Turner on Ouyang Jianghe

image3Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 gave a reading at the China Institute on May 7th, moderated by Yibing Huang (poet Mai Mang 麦芒). Here’s Matt Turner’s write-up of the event:

BUILDING POETRY WITH MATERIAL

Poet Ouyang Jianghe gave a poetry reading at the China Institute in New York, followed by a discussion with poet and professor Yibing Huang, as part of a delegation of writers from mainland China brought to the US by the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation. The event was in Chinese and English, with the help of a very skilled interpreter.

Around 20 people came to see the reading in a small lecture hall, and all could probably speak at least some Chinese. Notably, I didn’t recognize anyone from the local poetry scene there. For the US, it was an audience of outsiders: ethnically, linguistically, and also outside of the New York literary world.

Ouyang Jianghe began his reading with a long poem from his collection Doubled Shadows, followed by several sections of his serial poem “Phoenix.” After each poem, the interpreter would read from the English translation. Despite some problems with the microphone, Ouyang Jianghe captured the attention of the audience with his distinct style of dramatic reading.

The discussion included questions from Yibing Huang about the manner in which Ouyang Jianghe wrote, about his sources of inspiration, about his poetics, and about the relationship of contemporary Chinese poetry to Classical poetry. Audience members also asked about the relationship of his poetry to current economics, and about his language use. I will try to summarize a few of Ouyang Jianghe’s points below.

  • Poetry in China has lately been suffering a regression: in addition to avoiding content which engages with the present moment, the language is often a repetition of what you would only see in the present: in conversation, in advertising, and so on.
  • He is trying to draw on a Chinese history of poetry while also not pigeonholing it as a genre limited to a particular geography, content, or even language. The combination of vernacular Chinese with its written roots, as well as an awareness of foreign languages, allows him to write to the present moment in a way that any “pure” poetry would not.
  • His recent poetry, as can be seen in the Chinese text of “Phoenix,” is written less for sound than to convey the materiality of language. This materiality is conveyed in a rough, even clunky, “built” language that mimics that material reality around him: constant urban construction and the shifting populations, and the assembling of new realities out of pre-existing materials, almost like collage.
  • The existing English translations of his work smooth-over this materiality, and focus on sound and an established idea of “poetic” language which is not there in the original.
  • Traditionally in China, the poem is associated with breath (qi, 气): to a certain degree the line is an allegory of the biological process of inhalation and exhalation. His poetry is interested in the moment in-between breaths, that moment of anxiety.
  • Stock subjects are of little interest to him. If he were to write about the natural world, he is interested in transformational moments. For example, instead of observing the movements of a fish in the water, he is interested in the moment at which that fish is removed from the water and its existence is transformed. It could be when it is taken from the water and placed on a piece of paper, or something along those lines.

Yibing Huang ended the discussion by noting that the bi-lingual forum in which this event took place was a good analog for Ouyang Jianghe’s work: impure, always shifting, and seeking to engage in different modes of discourse.

As for me, I left the reading thinking to myself that I had just seen a reading and talk by a significant poet and very imaginative theorist of contemporary poetry, but also shaking my head over the fact that so few people had been there to hear it. Part of the blame for that lies with China Institute—rarely have they been able to attract the attention of the literary world, with their often stereotypically “Chinesey” events. On the other hand, significant blame can definitely be assigned to a literary world so self-confident that it forgets the rest of the world exists, and is significant. As Ouyang Jianghe receives more publications in English, it’s my hope that the society of small presses and innovative poets in the US will begin to take notice.

Admussen on Mang Ke & Ashbery

At the Boston Review, Nick Admussen writes about the language of John Ashbery and Mang Ke 芒克–especially in “Sunflower in the Sun” 阳光中的向日葵 as translated by Jonathan Stalling and Huang Yibing (and forthcoming in my October Dedications from Zephyr and Chinese University Press)–in light of recent political protests.

Admussen writes:

One cannot always feel the mark of past violence in poems written later, during a time of relative peace, but such feeling is evident in the work of the poet Mang Ke, who lived and wrote through that intense moment of transition when the organized and disorganized political violence of Maoist China gave way to the uncertain openness of the early Deng era … It is possible to read this complex tableau through familiar psychological categories: PTSD, the epidemiology of violence, the mirror neuron. But I prefer to understand the poem as an aesthetic rather than deterministic reaction: we make decisions about how to construct our lives around the violence in our history. The stories we tell and the relationships we draw are like works of art, escapist, realist, obscure, lyrical, or haunted, all tethered to but not defined by the experience of the creation of pain in others.

And on Ashbery, he sees “some small proportion of Ashbery’s late poems as having a thereness-but-not-presence, an abstract understanding of a distant and unsensual truth.”

Click the image above for the full essay.

Turner’s Lu Xun in Seedings

seedings1-f-coverIssue 1 of the new journal Seedings is now out, featuring a great collection of work by some of English’s best poets: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Tarn, Rosmarie Waldrop, Will Alexander… and translators: Keith Waldrop (Paul Verlaine), Cole Swensen (Jaime Montestrela), Johannes Göransson (Sara Tuss Efrik)…

Worth mention on this blog are the three new translations by Matt Turner of prose poems by Lu Xun 魯迅. From “Waking” 一覺:

Planes on a mission to drop bombs, like the start of class at school every morning, fly over Beijing. Everytime I hear the sound of their parts pound the air I repeatedly feel a light tension, as though witnessing a “death” raid. But at the same time intensely feeling the “birth” of existence.

飛機負了擲下炸彈的使命,像學校的上課似的,每日上午在北京城上飛行。每聽得機件搏擊空氣的聲音,我常覺到一種輕微的緊張,宛然目睹了「死」的襲來,但同時也深切地感著「生」的存在。隱約聽到一二爆發聲以後,飛機嗡嗡地叫著,冉冉地飛去了。也許有人死傷了罷,然而天下卻似乎更顯得太平。窗外的白楊的嫩葉,在日光下發烏金光。

Click the image above to access the issue.

Owen’s Du Fu in the Harvard Gazette

The Harvard Gazette has run a write-up promoting Stephen Owen translates the poetry of Du FuStephen Owen’s complete Poetry of Du Fu: “A monumental undertaking (the prolific Du Fu left 1,400 extant poems), Owen spent nearly a decade working on the translation, which resulted in a 3,000-page, six-volume book that weighs in at nine pounds.”

Along with recordings of Owen reading some of this translations, the article also quotes Owen’s appreciation of the poet:

“He’s a quirky poet. When he moves to Chengdu with his family, he has to set up house and writes a poem to people asking for fruit trees and crockery. No one had ever done this kind of poem. He has a poem praising his bondservant Xinxing for repairing a water-piping system in his house … He’s forgotten what you can and can’t do in poetry, and 30 years later poets looked back and said, ‘This is the greatest poet we have,’” Owen said.

Here’s a recording of Owen reading his translation of “Having Been Thrown From My Horse While Drunk“:

Click the image for the article and to hear more.

Klein on Krasznahorkai on Chinese Poets in Cha

ImageThe new Cha also features my review of László Krasznahorkai’s Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Semi-fictional reportage about Krasznahorkai’s travels through China, it features transcripts of discussions with Chinese poets–which I elaborate on in my review:

My own reading experience was one of being amazed at the representative resonances with those whom I know among the book’s characters—critic Tang Xiaodu and poets Yang Lian and Ouyang Jianghe as well as Xi Chuan—while also being enwrapped in the dramatic tension of its various frustrations.

I also take a look at whether the book is fictional, and how Krasznahorkai plays with central questions in Chinese literary studies to

While those trained in European literature are equipped to believe that writing is in itself a fictional act, others have argued, “In the Chinese literary tradition, a poem is usually presumed to be nonfictional: its statements are taken as strictly true.” But this statement is itself at the core of further debates in Chinese literary studies, such as about Orientalism and the mental sequestering of China as an object of study that comprises much scholarship in Chinese literature.

These debates play out implicitly in the pages of the book, I say:

This is the game Krasznahorkai plays. His self-aware presentation of his Westerner’s vision is embodied and embedded in his structure. In Hungarian, Stein’s name is Dante. Changing it to Stein invokes Aurel Stein (1862–1943), the Hungarian-British archaeologist who discovered the grottoes at Dunhuang and removed four cases of relics and paintings and twenty-four cases of medieval manuscripts to the British Museum in London, where they are preserved, or to which they were stolen. But the moniker Dante also implies Destruction and Sorrow‘s knowing Eurocentrism: the book’s three-part structure proceeds through the hell of the narrator’s exasperation to the utopia of the Suzhou gardens … By positing his China as a passage through the hereafter, Krasznahorkai acknowledges his enclosure within the Western tradition. Not that all narratives in Western literature are fulfilled: from Exodus to Ulysses, heroes have failed in their journeys, too. Or that unfulfilled narratives are the only Chinese authentic: don’t the pilgrims in Journey to the West reach Buddha’s Western Heaven?

Click the image above for the full review.

Mang Ke in Cha

ImageThe new issue of Cha is here, featuring my translation of three poems by Mang Ke 芒克 from the forthcoming October Dedications (Chinese University & Zephyr)–“Street” 街, “Even After Death We Grow Old” 死后也还会衰老, and “Late Years” 晚年:

we will hope, wishing we could live forever
wishing we were not some animal to be hunted

cooked over open flame, eaten
we will hurt, and oh we won’t be able to bear it

the white hair of the dead grows from the ground
which makes me believe: even after death we grow old

 

也还会希望,愿自己永远地活着
愿自己别是一只被他人猎取的动物

被放进火里烤着,被吞食
也还会痛苦,也还会不堪忍受啊

地里已经长出死者的白发
这使我相信:人死后也还会衰老

The issue also includes poetry by Andrea Lingenfelter, DeWitt Clinton adaptating Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese, Karen An-hwei Lee, and more. Click the image above for the link.

 

Lantz on Phoenix

41ngjbO5jzL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Tim Lantz at the LA Review reviews Phoenix 凤凰, by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 as translated by Austin Woerner:

It’s not hard to see why Ouyang Jianghe considers Phoenix his magnum opus. The book-length poem, at once difficult and exciting, feels like somehow watching the brain and musculature of an in-motion animal. Juxtapositions, short narratives, and allusions to the Chinese literary tradition—these disparate parts are surprising with their motion. With this combination, Ouyang critiques the constant ad hoc of globalization, especially as it speeds China through demolition to buildup. “The forest is gone now; a cement world looms. / Flightless, we build homes in the sky, / adding brick and tile to the ecology of the birds.” Even one’s speech and writing require pieces from the other side of the world, Ouyang points out.

For the full review, click the image above.

Jenne on China’s Literary Lushes

 

“They feast and drink merrily despite no accompaniment of strings or flutes. When somebody wins a game or a match of chess, they mark up their scores with drink and raise a cheerful din sitting or standing. The guests are enjoying themselves. In their midst sits an elderly man with white hair, totally relaxed and at ease. That is the governor, already half drunk…The governor can share his enjoyment with others when he is in his cups, and sober again can write an essay about it. Who is this governor? He is Ouyang Xiu.”

In addition to Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修, the article mentions Confucius 孔子, Li Bai 李白, Du Fu 杜甫, and Lu Xun’s Kong Yiji 孔乙己.

C D Wright on Xi Chuan

I’ve had a hard time processing C.D. Wright’s unexpected death since January 12, when she passed away as a result of a clot on a flight home from Chile. Death of an admired figure is always hard, and though I didn’t know C.D. well, I’ve long felt a personal resonance and connection. Unlike many American poets, contemporary Chinese poetry was not a stranger to her: she accompanied Bei Dao onstage for his honorary PhD at Brown in 2011. And she blurbed the back cover of Notes on the Mosquito.

In The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All (Copper Canyon), a selection of snippets from her prose writings about poetry, there’s more. Though he’s not mentioned by name, pages 82 – 85 are about Xi Chuan. It’s from “Of Those Who Can Afford to be Gentle,” previously unpublished in English, but translated into Portuguese by Cláudia Roquette-Pinto for Revista Confraria: Arte e literatura (and Ron Slate writes a little about it here). She writes:

The poets who became important symbols of the June 4 events are either those who were not in the country at the time, and could not return, or those who left he country, some at risk of arrest and some not. And inside, since Tiananmen, many began to enjoy, within limits, the autonomy of international urban life. The visiting writer, the poet who stayed with his face, stayed silent, and began again, reconnecting with his language one word at a time–bird, bicycle, city, fire, peony–in a series of prose poems that commence with literal and naive elaborations on the simple nouns and turn toward skeptical, if not wryly antagonistic, investigations of naming and meaning-making. All of this, to what end, what end. “Only when a nail pierced through my hand did my hand reveal the truth; only when black smoke choked me to tears could I feel my existence. Riding sidesaddle on a white horse ten fairies tore up my heart.” Zigzag. Learn to love the enigma, learn to love the paradox. Speak again.

Lupke’s Xiao Kaiyu on Asymptote

http://file.juzimi.com/category_pictures/201401/xiaokaiyujingdianyulu29779.jpgAsymptote has published new translations of Xiao Kaiyu 蕭開愚 poetry by Christopher Lupke.

He sleeps in a swimming pool filled with ancient texts,
a renovated workshop, looking into the air,
speaking short incomprehensible sentences.
Unfathomable ideas are concealed in stiff reeds of utterance,
The soldier’s language comes from an imperceptible battlefield, but who can  understand it?

他睡在滿是舊籍的游泳池
改建的工作間,望着空氣
說着晦澀的短句子,
無法破解的意思藏匿在堅挺的語音芒刺中,
戰士的語言來自看不見的戰場,有誰懂得?

Click the image above for the full suite.