Tracy Smith on Chinese poetry and China

At SupChina Anthony Tao interviews US poet laureate Tracy Smith on her recent visit to Beijing, where she traveled to translate Yi Lei 伊蕾 with Changtai Bi.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

AT: And what is your relationship with Chinese poetry?

TKS: I know a little bit about the history, but it’s very patchy. I’ve read some poems of [ancient poets] Li Po (李白) and Du Fu (杜甫), and then leap forward to [the 1970s/1980s “Misty Poet”] Bei Dao (北岛)… and now, some of the more recent translations [of Chinese poets] that have come out in the States. So it’s a really incomplete body of knowledge so far. But it’s still growing, a growing region of my consciousness.

And

AT: You recently took part in a translation workshop as part of your trip [organized by Ming Di (明迪), along with renowned poets such as John Yau, Kevin Young, Mario Bojórquez, Xi Chuan (西川), Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河), etc.]. What was it like to see your poems in Chinese?

TKS: I wish I could speak the language so I could really hear what it became in this other language, which I can’t. I love the sound. I’m mystified, I’m fascinated by the characters. Even though I know what the poem said, I don’t know what they say. But I think it’s exciting to know that there’s a version of my poems now that can be touched on for readers in a different language, and I’m curious to know how the references live on the other side. I know there’s a lot of choices. Ming Di translated a poem [of mine] called “Ash,” and she said, “Okay, is it this kind of ash, is it this kind of ash?”

So just thinking about the possibilities. And then having to make that affirm certain meanings or implications also makes me have to listen to my poems differently. And some of the things that happened unconsciously, I’m urged to reflect upon them more consciously now because I have to say, “Is it that or that? Well, actually, it’s more this thing than the other, and this is why.”

For the full interview, along with a clip of Smith’s reading, click the image above.

 

Turner on Cheng and Métail from Calligrams

Image

Cha has published Matt Turner’s review of two French studies of Chinese poetry, Michèle Métail’s Wild Geese Returning: Chinese Reversible Poems, translated by Jody Gladding, and the re-release of François Cheng’s Chinese Poetic Writing, translated from by Donald A. Riggs with classical Chinese poems translated by Jerome P. Seaton, released as part of the Calligrams series by New York Review Books and Chinese University Press.

Turner explains:

NYRB’s Calligrams series publishes titles relating to traditional Chinese literature and Euro-American modernism, calling to mind Guillaume Apollinaire’s book of visual poetry, Calligrammes (1918), and Ernest Fenollosa’s essay on the Chinese written language, “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” (1919). It should also call to mind Ezra Pound, who saw in Chinese literature the tools to “make it new.”

About the books, he writes that Cheng, “a Chinese-French structuralist who trained with Roland Barthes and Jacques Lacan—offers

that the Chinese written language has an emptiness or void at its heart; its written language demonstrates the shifting relationships of person to world, expressing ontological truths … Cheng states that these relationships translate into poetic images … Subject and object become a matter of language, in which the terms serve to reflect each other—not signifying themselves, but projecting outwards as a comprehensive image … Another way of saying this is that the poet and the poem do not unite, but refract each other.

As for Michèle Métail, “French sinologist and OuLiPo member,” her study of “reversible poems,” which “can be written in grids, in which all directions yield different readings or narratives; written in circles that have no discernible starting or ending points or be poems that, although written conventionally, can be read backwards, like palindromes”—reading one poem discussed by Métail, Turner writes:

The message is clear: lust is bad. Yet one has the sense that in a similar poem one could continue the permutations and end up with something very different. Perhaps that’s because of the “void” at the heart of the Chinese written language as much as the form of huiwenshi. The fine line between the “inside” of the poem and the “outside” of the poem functions as an image that refracts the world. So the question this poses is if this theory applies to literature in English today, to Chinese-language literature today, and if the theory can be implemented as a writing method, or only read backwards?

Click on the image above for the full review.

Moore & Moore’s Chinese Literature Podcast on forthcoming Mang Ke

Chinese Literature Podcast  Rob and Lee Moore (no relation) of the Chinese Literature Podcast talked to me about my forthcoming translation of October Dedications by Mang Ke 芒克 (Zephyr).
 It was a wide-ranging conversation, but Moore & Moore managed to edit down to something listenable.
 Click the image to link to the podcast page. iTunes required for listening.

Goodman on Wang’s New Literary History of Modern China

The new “China Channel” of the LA Review of Books has published Eleanor Goodman’s review of A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang 王德威. An enthusiastic review, Goodman writes:

one theme of the book is the importance of inclusivity, exchange, and communication to understanding trends not just in literature, but in global affairs. Many of the writers under discussion here spent time outside of China, particularly in Japan, Europe, and the United States, or are impressively well read in foreign literatures. These essays address works that have been translated from Chinese into other languages, or works in other languages that have been translated into Chinese. Implicit in their juxtaposition, then, is also a picture of geopolitics and global history. These lines of communication were largely severed during the years of the Cultural Revolution; the essays from this period turn inward and are necessarily more political. In contrast, the essays engaging with the outward-looking years around the turns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries demonstrate just how fundamental literature and art are to a mutually intelligible and diverse world culture. It becomes clear reading this book that one can trace the larger history of China itself across the twentieth century by looking at its literature and its writers.

And for mentions of specific entries:

Carlos Rojas writes engagingly of the “issues of gender and gender inversion” at stake in the power dynamics displayed in a novel of the early 1800s. Amy Dooling describes the “publishing sensation that unequivocally established the commercial potential of ‘the woman writer’,” a phenomenon that is a close cousin to – if not a progenitor of – the contemporary “beautiful woman writers” who today proliferate on the shelves of Chinese bookstores with their airbrushed large-eyed portraits. Maghiel van Crevel presents a powerful examination of a “‘cult’ of poetry” that romanticizes suicide among its members, the effects of which can still be seen in more recent examples like the tragic suicide of the Foxconn factory worker and poet Xu Lizhi.

and

Enjoy science fiction? Mingwei Song’s terrific piece on a “posthuman future” and contemporary Chinese sci-fi will fascinate. You want rock and roll? Read Ao Wang’s rollicking insider’s take on the “Godfather of Chinese rock ‘n roll,” the irreverent and fascinating Cui Jian. In this meticulously edited and selected anthology, there really is something for everyone. All you have to do is look.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Foster on Qin & Goodman’s Iron Moon

Kate Hanson Foster reviews Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman, for The Somerville Times. Foster writes:

The translations by Eleanor Goodman are an impeccable achievement of negotiating two linguistic landscapes. Multiple layers of artistry are at play here, integrating the raw spirit of the original poems while also strategically fitting language into larger aesthetic dimensions. This collection reminds us of the many human complexities of industrial life, and the exceptional literary value in working class poetry. This book should be a staple in every poet’s respected collection.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Turner on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

The World of Chinese has run Matt Turner’s informative review of Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up, “Goodbye, Beijing.”

Turner begins with pennamed Bei Dao’s birth and name:

Construction worker, underground publisher, and acclaimed poet, Zhao Zhenkai (赵振开) was born, in his own words, in 1949, “as Chairman Mao declared the birth of the People’s Republic of China from the rostrum in Tian’anmen Square…in [a] cradle no more than a thousand yards away.”

In the 1970s, he would accrue near-celebrity status for his pseudonymous poetry, which was wild and defiant—and unlike anything in circulation at the time. His fame brought enemies, however, and attacks by official censors. Zhao’s pen name, Bei Dao (北岛, “Northern Island”), reflected such conflicted feelings: love for his northern home, as well as desire to be free of others’ impositions.

The book is “written in dreamlike vignettes,” Turner says, and “translated with little poetic license by Jeffrey Yang.”

Click on the image above for the review in full.

ARB on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

City Gate, Open Up, Bei Dao, Jeffrey Yang (trans) (New Directions, April 2017) London-based poet Jennifer Wong’s review of City Gate, Open Up, by Bei Dao 北島 and translated by Jeffrey Yang, is now up at Asian Review of Books. “Born and raised in Beijing,” the review begins, “Bei Dao spent decades in exile in Europe because of his alleged involvement in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.” Aside from that mistake, though (Bei Dao spent most of the years between 1989 and 2007 in the US)–and the fact that the review doesn’t say a word about the translator or the translation–it’s a nice review.

Wong writes,

Written with honesty, conscience and courage, this is a powerful account that merges personal memories with the collective history in the making of modern China, and inspires the reader to consider the many important social and political concerns in Chinese society that still remain today.

Click the image above for the full review.

NYTimes on Yu Xiuhua’s “Unusual Path From Isolated Farm Life to Celebrity”

In “A Chinese Poet’s Unusual Path From Isolated Farm Life to Celebrity,” the New York Times follows up on Yu Xiuhua 余秀华:

“Her poems, among contemporary Chinese poems, are like putting a murderer among a group of respectable ladies,” wrote Mr. Liu, the Poetry editor. “Everybody else wears fancy clothes, puts on makeup and perfume and readers can’t see a single bead of sweat. But hers are full of smoke and fire — and mud and landslides. Her words are stained with blood.”

Born in 1976 in Hengdian, Ms. Yu never finished high school. At 19 she married a construction worker 12 years older, in a wedding arranged by her parents, who were concerned that she would never be able to care for herself. At 27, she began writing poetry.

Understand the world with sharp insight and commentary on the major news stories of the week.

“I needed to do something to keep my spirit up,” she said. “Each day, I wrote one or two poems, and I felt I had accomplished something.”

Chinese Poetry on the Lucien Stryk Shortlist

notwritten_wALTA (the American Literary Translators Association) has announced the shortlist for the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, recognizing the importance of Asian translation for international literature and promoting the translation of Asian works into English.

This year’s judges are Eleanor Goodman, Kendall Heitzman, and Aditi Machado, and they’ve selected Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字, by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西 for the shortlist. The judges write:

Jennifer Feeley’s superb translation captures all of the creativity, intellect, and playfulness in the verse of premier Hong Kong poet Xi Xi. In these skillfully wrought and daring poems, Feeley employs all the tools of the English language, including unforced end and internal rhyme, alliteration, wordplay, and references that run the gamut from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to fine art to contemporary politics. In deceptively lighthearted poems such as “Excerpt from a Feminist Dictionary,” the verse rings as powerfully in the English as it does in the original Chinese. This translation is essential reading, providing a window into the rich literature of Hong Kong and the larger Sinophone world.

Also shortlisted are two works of Korean poetry, Brother Anthony of Taizé’s translation of Night-Sky Checkerboard by Oh Sae-young, and Kim Yideum’s Cheer Up: Femme Fatale, translated by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson.

Click on the image above for the shortlist in full.