Emerson’s Laozi-in-Progress Online

John Emerson is working toward a new translation of the Daode Jing 道德經, and he’s posting his progress online. “In the course of time,” he writes, he will “add comments, a translation, crossreferences, notes on the interesting variants, and summary discussions of key topics.” He adds:

My editing might be called aggressive. Beyond selecting from the variant forms,  I have also divided and redistributed a few chapters (and have even abolished a few),  and I and have substantially changed the order of the chapters. This new arrangement is intended to make the Daodejing more coherent  and show its internal relationships more clearly. This new text is made up entirely of old materials, but it is not a scientific edition. It is an attempt to  produce a more readerly DDJ by clearing away some of the historical encumbrances it is burdened with, while at the same time making its history more apparent.

And,

The original DDJ never existed. At every stage the DDJ has been an editorial composite made up of materials of diverse origins, and many of the individual chapters are composites too. This editorial process never ended, and the Guodian text shows us that earlier versions were not necessarily better. Over the centuries editor after editor has tinkered with the text in search of the ideal and unattainable Daodejing, and during this process of tinkering interesting themes have emerged. I am merely  the latest tinkerer in that long line.

Track his work here.

Stephen Procter on Xi Chuan & the Contradictory Aesthetics of Revolution

https://i2.wp.com/pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/811513661680394240/CB0sEUlb.jpg?resize=311%2C311&ssl=1The PN Review has published Stephen Procter’s article on Xi Chuan, “Xi Chuan & the Contradictory Aesthetics of Revolution.” Procter writes:

While potentially a contradiction might be logically fertile, assisting in the discovery of meaning, the indissolubility of the oxymoron must simply be accepted, with no meaning being made to adhere to it. As Xi Chuan points out, the latter pervade contemporary discourse, in phrases such as ‘Party-member capitalist’ and ‘Socialist Market Economy,’ and they are the linguistic legacy of the early days of communist China, which proclaimed the ‘People’s Democratic Dictatorship.’ According to Xi Chuan, Chinese literary tradition is not just a matter of immersion in the classics, but also of coming to terms with the ‘minor tradition’ of socialism which has played its own role in shaping the language.

and

Xi Chuan reflects the way in which the margins feed into the centre. As he points out, marginal annotation is the primary means through which Chinese culture has been transmitted. In ‘That Person Writing,’ it is the unnamed ancient scribe whose modifications flow into the mainstream: ‘Wittingly or not certain words are altered, wittingly or not he retains his own breath within the views of another. From a humble stenographer, he unwittingly transforms into a minor author, like an ant tethering thought’s kite against the wind.’ By focusing only on the central currents, we miss the process of accumulation through which a culture comes into being, its essential force. The life of tradition is in its transmission, not its preservation.

Click the image above for the paywalled article.

Publishers Weekly on Bei Dao’s Memoirs

City GatePublishers Weekly has a brief review of Bei Dao’s 北岛 memoirs about growing up in Beijing, City Gate, Open Up 城门开, translated by Jeffrey Yang (forthcoming from New Directions). It reads:

In this ruminative, lyrical memoir, revered Chinese poet Bei Dao (The Rose of Time) reflects on his father, the Beijing of his youth, and China’s Cultural Revolution. Returning to Beijing after over two decades away, including 13 years of exile from China, the poet was inspired to record his memories of a city he found drastically altered, reflecting on an idyllic childhood of hide-and-seek and ghost stories. He captures the unique timbres of street peddlers, and remembers treasuring a bowl of wonton soup during the Great Famine. There are comic tales as well: two rival cultural discussion groups coming to blows over a Paganini record; a protest of the middle school cafeteria’s less-than-stringent sanitation standards led by the poet as a swaggering youth. As he reached adulthood, the Revolution cast a pall: the Red Guards confiscated “counterrevolutionary” materials, and beatings and suicides became routine. In the final pages, Bei Dao recalls his complicated relationship with his father, whose illness brought Bei Dao back to Beijing after so many years. This is a nuanced account of China in the era of the Cultural Revolution, seen through one young man’s eyes. Since that young man became a poet, it is also beautifully textured, full of the sounds, sights, and scents of a Beijing that is no more.

And for an excerpt from the memoir, see The Manchester Review:

Around age six or seven I composed a musical invention: to the sounds of car horns I hummed a tune in counterpoint. Together these two sounds defined the metropolis for me. As dream became reality, the proliferating noises of the metropolis (particularly the sounds of drills and jackhammers) tormented me to madness; after many long nights of fleeting sleep, I ultimately concluded that to the children of our agricultural empire, the so-called metropolis, the great city, has had little relation to their verbal creativity…

Click on the image for the full review.

 

van Crevel on Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry

At Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Maghiel van Crevel reviews Iron Moon the film (directed by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and Wu Feiyue 吴飞跃) and the anthology (edited by Qin Xiaoyu, translated by Eleanor Goodman).

The review begins:

Poetry is the most ubiquitous of literary genres. It is written and recited and read and heard for families and festivals, in love and on stage, in prayers and protests, at imperial courts and in factories. In China, associations of poetry and factories, and of poetry and manual labor at large, are anything but far-fetched. One recalls the story of poetry production, which is really the only right word here, being whipped up to keep up with steel production during the Great Leap Forward (quite aside from the results in terms of quality, for poetry or for steel). And less frenetic, more sustainable instances of the linkage of poetry and labor throughout the Mao era, with factories – and drilling rigs, construction sites, and so on – generally depicted as good places. But today, poetry + factories + China conjure up a different picture. One thinks not of the proletariat but of the precariat, and not of glory but of misery.

And on the translation and the poetry, he writes:

Goodman is to be commended for the many places in which she handles the particulars of migrant worker poetry astutely in terms of style. If we allow for some generalization, this poetry tends to be less polished – to cite a cliché that may fit the present context better than most – than professional writing. It is, for instance, often unsteady or unbalanced in terms of register and tone, line length, rhythm, and so on. This raises the old question of whether the translator is at liberty to “improve the original,” and of what determines whether the changes they make are improvements. Beyond textual and linguistic issues, this question often involves reflection on cultural difference and, sometimes, more directly political considerations of what one wants the translation to be and do – with migrant worker poetry, prison writing, and so on as cases in point. On the whole, in this respect, Goodman’s engagement with the texts is highly effective, especially because she knows when to honor the literal, and when to shun it. For the great majority of the poems, she treads a fine line between respecting the original and ensuring that the translations read well, maximizing the chance that the reader will stay tuned and get the message. In all, the poetry in Iron Moon remains true to life in translation, so to speak.

For the full write-up, click the image.

Tammy Ho on Contemporary Faces of the River Merchant’s Wife

Writing at World Literature Today, Tammy Ho Lai-ming 何麗明 talks about the “Contemporary Faces” of “The Merchant River’s Wife: A Letter,” Ezra Pound’s translation of Changgan Xing 長干行 by Tang poet Li Bai 李白 (whom he called Rihaku) in Cathay (1915). Specifically, she focuses on contemporary extensions, responses, and rewritings: Luca L.’s “Letter to Ru Yi, the River-Merchant’s Wife”; “The Expat’s Partner: An Email,” by Alistair Noon; and “Ghost Husband,” by Renée M. Schell. Here’s how she ends her piece:

In his introduction to Derrida’s ideas of deconstruction and photography, the painter Gerhard Richter suggests that translation means that “something is presented, interpreted, explained, and even understood in terms of something else.” Seen in this way, the three contemporary poems discussed can be called transgender, transtemporal, and transcultural translations of Li Bai’s poem, read through the prism of Pound’s rendering.

Click on the image for the full article.

Gao on Feeley’s Xi Xi

notwritten_wAt the Hong Kong Review of Books, Yunwen Gao reviews Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字, by Xi Xi 西西:

Covering a wide range of poems from 1961 to 1999, Not Written Words is the first collection of Xi Xi’s poems selected from Stone Chimes (1982) and The Selected Poems of Xi Xi: 1959-1999 (2000) translated in English. The 168-page book is a nicely edited collection with the original text in Chinese and the English translation facing each other, as well as translator’s notes attached at the end of the book. Being multilingual and well-read in world literature, Xi Xi molds her poems into a versatile medium to connect literary traditions from different cultures and address issues across the globe. Her sources and influences include classical Chinese poetry and Western poetry. Readers will find references to French New Wave cinema (“At Marienbad”), The Book of Songs (“Pebble”), Tang poems (“Moon”), English metaphysical poems (“Aria”), Allan Ginsberg’s poem “A Supermarket in California” (“Supermarket”) in her writing, to name just a few. Thanks to the translation, readers of world literature can learn more about Xi Xi’s career as a poet in addition to her fictional writing.

Click the image above for the review in full.

Ndesandjo’s Li Shangyin at A Tang Poet from Nairobi

no-21A Tang Poet from Nairobi is a new website featuring the collected poems of Li Shangyin 李商隱 as translated by Mark O. Ndesandjo, with his calligraphy and often contextualized with anecdotes or fictions of his own. Such as:

I once visited a city in a strange land called America. The people there were stoic and violent. They also were so alone, as though they had never had a father or a mother, and were always flying in the cold air without roots to tether them to the earth. The path of solitude, their president had declared, is the only one worth valuing. It was winter in Boston. As was my wont, I spent the evening looking for sordid pleasures, or love for sale. The alley was narrow, surrounded by brick walls far larger and higher than anything in Chang’An. In the darkness I saw the figure of a woman. Her body was lithe, and the shadows slashed her face. With a little hesitation I passed her and then, a few yards away, turned back. She was waiting for me by some large refuse bins …

The story continues, and is followed by his translation:

Princess Shou Yang’s marriage makeup is bold,
Noble slanted eyebrows touch a forehead sparkling with gold,
Seeing me, she pretends to blush, as usual just for show!
Regarding this whoring rascal, how little does she know!

寿阳公主嫁时妆,
八字宫眉捧额黄。
见我佯羞频照影,
不知身属冶游郎。

Ndesandjo writes:

I want the general public to know the Chinese wrote great poetry, and help avoid searching for this great poet’s works in bits and pieces. Furthermore, not being a professional translator, I wanted to post my interpretations as a work in progress that will benefit from other’s input and ideas, including academics. Finally, I think it is important to express personally how Li Shangyin’s insights can inspire across three cultures: America, Kenya, and China.

Click the image above for all the poems.

 

PEN/Heim Translation Grant for Admussen’s Ya Shi

Nick Admussen has received a 2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for his forthcoming translation of Floral Mutter (Zephyr Press), the selected poems of Ya Shi 哑石, which PEN describes as a “master of disjunctive imagery.”

Ya Shi brings language to the precipice of the absurd and holds it over the abyss for all to see. Admussen’s translations, which are perfectly balanced and polished, recreate the source poems for us in a language the judges described as “haunting.” In an age when contemporary Chinese poetry is profoundly influenced by its eastern urban centers, Ya Shi stands out as an inimitable voice from the interior.

To demonstrate, they cite:

In the summer           slit open a plump, cool lotus root
taste the sweet juice frothing up from its orifices.
On the rooftop           a dense and scorching pressure crowds inward
but… it’s vague and speechless like the long wind.
The great many cruelties of life have gone ignored for ages.
— and what is loathsome is more or less similar
for all that is vulgar, keep strumming on your shiny oddity!

Click here for the full list of grantees.

Eleanor Goodman on Contemporary Chinese Poetry from Zephyr

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As part of Paper Republic‘s series of blogs for Global Literature in Libraries throughout February, Eleanor Goodman writes on Zephyr Press, which she says “has done more to raise the profile of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation than any other press today”:

Their books are carefully curated, well edited, and beautifully produced. Above all, their translators (here I must profess that I am one of them) tend to be at the top of the field, which is of course essential to the making of a good book in English.

Alongside mentions of their publications of Han Dong 韩冬, Bai Hua 柏桦, Lan Lan 蓝蓝, and Yu Xiang 宇向, Goodman specifically writes about her translation of Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, about Andrea Lingenfelter’s translation of Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Austin Woerner’s translations of Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西, Steve Bradbury’s translation of Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü 夏宇, and my own forthcoming translations of Mang Ke 芒克.

With with “deep resources of scholarship and natural talent to draw upon,” she writes, it is

this mix of qualities—the best of the contemporary Chinese poetry world combined with translators who are also careful readers and appreciators of poetry—that makes the Zephyr collection so unique and valuable. These books are a labor of love from start to finish, and it shows in the final products. There is simply no better introduction to the contemporary Chinese poetry scene available today.

Click the image above for the full article.

Balcom’s Ya Hsien on PEN Translated Poetry Shortlist

Abyss, poems by Ya Hsien 瘂弦, translated by John Balcom (Zephyr Press), has been shortlisted for the 2017 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

The $3,000 award recognizes book-length translations of poetry from any language into English published during the current calendar year. The winner will be announced on February 22, 2017 and honored at the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on March 27, 2017.

Click on the image for the list of finalists.