Chinese Poetry in End-of-Year Lists

If the end of the year is a time for lists, the beginning of a year is the time for taking stock of the Chinese poetry titles that appeared in last year’s “best of” lists. Here are three:

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation is a $3,000 prize for a book-length translation of poetry into English. The 2015 includes David Hinton’s translation of The Late Poems of Wang An-Shih 王安石 (New Directions). Wang was an economist, statesman, chancellor and poet of the Song Dynasty; he became prime minister, the publisher writes, “and in this position he instituted a controversial system of radically egalitarian social reforms to improve the lives of China’s peasants … It was after his retirement, practicing Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and wandering the mountains around his home, that Wang An-shih wrote the poems that made his reputation. Short and plainspoken, these late poems contain profound multitudes the passing of time, rivers and mountains, silence and Buddhist emptiness.”

Not a prize-granting organization, The Washington Post nevertheless also came up with a list of “The best poetry books for December.” Included was Empty Chairs: Selected Poems by Liu Xia 刘霞, (Graywolf),translated by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern. The collection draws from thirty years of Liu’s poetry, including what she’s written after she was placed under house following the imprisonment of her husband, Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, who was sentenced for eleven years in 2009 (he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010). “In several of her chiseled poems,” the Post writes, “Liu uses dolls to convey what she cannot—and yet her voice still asserts itself, coming through bold and vital.” Empty Chairs is also the only translation from Chinese to make it onto World Literature Today‘s list of “75 Notable Translations of 2015.”

Finally, at Three Percent non-poetry reader Chad Post has come up with his list of “poetry collections I would’ve read and loved, if I read poetry. Based on my general knowledge of publishers, translators, and titles, I’m pretty much positivie that these are the best collections I should’ve read this year.” In this list he includes my translation October Dedications by Mang Ke 芒克 (Zephyr / Chinese University Press). The book isn’t actually out yet, but I can’t resist including it here because Chad writes, “Lucas Klein is a really stand-up guy who does a lot to promote Chinese poetry. He’s also been a judge for the PEN Translation Prize, and been mistaken for me at several ALTA conferences … He also likes to get all up in my shit about mis-alphabetizing Chinese authors in my various lists and posts. This is totally my fault, although it’s not always that easy to figure out …The beauty of this list that I’ve put together though is that, even if “Ke” is his surname, this book is STILL properly alphabetized. I CAN NOT BE BEATEN TODAY.” Congratulations, Chad. Mang Ke is a pseudonym, but yes, it should be alphabetized under M. And since the book won’t be out until sometime later in 2016, you still have time to read it and put it on this year’s list again.

Haysom’s Hermits and butterflies: nature writing in China

article imagePathlight managing editor Dave Haysom’s “Hermits and butterflies: the resurgence of nature writing in China” has been published on China Dialogue, covering the range of contemporary Chinese literature–and even mentioning Xi Chuan:

Their rural existence was no idyll, and it ended in tragedy: in 1993 Gu Cheng killed Xie Ye with an axe before hanging himself. By that point Hai Zi and Luo Yihe were also dead: Hai Zi committed suicide in 1989 by throwing himself under a train (leaving his copy of Walden in his bag alongside the tracks); Luo Yihe died from a brain haemorrhage just a few months later, apparently from the strain of his editorial efforts to secure Hai Zi’s poetic legacy. Wei An died from liver cancer in 1999.

Their untimely deaths seem to have sealed these poets behind the curtain of history – but many of their contemporaries are still with us, and still producing poetry that engages with the same themes. Last year Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河) published Phoenix, a 400-line mini-epic in which the spiritual and environmental strains of China’s feverish development are embodied in the vast avian sculpture of artist Xu Bing (徐冰). The polymath writer, artist, editor and filmmaker Ou Ning (欧宁) is perhaps the closest thing contemporary China has to a Thoreau figure, having founded his own rural commune in Bishan, Anhui, as part of the New Rural Reconstruction Movement. Xi Chuan (西川) was a classmate of Hai Zi and Luo Yihe, and after the deaths of his friends he switched from lyric poetry to a looser, prose-poem style, in which nature is seldom idealised.

Trees eavesdrop on trees, birds eavesdrop on birds; when a viper stiffens and attacks a passing human it becomes human … The truth cannot be public, echoless thoughts are hard to sing.

— from “Exhor[ta]tions” by Xi Chuan – translated by Lucas Klein

As Jennifer Kronovet observes: “This is not nature poetry and yet it is.”

Click the image for the piece in full.

Yip’s Qu Yuan forthcoming in Rothenberg’s new Technicians of the Sacred

Portrait of Qu Yuan by Chen HongshouJerome Rothenberg will be releasing an expanded version of his foundational anthology Technicians of the Sacred, and it will include an excerpt from a new translation of Qu Yuan 屈原 by Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉. Rotheberg has published a preview on his blog at Jacket2, where he writes:

The Nine Songs by Qu Yuan (332–296 B.C.), excerpts from which appeared in the earlier editions of Technicians of the Sacred in Arthur Waley’s well-known & text-only translation, was in its origins a clear example of poetry as an act of “total performance.” Writes Wai-lim Yip as translator: “Recent scholarship, particularly the work of the poet-scholar Wen Yiduo, sees Qu Yuan’s The Nine Songs as a collection of songs of folk and oral nature used in ancient shamanistic ritualistic dramas performed near Dongting Lake in Hu’nan Province. The songs as they appear in the Chu Ci or The Songs of the South (consisting of one single, ambiguous voice and in the form of poems) are believed to have been greatly worked over by Qu Yuan. Wen Yiduo, himself a famous modern Chinese poet of the 1920s, in addition to his many essays tracing the poem to relevant origins, reconstructs The Nine Songs into a performable structure. The present translation is a slightly modified version based on his reconstruction.”

A section from the translation reads:

Riding a white turtle, chasing spotted fishes,
I will roam with you among the small islets
As swollen waters come tumbling down.
With crossed hands, I will go with you to the East,
To escort my beautiful one to the Southern Shore.

Click the image above for more.

Lingenfelter’s & Meng’s Chen Jingrong in CLT

Volume 5 No. 1 Issue CoverThe new issue of Chinese Literature Today features new translations by Andrea Lingenfelter and Liansu Meng 孟莲素 of poetry by Chen Jingrong 陈敬容:
Yellow
Yellow dusk, yellow sand,
Dredging from the dust these
Yellowed memories,
The shadow on the wall lets out a sigh.
Welling up in my imagination
A vast ocean like a mirror,
In its pure, translucent waves
I listen closely for my own lonely footfalls.
黄昏,黄沙,
尘灰里掘起
发黄的记忆,
壁上的影子叹息。
幻想里涌起
一片大海如境,
在透明的清波里
谛听自己寂寞的足音。

Click on the image for more.

Ou Ning’s How to Start Your Own Utopia in English

How to Start Your Own Utopia, by Chinese poet, activist, editor, and curator Ou Ning 欧宁, is now available in English.
Volume one contains a facsimile of Ou Ning’s original notebook in full color; the second volume is a translation of the notebook from the Chinese by Mai Corlin and Austin Woerner, a previously unpublished interview with Ou Ning, and his 2012 text laying out an understanding of ongoing anarchist practices in a totalitarian, capitalist reality.
Click the image for more.

Brian Holton: “Translator / Ghostwriter / Ghost Composer” at CUHK

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Renditions Distinguished Lecture Series on Literary Translation

“Translator / Ghostwriter / Ghost Composer”
Speaker: Brian Holton
Date: 16 December 2015 (Wednesday)
Time: 4:30–6:00 p.m. (Tea reception: 4:00–4:30 p.m.)
Venue: LT6, Yasumoto International Academic Park (YIA),
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong

26 – 29 November
With readings at the HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity 香港兆基創意書院, with panel discussions at Chung Chi College 崇基學院, CUHK.

Featuring:

Agi Mishol, Anne Waldman, Chen Li 陳黎, Etienne Lalonde, Fernando Pinto do Amaral, Gemma Gorga, Ghassan Zaqtan, Gleb Shulpyakov, Jean Michel Espitallier, Kim Hyesoon, ko ko thett, Lau Yee-ching 飲江, Les Murray, Mohammed Bennis, Najwan Darwish, Nikola Madzirov, Noriko Mizuta, Peter Cole, Song Lin 宋琳, Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, and Yoko Tawada

2015-11-15_2350Click the images above for further information.

Goodman’s Wang Xiaoni wins Lucien Styke Prize

At their annual convention in Tucson, ALTA announced that Eleanor Goodman has won the 2015 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize for Something Crosses My Mind, by Wang Xiaoni 王小妮 (Zephyr / Chinese University Press, 2014).

“‘I rush down the stairs,/ pull open the door,/ dash about in the spring sunlight…’ So begins this exquisite collection of translations by Eleanor Goodman of poems composed over the past several decades by Wang Xiaoni. In what follows we are taken out into the streets and on cross-country trains, into villages, cities and markets; we peep out through the windows of the poet’s home and sense the nostalgia invoked by a simple potato. Here is a poetry of the everyday, written in delicate yet deceptively simple language, and translated beautifully into its like in this first collection of Wang’s work to appear in English. Something Crosses My Mind offers up the refreshing voice of a poet forging her own path, neither shunning the political nor dwelling in the lyrical but gently and resolutely exploring her world in her writing,” write the judges of the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, Lucas Klein, Janet Poole, and Stephen Snyder.

Click on the image of Goodman reading for further details.