is a notoriously tricky business.” The Reciprocal Translation Project establishes a range of solutions, not all of which will be imitated, but will all be read as relevant to the process of communicating between languages and cultures. Clearly, the standard approach has not produced great understanding between our two cultures. Perhaps this discussion with all its outliers, queerness and experiments can promote a willingness to see poetry in global and environmental terms instead of only in terms of our prior understanding. Thanks, Eleanor, for inviting this discussion.

Click the image above for the letter in full.

 

Manfredi on Admussen’s Recite and Refuse

The MCLC Resource Center has published Paul Manfredi’s review of Nick Admussen’s monograph, Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry (University of Hawaii Press, 2016).

Manfredi summarizes:

Orthodox prose poetry is exemplified for Admussen by the writings of Ke Lan [柯蓝 ] and Guo Feng [郭风], semi-orthodox prose poetry by Liu Zaifu 刘再复 (b. 1941), and the works of Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] (b. 1956 ) and Xi Chuan (b. 1963) represent the unorthodox tradition in Chinese prose poetry. A through line in Admussen’s identification and exploration of the three sub-genres is the critical question of voice, and the vocal attribute most essential to Admussen’s analysis is a kind of ventriloquism that characterizes the prose poetic voice. This ventriloquist feature best substantiates Admussen’s argument, because it is as compellingly present in leftist oriented work as it is in more ideologically independent or experimental poetry. Indeed, the entire question of ideological underpinning, other than being responsible for the relative scarcity of prose poetry from about 1963 through the late 1970s, is refreshingly recast in this book. Admussen’s description of Chinese prose poetry manages to rise above left/right, free/constrained dichotomies.

Beyond the summary, Manfredi writes:

While the previous chapters are full of insights and useful information, one feels that Admussen is really working up to his final chapter, which addresses the work of Ouyang Jianghe and Xi Chuan. Ouyang Jianghe’s “Hanging Coffin” is the focus of the first part of the chapter. “Hanging Coffin,” however, is too long to quote at the outset, as he does with the poems opening the other chapters. Instead—and most creatively and ambitiously—Admussen advances his own condensation of Ouyang’s massive work in a single sentence: “Hanging Coffin is an epic manifestation of the evacuation of history” (134). He then proceeds to unpack that sentence, word by word, until a full reading of Ouyang Jianghe’s poem emerges. That reading details the incredible sweep of Ouyang’s work, but also the ways in which the poet endeavors to close the door on his own chapter of prose-poetic composition. By contrast, shifting finally to Xi Chuan, Admussen arrives at a very compelling summary of some of his key concepts as manifested in Xi Chuan’s work:

This is a basically ventriloquistic and pluralist ideology, one that calls into question the position of the speaker as a maxim-producing creator of wisdom; the poem recasts that speaker as a channeller of wisdom, a collector whose task implicitly denies the existence of a single set of universal truths. (153)

Manfredi concludes: “Admussen’s work is a rare combination of breezy and substantive, and certainly well worth the read.”

Click the image above for the review in full.

Xi Chuan October 2018 Featured Writer for Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

Xi Chuan has been the featured writer for October 2018 at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. Xi Chuan gave a reading and discussion on Chinese poetry and translation at Leeds on October 12, and was at the Manchester Literature Festival on the 13th, reading with Mary Jean Chan and Jennifer Tsai, then took kpart in an afternoon of writing workshops, networking, and dinner, at an event organised by Bi’an – the UK Chinese Writers’ Network – called ‘Both Sides Now: Writing from East and West‘.

The Leeds page also posts:

Xi Chuan and his translator Lucas Klein have kindly given us permission to feature three poems – ‘Eight Fragments’ 八段; ‘Abstruse Thoughts at the Panjiayuan Antiques Market’ 潘家园旧货市场玄思录, (first published in English in Pathlight, 2015) and ‘Travels in Xichuan Province’ 西川省纪行 – which you can read in Chinese and in English translation here.

Click here, or the image above (with a very old photo of me), to download the poems.

Xi Xi Wins 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

Image may contain: 3 people, including Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, people smiling, people sitting and indoorNewman Prize winner Xi Xi with her nominator Tammy Ho and translator Jennifer Feeley (photo by Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁)

NORMAN, OK—An international jury has selected the Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西 (born 1937) as the winner of the sixth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the third female Newman laureate, and the first from Hong Kong.

Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of seven distinguished literary experts nominated seven poets this spring, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on October 9, 2018.

Winner Xi Xi 西西 (the pen name of Zhang Yan 張彥) will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, on March 7–8, 2019. In addition to this year’s nominating juror, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong Baptist University), other nominees and jurors include Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, nominated by Nick Admussen (Cornell University); Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, nominated by Eleanor Goodman (Fairbank Center, Harvard University); Xi Chuan 西川, nominated by Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong); Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, nominated by Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta); Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, nominated by Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University); and Bei Dao 北岛, nominated by Wang Guangming (Capital Normal University).

“This year’s nominees represent an extraordinarily wide variety of Sinophone poetry,” said this year’s Newman Prize Coordinator, Jonathan Stalling. “The jurors spent over an hour in vigorous deliberation before they finally emerged with one poet out of the many. It is genuinely exciting to see Xi Xi’s poetry and her lifelong contributions to world letters recognized by this year’s prize.”

According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,

Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.

Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan 莫言, Han Shaogong 韩少功, and Wang Anyi 王安忆, who won the 2009, 2011, and 2017 Newman Prizes, respectively. Mo Yan went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poets Yang Mu 楊牧 and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen 朱天文 won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2013 and 2015.

The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues over a decade ago, in 2006. The University of Oklahoma is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

 

美國中部時間2018年10月8日,中國香港作家和詩人西西獲得第六屆紐曼華語文學獎(詩歌獎)。她是紐曼華語文學獎的第三位女性獲獎者,也是第一位來自香港的獲獎者。

紐曼華語文學獎是由美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2008年設立的獎項,是美國第一個為華語文學或詩歌設立的獎項,每兩年頒獎一次。評委們完全基於文學價值選出為最能表現人類生存狀況作品。所有在世的用中文寫作的作家都有機會入選。諾貝爾文學獎得主莫言是2009年年首位紐曼文學獎得獎者,中國大陸作家韓少功和王安憶分別於2011年和2017年折桂,台灣詩人楊牧和台灣作家朱天文分別在2013和2015年領此殊榮榮。

紐曼華語文學獎的七位專家評審早在今年年初提名了七位詩人。今天,他們經過六輪投票,決定出最終得獎者。獲獎者西西(原名張彥)可獲得一萬美元的獎金,紀念獎牌一塊,銅質獎章一枚,並將受邀於2019年三月7日至8日參加在俄克拉荷馬大學舉辦的紐曼學術研討會和晚宴。西西的提名者是香港浸會大學的何麗明教授(Tammy Lai-Ming Ho)。另外六位評委和被提名的詩人信息如下:康奈爾大學的安敏軒(Nick Admussen)提名了詩人於秀華,哈佛大學費正清中心的學者顧愛玲(Eleanor Goodman)提名了詩人王小妮,香港大學的柯夏智(Lucas Klein)教授提名了詩人西川,阿爾伯塔大學的陸敬思(Christopher Lupke)教授提名了詩人蕭開愚,萊頓大學的柯雷(Maghiel van Crevel)教授提名了詩人鄭小瓊,以及北京首都大學的王光明教授提名了詩人北島。

今年紐曼華語詩歌獎評委團的組織者石江山(Jonathan Stalling)說,“本次被提名的詩人們代表了華語詩歌極度豐富的多樣性。”“評委們經過一個多小時的熱烈的評議和投票才選出了最後的勝者。西西的詩歌和她畢生對文學的貢獻在今年的紐曼文學獎上得到了肯定,這是一件真正激動人心的事“。

何麗明博士在提名詞中寫道:“很長一段時間以來香港文學都被視為是次要的,甚至有人認為這個城市不能出產重要的文學作品或著名的作家。香港詩歌或許在很多人眼中是個更抽象和虛妄的概念。西西或諧或莊的詩歌道出了這個城市及其居民的品格。她的詩歌也證明了一個城市的故事不必是宏大的敘述,而可以是表面瑣碎的絮語,寓言或者童話。西西的詩歌陰柔,纖細,機智,敏銳,動人心弦,無可辯駁地宣示著香港詩歌的存在感“。

紐曼華語文學獎的主辦方美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2006年成立。該學院的成立與Harold J. Newman和Ruth Newman夫婦的慷慨捐贈密不可分。俄克拉荷馬大學還設有中國文學翻譯檔案館,“今日中國文學”雜誌,“今日世界文學”雜誌,並定期主辦紐斯塔特(Neustadt)國際文學獎。

Dialogue between Chinese and Indian Writers

portraits

The Dialogue between Chinese and Indian Writers is organized by Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation and two prominent literary magazines—Today from China and Almost Island from India. The Dialogue will be held in Hong Kong on 13-14 October 2018 at the University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong.

Today and Almost Island have been convening contemporary Chinese and Indian writers, critics, musicians and artists for international cultural exchange since 2009. Their ongoing discussions cover a wide range of topics—literature, music and art, as well as culture, politics and history, in company with poetry recitals, fiction readings and music performances.

After the events in Hong Kong, they will further their conversations in Hangzhou, Mainland China.

Chinese Writers and Artists
Bei Dao 北島, Li Tuo 李陀, Ge Fei 格非, Ouyang Jianghe 歐陽江河, Lydia H. Liu 劉禾, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Bao Kun 鮑昆, Han Shaogong 韓少功

Indian Writers and Artists
Ashis NandyIrwin Allan SealyK. SatchidanandanKabir MohantyMohi Baha’ud-din DagarSharmistha MohantyVivek Narayanan

Date: 13-14 October 2018
Venue: University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
Address: 90 Bonham Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong

Organizers
Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation
Today《今天》
Almost Island

Co-organizers
University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
Shuyu Coffee 舒羽咖啡

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!