Photographic Response to Pound’s Cathay by Zhao Jing

"Song of the Bowman of Shu" by Zhao JingThe Baltimore Sun reports:

Around the turn of the 20th century, ancient Chinese poetry grabbed fresh attention in the West and provided inspiration for some notable works.

Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, for example, found in a set of German translations of Li Po the impetus to create “Das Lied von der Erde” (“The Song of the Earth”). And four years after the 1911 posthumous premiere of that profound music, American poet Ezra Pound published “Cathay,” his influential interpretations of Li Po and other Chinese poets.

A century later, Baltimore-based artist Zhao Jing offers her response to Pound’s “Cathay” in a powerful series of photographic diptychs under the same title, now on exhibit at C. Grimaldis Gallery.

In a way, Zhao has gone through something similar to Mahler’s experience.

Responding to a translation, Mahler composed a kind of second translation — something that captured his own time and style, but also the sensibility of the original. Likewise, Zhao has, in effect, re-translated Pound’s translations and has made her own statement about them and the original poems.

The show will be on exhibit through April 12. Click on the image above for the full article & more information.

MCLC Review of Jade Ladder

200Modern Chinese Literature & Culture has published Meng Liansu’s review of Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, edited by Yang Lian 杨炼 and W. N. Herbert, with Brian Holton and Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇. Here’s how she begins her piece:

Jade Ladder is a welcome addition to the handful of anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry in English, and the most comprehensive one to date. Featuring fifty-three poets born in mainland China and nearly 200 poems written between the 1970s and 2010, this anthology introduces the reader to a significantly larger number of excellent poets and poems than its peers and presents a fascinating overview of contemporary Chinese poetry in the past three decades. It is an important resource for general English-language readers interested in poetry and China, as well as for students, teachers and scholars of Chinese literature and culture.

Click the image above for the full review.

Asymptote’s 3rd Anniversary in Shanghai

To celebrate turning 3, Asymptote will make its first-ever appearance in Shanghai on 29 Mar (Saturday) at Anne-Cecile Noique ART! In collaboration with NYU Shanghai, we jointly present “New Voices from South Korea and China,” featuring Asymptote contributors Eleanor Goodman and Eun Joo Kim. Eleanor Goodman will be reading her translations of Chinese poets Li Li 李笠, Sun Wenbo 孙文波, and Wang Xiaoni 王小妮 while Eun Joo Kim will be reading her translations of the Korean poet Kim Ki-taek. The readings will be followed by a short Q&A. Come out and celebrate with us!

Click the image above for more information.

Xu Bing’s Book from the Ground

Here’s something I missed the first time around. The Asia Society has a write-up of the most recent project of Xu Bing 徐冰, titled Book from the Ground: From Point-to-Point 地书. Here’s an excerpt:

His groundbreaking work, Book from the Sky, looked like Chinese calligraphy, but was actually nonsensical characters. Square Word Calligraphy, on the other hand, looked like Chinese but was actually English, while A Case Study of Transference was two live pigs — one inked with fake English and the other with fake Chinese — copulating in a book-strewn pen.

Now, after years creating art that explores, and upends, the power of the written word, Xu Bing has authored a novella, which was published in early summer. Formally titled Book from the Ground: From Point-to-Point, the tale recounts 24 hours in the life of a young white-collar worker in a major metropolis.

The man, who remains unnamed, seeks to advance his career and find love, but, like many of us, spends most of his time tending the minutiae of daily life: he battles constipation, burns his breakfast, dreads his boss, drinks too much beer, and spends too much money. The main prism through which he experiences the world is electronic — he compulsively checks Twitter, Google, and Facebook, spends his day making PowerPoint presentations (when not surreptitiously checking email), and searches online for romance. At night, characters from video games populate his anxious dreams. This prosaic existence is interspersed by a few device-free moments of genuine humanity, as when he contemplates marriage, yearns for nature, visits a friend who is sick, comforts another who is heart-broken, and brings a bouquet of roses to a blind date.

Indeed, if this plot summary sounds slim, consider this: From Point-to-Point is “written” without a single word — at least as they are traditionally defined. Instead, it is composed with hundreds of icons, or pictograms, that Xu has been collecting for years. Where Book from the Sky can be read by no one, Book from the Ground can be read by any one. It is, in other words, a remarkable effort to create a universal form of written communication that transcends cultural, linguistic, class, and educational backgrounds. In Xu’s words, “The illiterate can enjoy the delight of reading just as the intellectual does.”

Click the image above for the full article.

Yves Bonnefoy Recitation in Hong Kong

Yves Bonnefoy Poetry Recitation
Date: 27 March 2014 (Thursday)
Time: 19:00-20:30
Venue: Agnès b. Cinema, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wanchai

Modern and Contemporary French Poetry: Yves Bonnefoy’s Bilingual Poetry Collection – Leurre et vérité des mots
Sharing Session by Translator – Chen Lichuan 陈力川
Date: 28 March 2014 (Friday)
Time: 16:00-17:30
Venue: University Bookstore, Yasumoto International Academic Park, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Bookworm Translation Slam

In a Battle of the Beards, Beijing Bookworm hosted a Translation “Slam.” Here’s how it went:

This year, Tibetan song lyrics (translated into mandarin) provided the raw materials. The band Neemah attended to play their compositions, and to clarify the meaning of their lyrics when translators got stumped.

Literature translator Canaan Morse and sinologist Sid Gulinck’s varying viewpoints produced some surprisingly disparate verses.

Your Ever Present Glance
Like a casual sunshine bundle
Causing a stir in my disheveled heart

wrote Gulinck. Whereas Morse thought the following was more appropriate:

Looking at me with those tender eyes
Warm and free, climbing the sunrise
Clear away dust and sin on my window.

Click the image above for the full article.

Interview with Robert Hammond Dorsett on Wen Yiduo’s Stagnant Water

book cover: Stagnant Water and Other PoemsRobert Hammond Dorsett, translator of the newly released Stagnant Water & Other Poems by Wen Yiduo 聞一多 (1899 – 1946), agreed to answer a few of my questions by way of interview:

Can you describe how you got interested in Chinese / poetry / translation and in Wen Yiduo  in particular?

An undergraduate course, entitled Keats and His Circle, started my interest: I have read and written poems ever since. After my residency in pediatrics, my wife, daughter and I traveled to Hong Kong, where I studied at the Yale-in-China program at the Chinese University. It was there I was introduced to Wen Yiduo, and, from then till now, I have carried his poems about, making notes and deciding on interpretations. It was only after I left medicine, decades later, that I had enough time to prepare my poems and translations for publication.


Do you see any parallels between Wen Yiduo’s time and place and ours?

There are so many parallels, as well as differences, that it is difficult for me to answer simply; I’d rather say it is at the depth of the poems of Wen Yiduo that I encounter the same loss, regret, love, outrage at suffering and so forth that is common to humanity. It is from there, from the human realm, the poems emanate their immediacy. I can say I find a Wen Yiduo poem as fresh and current as any poem written now in English.


I find a tight condensation in your English, often more condensed than I find Wen Yiduo’s Chinese to be. Can you say something about the audience you have in mind for Stagnant Water, and what you imagine that audience’s expectations to be?

Condensation in poetry, that is condensation that does not hinder either rhythm or clarity of voice, is, for me, a desideratum. I try to approach translation much the same way a composer approaches transcription—as a reconstruction rather than a substitution. The key to Wen Yiduo, for me, is voice; I first decide who the speaker is, whether the voice is general or specific, and, if specific, who the speaker is, to whom she or he is speaking, under what conditions etc., and I try not to use any language that an ordinary person in that same situation wouldn’t use. I have attempted not to make the foreign sound strange. I made these translations for anyone who loves poetry.

Thanks to Robert Hammond Dorsett for his answers!

Click the image for ordering information on the book.

Chinese Literature Dissertation Reviews: Music & Prosody in Late Imerial China

Music & Prosody in Late Imperial China Dissertation Reviews has posted Ling Xiaoqiao’s review of Casey Schoenberger’s dissertation, Resonant Readings: Musicality in Early Modern Chinese Adaptations of Traditional Poetic Forms. Here’s how it begins:

This ambitious study focuses on details of music and prosody in late imperial China qu performance, with a focus on famed playwrights and drama critics such as Xu Wei 徐渭 (1521–1593) and Wang Jide 王驥德 (?–1623). A few key concepts are central to this study. The first is resonance: drama critics like Wang Jide adapt song lyrics (ci 詞) as surfaces, or templates, in order to evoke, from both audience and reader, sensory impressions of the physical body and physicality of performers with different divides in social class. Late imperial Chinese plays were also designed to “resonate” with the many aural qualities inscribed in musical and prosodic information. In terms of audience anticipation, psychological qualia is a term useful for exploring how musical melodies and rhymes, as well as linguistic accents and tones, shaped the experience of poetry meant to be sung. Ultimately, the poetic and musical ornament and artistry developed by these musicologically adept poets and playwrights contributed to the late Ming cultural life what could be best characterized as a sense of hybridity: the surplus of material culture and concomitant anxiety over expressive authenticity point to a hybridized tradition holding multiple modalities in one.

Click the image above for the full review.

In Other Words: a discussion about translation and translators at Asian Review

Julia Lovell, Sophie Lewis, Arunava Sinha, Marcia Lynx Qualey and I took part in a discussion at Asian Review of Books on the nature of translation and the role of translators in bringing Asian literature to the English-speaking world. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:

Peter Gordon, editor: A work in translation is, obviously, not the same as a work in the original language. But what is it exactly that readers are actually reading when they read a translation?

Lucas Klein: First, what a translation is not: a genetic clone of some original. Many criticisms of translation—such as that translation is “impossible”—are based on impossibly narrow definitions of translation.

Peter Gordon, editor: When setting up the Man Asian Literary Prize, I included an additional award for the translator (if there was one) of the winning novel. This was not just a matter of acknowledging the translators’ contribution: the Prize was initially for as yet unpublished works, and I figured if anyone would know what interesting works were in the pipeline, it would be translators … Where do translators and translations fit in this “eco-system”?

Lucas Klein: The role of translators in that ecosystem can seem both very large and very small. If Faulkner was influenced by the Bible and the great nineteenth century Russian novelists, say, and in turn influenced Gabriel García Márquez and Mo Yan, then not only was Faulkner influenced by the King James translators, but also by Constance Garnett, who translated Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the early twentieth century, as García Márquez and Mo Yan are influenced by the translators of Faulkner into Spanish and Chinese, while Howard Goldblatt is in turn influenced not only by Faulkner but by Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman—García Márquez’s main translators into English—in the formation of the literary style he has used to represent and recreate Mo Yan’s voice in English.

Click the image above for the full discussion.