As you probably know, Friday was the one-year anniversary of the death of jailed democracy activist and poet Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, and last Tuesday his widow Liu Xia 刘霞 was released from her eight-year house arrest and has taken refuge in Germany (her release was due to the principled negotiation of German chancellor Angela Merkel).
The anthology was released in Taiwan and Hong Kong on February 1, 2018 under the backdrop of a series of highly publicized events in which Hong Kong publishers were harassed and kidnapped for publishing politically sensitive content. The publication of the anthology can thus be understood as a bold assertion of the right to free speech in a time and place where that right has been repeatedly challenged. Of the 191 poets whose works are collected in the volume, all but 19 chose to use their real names despite the personal risk to themselves and their families. These poets’ conspicuous acts of mourning for an officially dubbed “dissident” tried and jailed for the alleged crime of state subversion heralds a new wave of resolve among Chinese pro-democracy activists to carry forward with Liu Xiaobo’s cause of democratization and free speech in China.
Indeed, one of the recurring themes of the volume is an impatience with and resentment toward mincing words to avoid political stigmas and using analogies to circumvent the censors.
Click on the image above to read the full, in-depth review.
Fort Greene store:
Wednesday, August 1, 7:30 PM
An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin
With Chloe Garcia Roberts and Lucas Klein
Wine reception to follow
Greenlight is thrilled to present an evening celebrating Li Shangyin, foremost poet of the late Tang dynasty, on the occasion of a new translation of his work published by the New York Review of Books. This new collection presents Chloe Garcia Roberts’s translations of a wide selection of Li’s verse in the company of other versions by the prominent sinologist A. C. Graham and the scholar-poet Lucas Klein. Combining hedonistic aestheticism with stark fatalism, Li’s poetry is an intoxicating mixture of pleasure and grief, desire and loss, everywhere imbued with a singular nostalgia for the present moment. Rarely translated into English, Li’s work has an esotericism and sensuality that sets him apart from the austere masters of the Chinese literary canon. Garcia Roberts and Klein read and discuss Li’s work during this event, followed by a signing, Q&A, and a wine reception to follow.
My review of Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼 and translated by Brian Holton (Bloodaxe, 2017), is out in the new issue of Translation and Literature (Vol. 27, issue 2).
It’s paywalled but for subscribers and certain academic institutions, but here’s a paragraph free:
That so much of Yang Lian’s poetics – indeed, his mythopoetics – centres on the Chinese past is a particular challenge for Holton as translator. Of course, some critics from China and elsewhere have accused Yang of writing a China of and for western understanding – but why not? In any event, that it is for westerners to understand does not make it easier to translate. Holton has not shied away from providing notes to mark moments where Yang makes allusions to people and places that fall outside the expected anglophone frame of reference. Mostly, however, it is in the strength of his diction that the power of his verse lies, just as the force of Yang Lian’s word choice is what makes his poetry most compelling in Chinese. The thought and emotion of Yang Lian’s writing are immanent in the words he uses – and the same is true of Holton’s translations.
As I went through the last proof of The Wild Great Wall in one long breath, these final smoked lines came alive again in Zhu Zhu’s attentive voice. I lament the irretrievable loss of these Chinese words, whose constellation first moved me and sent me on a mission to look for the English words that could approximate the sensory traces and emotional pulls of the original. I feel consoled that the reader can now experience Zhu Zhu in the English language for the first time. As I shift between Zhu Zhu’s Chinese and my English, our shared words, like trees in a forest, seem to grow with each season. Here is a lyric that continues to extend.
The biannual 2018 Tang Prize for Sinology has been announced, with this year’s recipients being Yoshinobu Shiba 斯波義信 and Stephen Owen, the latter “for his penetrating scholarship and theoretical ingenuity in Classical Chinese prose and poetry, especially Tang poetry and its translation.”
Owen’s inscription reads:
Stephen Owen has been the single most important scholar of Chinese Classical poetry in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. A leading scholar on Tang poetry, he has also written widely in other literary fields, and has translated important writings in both prose and poetry. To this work, he brings not only penetrating Sinology, but also a breadth of comparative applications and theoretical sophistication that have made his scholarship unique worldwide.
What follows is a run-down of all his authored books.
Established in December 2012, the prize is meant “to encourage individuals across the globe to chart the middle path to achieving sustainable development by recognizing and supporting contributors for their revolutionary efforts in the four major fields of Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law.” It claims its roots “in the long-standing cultural traditions of Chinese philosophical thought and in an outlook of convergence and mutual enrichment with other traditions,” with “aims to provide fresh impetus to first-class research and development in the 21st century, to bring about positive change to the global community, and to create a brighter future for all humanity.”
Ravi Shankar, writing at the Mascara Literary Review, reviews Empty Chairsby Liu Xia 刘霞 (widow of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波), translated by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern (Graywolf):
Yes, she has played an inextricable role in the chronicle of her husband’s imprisonment and his global prominence as a face of Chinese dissidence. She has been his artistic collaborator, one of his few visitors in prison, and, with his death, the bearer of his legacy. But no one should lose sight of her singular status as a fiercely independent advocate, an elegiac storyteller, and an enduring survivor of the seven-year isolation imposed on her by the Chinese government. Liu Xia has been held in unlawful house arrest since October 2010 “… detained without charge or trial, she has been stripped of communication with the outside world and denied adequate medical care.” …
So while her plight has become something of a cause célèbre among writers and intellectuals … her poetry has not been widely read—nor indeed has it been widely available—in the English-speaking world. In part, this might be due to her growing reputation as a visual artist, a sensibility that helps illuminate the stark shape of her poems; but doubtlessly, in large part, it’s also due to the simple fact that she’s a woman. Earlier in her life, she was eclipsed in her marriage by Liu Xiaobo’s fame and persecution; then later in life, she was overtly censored by the State just for having chosen to be with him, even though she insists she is apolitical. In neither case was she given a choice; or a voice.
The newest issue of Seedings includes Matt Turner’s review of Arrivals and Departures: Poems, Memoir, and Chronology, the selected English language poetry of Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉.
Turner writes of how Yip’s “aesthetic horizon” draws off, but differs from, Chinese poetics:
But how exactly does this aesthetic horizon represent itself? For Yip, by superimposing an understanding of the Chinese language over what are considered Western modernist techniques. The Chinese tradition from the early shamanic songs all the way to the present day is framed by poets and the state alike as a tradition of the creation and control of language. In contrast to his contemporary François Cheng, the French structuralist who theorized that Chinese poetry was more or less symbolic of (Daoist) cosmic orders, leaving real-world relations unaffected, Yip sees verbalization as a decisive factor in poetry. Language performs actions in the world; it is decisive in shaping human relationships. And here he borrows from Ezra Pound, who theorized that the Chinese language, when properly used, was a demonstration of Confucian social values — a stance not far from Confucius’, who saw the function of naming as giving correct proportion to human interactions. Incorrect naming would result in an inability to perform concrete tasks.
So it will not be surprising that Yip is not interested in the stereotypically Chinese features of poetry: moons, drinking, gauze curtains and so on. By incorporating English into his poetics, the “indigenous” is given a different, artificial voice. The slippery language of his poetry demonstrates that modernist techniques of verbal layering and oblique reference alongside the traditional Chinese techniques of figurative distance and subjective alienation are nearly the same techniques, but yield surprising effects.
It may come as no surprise to scholars well versed in Sinology, but the central thesis that emerges from this eclectic collection of essays bears repeating: poetry played a unique, indispensable role in the making of Chinese culture. Percy Shelley’s romantic hyperbole that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” would have been a shrewd ethnographic description of ancient China, if we were to delete the word “unacknowledged.” As Cai puts it in his succinct preface to the volume, poetry indeed permeated every corner and layer of Chinese society: in the public arena, poetry played a key role in diplomacy, court politics, empire building, state ideology and education; in the private sphere, poetry was used by people of different social classes “as a means of gaining entry into officialdom, creating self-identity, fostering friendship, and airing grievances.”
The nominee list for the 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature has been announced!
Convened by Jonathan Stalling at the University of Oklahoma, this year’s judges are Nick Admussen, Eleanor Goodman, Tammy Ho Lai-ming, Lucas Klein, Christopher Lupke, Maghiel van Crevel, and Wang Guangming 王光明.
This year’s finalists are Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, Xi Xi 西西, Xi Chuan 西川, Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, and Bei Dao 北岛.
The winner will be announced in the spring of 2019.