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.
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