Nicky Harman featured in China Daily

Chinese literature's biggest barriers abroad not language itselfChina Daily Europe has a feature on literary translation from Chinese to English, focusing in particular on Nicky Harman, translator of poet Han Dong 韩东 and others.

Harman, who specializes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, began learning Chinese in 1968 and previously taught translation at Imperial College London.

“At the start, my reasons for learning Chinese were superficial. I was fascinated with the culture and the great geographical region, as well as the people and the language,” she says. “Everything was different from the West.”

Equally challenging are Han’s novels and poetry, she says, as he uses beautiful words so they needed to be translated beautifully.

“As a translator I need to be a chameleon,” she tells Chinese students at the London workshop.

Chinese literature's biggest barriers abroad not language itself

Translators need to be paid, and because the job often requires lots of time, especially turning Chinese works into English, Harman says many have to do part-time jobs.

“They need money to buy food, to pay rent and bring up their children,” she says, explaining that few people can afford to work as translators full time.

Click either image for the full article.

Lost Wax: Translation Through the Void

TinFish Press announces the publication of Lost Wax: Translation Through the Void, by Jonathan Stalling.

The book presents Stalling’s sequence of poems about his wife Amy’s work as a sculptor. These poems are translated into Chinese and back into English by members of a “workshop” of eight fellow translators–Zhou Yu, Yao Benbiao, Nick Admussen, Jami Proctor-Xu, Jennifer Feeley, Eleanor Goodman, Lucas Klein, and Andrea Lingenfelter–then re-amalgamated by Stalling into a new final. Each poem is then presented in a) the original; b) the Chinese; c) the new English version. An additional workshop page illustrates choices made by translators on both sides of the English/Chinese divide.

The clay is the past
The wax inherits
As its own
The conditions, but not the only source
Of her arising

陶泥成为过去
石蜡也有了自己的
传承,
条件,不仅仅是她
出现 的唯一来源。

Clay becomes the past
Paraffin has its own
Inheritance
This condition is not her only
Source of coming into being

Click on the image for more, including ordering information.

TIME on the Poet who Died for your Phone

Time Magazine has a feature on Xu Lizhi 许立志, the former poet and Foxconn employee who committed suicide last September, whom they call “The Poet who Died for your Phone.”

In his 3½ years in Shenzhen, Xu captured life there in brutal, beautiful detail. In the city, the country kid found a voice that roared, publishing poems in company newspaper Foxconn People and sharing his work online. Factory workers are often treated as interchangeable, anonymous. To readers, his words were a reminder that every laborer has a mind and heart; for him, writing was a way out. “Writing poems gives me another way of life,” he told a Chinese journalist in an unpublished interview that TIME has seen. “When you’re writing poems, you’re not confined to the real world.”

As sidebars to their article, Time runs and links to translations of Xu’s poems by The Nao Project as published at libcom.org. In the body of the article, however, they quote (and alter, incorrectly: mala tang is not soup) my translation of “I Speak of Blood” 我谈到血, published by China Labour Bulletin–though without crediting me:

In the 2013 “I Speak of Blood,” Xu Lizhi captured the teeming cosmopolitanism of his adopted home, observing from his “matchbox” room a mix of: “Stray women in long-distance marriages/ Sichuan chaps selling mala soup/ Old ladies from Henan running stands/ And me with my eyes open all night to write a poem/ After running about all day to make a living.”

Translators, too, are often treated as interchangeable, anonymous. (Nao had their own problems with their translations being run, uncredited, by Bloomberg).

Time also notes that “Chinese poet Qin Xiaoyu [秦晓宇] is making a documentary film about Xu’s life and work.”

Josh Billings on Arthur Waley

As part of a series called “Lives of the Translators,” Asymptote has published Josh Billings’s essay “I Have Changed Nothing: Seven Paradoxes in Pursuit of Arthur Waley.”

Reading his short article on dreaming in Eastern literature (“Some Far Eastern Dreams”), it is difficult not to think about translation—this despite the fact that, at no point in the article does Waley himself make this connection. If anything, one of the most mysterious parts of “Some Far Eastern Dreams” is how persistently it refrains from the elaboration that comes so naturally to people when they talk about dreams. Like a scholar in a Borges story, Waley speaks with rigorously lowered eyebrows, uttering sentences that, taken seriously, would blast holes in most peoples’ views of how reality works. Some of these sentences sound like they have been taken from an instruction manual for an alien board game. “Dreams can be bought and sold, or stolen.” “Anyone who hears a dream and has a good enough memory to repeat it word for word can rob the dreamer of its benefits.”

The more we read, the more we get the sense that what Waley is really talking about here is his own work, and the dreamlike knack it has for opening questions that we thought had been settled.

Click on the image for the full piece.

Two Xi Chuan poems in new Paris Review

The Paris Review has published my translations of two new Xi Chuan poems, “Mourning Problems” 悼念之问题 and “Awake in Nanjing” 醒在南京, the former of which is available online for free (“Awake in Nanjing” is available in print and online for subscribers). Here’s how it begins:
an ant dies, and no one mourns
a bird dies, and no one mourns if it isn’t a crested ibis
a monkey dies, and monkeys mourn
a monkey dies, and people pry open its skull
a shark dies, and another shark keeps swimming
Click on the image to link to the poem. (Also check out the interviews with poet and translator Peter Cole, and Russian translator duo Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

NYTimes Interviews Willis Barnstone on Chinese Poetry

The New York Times features an interview with poet and translator Willis Barnstone about his translations of Chinese poetry and his time in China. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve always been interested in poetry, and I make no distinction of language or time. I’ve translated Sappho and, with the help of a professor at Yale, Sumerian poetry. But I was equally interested in Chinese poetry … I asked people who were the great contemporary poets, and they said none. It turns out that Mao was the only poet. The only permitted poet!
… So I translated it with the help of a colleague. I sent it in and received a letter saying, “We’re glad to have it and will get back to you.” It sat there for nine months until word came out that Nixon was going to China. In 11 pre-computer days, Harper & Row put it out in a magnificent edition. It became Book-of-the-Month, a New York Times feature review, the whole works.
Then Nixon did fly to Beijing for a summit with Mao, Zhou and Henry Kissinger. Nixon recited two of Mao’s poems in my translation.

He also talks about Wang Wei 王維 and meeting young poets (including Xi Chuan) with his son Tony at the Friendship Hotel in 1984.

Click on the image above for the full transcript.

China Daily Reports on Death of Wang Guozhen

Beloved poet hits the road again, this time never to returnWang Guozhen 汪国真 has passed away. China Daily reports:

Chinese poet Wang Guozhen, who was quoted by President Xi Jinping in his public speech, passed away in Beijing on Sunday.

Wang, whose poems became a sensation in the 1990s, died of liver cancer at the age of 59.

His passing has brought him back into focus across the country’s traditional and social media, with people mourning and also debating his place among China’s contemporary poets.

“There’s no mountain higher than a man, and no road longer than his feet,” Xi had quoted from one of Wang’s poems during a speech at the 2013 APEC CEOs’ summit in Indonesia, to emphasize China’s determination on economic reform.

“Wang’s writing had an impeding effect on Chinese poetry,” Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河], a renowned poet of the school of “misty poetry” that flourished in the 1980s, says.

“If we judge the quality of a poem only by its number of readers, then it is a shame for poetry. What represents Wang’s poems? The spirit of the time and motivational aphorisms … These are what I think makes a poem fake.”

Click on the image for the full write-up.

WLT review of Sze-Lorrain’s Lan Lan

Canyon in the BodyCanaan Morse at World Literature Today reviews Canyon in the Body 身体里的峡谷 by Lan Lan 蓝蓝, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Here’s how it wraps up:

The majority of the translations in this volume are both artistically accomplished and reflective of the source texts. Yet there are too many instances in which the translator steps in front of the author instead of standing beside her. Readers expect good translations to stand independently in their own language, of course; should we not expect them to be co-creative as well?

Click the image above to link to the full review.

Switchback review of Sze-Lorrain’s Lan Lan

Canyon in the BodyChristina Cook at Switchback reviews Canyon in the Body 身体里的峡谷 by Lan Lan 蓝蓝, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Here’s how it wraps up:

One might call this collection of poems evidence of lyrical poetry at its finest or political poetry at its finest. However, Lan Lan’s, and Sze-Lorrain’s, evasive and eminently creative use of language and punctuation helps the book dodge ultimate categorization—in much the same way that the speaker in the poems defies being identified in a traditional, or even non-traditional way. It is poetry that complies without being compliant; subverts without being subversive. It is poetry written by a Chinese woman and translated into a Parisian woman who writes English. In mirroring the cultural complexities of our world, it is poetry that must, especially now, be read.

Click the image above to link to the full review.