Goodman on The Reciprocal Translation Project

Writing for the LARB China Channel, Eleanor Goodman reviews The Reciprocal Translation Project, edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong 孙冬. And she comes out swinging!

The Reciprocal Translation Project is a messy, fraught endeavor. Here is the back blurb, which is also the first paragraph of the editors’ introduction:

In The Reciprocal Translation Project, six Chinese and six American poets have translated each other’s works. Since few of these poets speak both languages, bilingual specialists have fashioned literal translations including several options for words that have multiple meanings. These literal translations have been given to three poets in the other language to write poetic translations. In this volume, then, the reader will find an original poem, a literal translation, and three poetic translations of each poem as well as explanatory notes and biographies.

One hardly knows where to begin with this tangle. Here we have poets who have “translated” each other’s work, despite largely not knowing each other’s languages. This is done grâce à people mysteriously labeled “bilingual specialists,” who put together something called “literal translations, including several options for words that have multiple meanings.” That is to say: they translate the poems. So why are these “bilingual specialists” not the “translators”? The point, as I take it, is to save that particular appellation for “the poets” involved in the project, an issue which I will return to below.

She comes out swinging, but can she be wrong when she frames Xi Chuan this way?

Forgive me for being stodgy, but to my mind, a “translation” that changes the mode of address, the timing, the references, the places and the priorities of the original is not a translation at all. It is a new poem that stands on its own, or not.

The “literal translation” of Xi Chuan’s poem “Travel Diary” (出行日记) begins:

I drove the car onto the highway, which was precisely to begin a massacre of butterflies; or the butterflies seeing me speeding toward them, just decided to launch a suicide flight. The smashed to death on the windshield. They stubbornly mashed to death on my windshield.

This is an awkward but not inaccurate rendering of the Chinese. Nada Gordon’s “translation” is:

Wanted to massacre some fucking butterflies so drove my fucking car onto the fucking highway to massacre them. They were kamikaze butterflies, they were going to fucking kill themselves on my windshield. Splat. Fuck those fucking butterflies, stubborn assholes all up on my windshield.

Whatever one thinks of this, it certainly does not represent Xi Chuan’s tone or intention.

And she goes further:

The editors comment in their introduction: “Many modern translators present themselves as poets, not simply facilitators of communication. Revaluing translation in this way brings the translator out of the shadow of the author, leveling their identities.”

But this anthology has precisely the opposite effect. By involving “bilingual specialists” who actually do the grunt work of the translation, and then privileging the non-English-speaking or non-Chinese-speaking poet by labeling him or her the “translator,” the real translators are effectively hidden. There is also an underlying assumption that the act of translating involves grasping the literal meaning of a word (“including several options for words that have multiple meanings” – as though there are words that do not!) and that’s all that is needed. There is no acknowledgement of the structure, form, tone, emotional texture, repetition, surprise, rhythm, rhyme, sound effect, level of diction, intent, etc., etc., of the original.

Click the image above for the full review.

Li Shangyin Book Launch at Greenlight, Brooklyn

An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin

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.

Event date: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 – 7:30pm

Event address: 686 Fulton street, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Click here for the Facebook event page.

By Li Shangyin, Chloe Garcia Roberts (Translator), A. C. Graham (Translator), Lucas Klein (Translator)
$16.00
ISBN: 9781681372242
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: New York Review of Books – July 31st, 2018

Li Shangyin reviewed in the new Asymptote

Li Shangyin, from New York Review Books, edited by Chloe Garcia Roberts with translations by with translations by Roberts, A. C. Graham, and Lucas Klein, won’t be available until July 31, but it’s already gotten reviewed in the new issue of Asymptote. Theophilus Kwek writes:

Reading sense in tandem with—and sometimes as secondary to—sound and sight can be slow and even frustrating for those of us accustomed to more expository translations. With this sensory emphasis Garcia Roberts holds the reader at a careful distance from conventional ideas of authorial “intention,” providing a space in which meaning can shimmer into view. Not unlike the equally allusive poems of John Ashbery or Geoffrey Hill that may be more familiar to Anglophone readers, Garcia Roberts’s translations force us to accept a necessary, unbridgeable gulf between what we know and what Li knew, the specificity of his experiences forever locked away in his language. And yet, as we pore over a translated text that is brimming with suggestion, we marvel nonetheless at the beauty and complexity of Li’s worlds.

It’s not a bad review, over all, but it still operates according to the same, lame untranslatability bias that’s familiar from most takes on premodern Chinese poetry put into English: Roberts, Kwek writes,

aims to reconcile Li’s bookish manner with naturalistic modern phrasing, but English, which affords few visual and tonal possibilities compared to Chinese characters, proves unable to handle both.

With that as your starting point, there’s not much of a chance you could be satisfied with any translation, is there?

Click the image for the full review.

Klein’s Duo Duo in the new Asymptote

Asymptote‘s issue 30 is here, and with it my translation of “Promise” 诺言, by Duo Duo 多多.

I love aroused rooms inviting us to lie down as their roof
I love lying on my side, casting a shadow for a straight line
casting a string of villages for a voluptuous body
I want the mole nearest your lip
to know, this is my promise
我爱动情的房屋邀我们躺下作它的顶
我爱侧卧,为一条直线留下投影
为一个丰满的身体留下一串小村庄
我要让离你的唇最近的那颗痣
知道,这就是我的诺言
For the poem in full click the image above.

The Organization of Distance: Poetry, Translation, Chineseness

Announcing the publication of

Image result for The Organization of Distance

The Organization of Distance
Poetry, Translation, Chineseness

by Lucas Klein

What makes a Chinese poem “Chinese”? Some call modern Chinese poetry insufficiently Chinese, saying it is so influenced by foreign texts that it has lost the essence of Chinese culture as known in premodern poetry. Yet that argument overlooks how premodern regulated verse was itself created in imitation of foreign poetics. Looking at Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 and Yang Lian 楊煉 in the twentieth century alongside medieval Chinese poets such as Wang Wei 王維, Du Fu 杜甫, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, The Organization of Distance applies the notions of foreignization and nativization to Chinese poetry to argue that the impression of poetic Chineseness has long been a product of translation, from forces both abroad and in the past.

Sinica Leidensia, 141
Brill,
19 July 2018

ISBN: 978-90-04-37537-6

e-book
€44.00 /
US$53.00

hardback:
€49.00 / US$59.00

 

Seattle Review of Books Interview with Eleanor Goodman on Lok Fung

No automatic alt text available.Word on the street is that Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box 自我紙盒藏屍的日子, the selected poems of Lok Fung 洛楓 (Natalia Chan), translated by Eleanor Goodman, is back from the printers.
In honor of the book, then, here is a recent article about Goodman on Lok Fung from the Seattle Review of Books, where Lok Fung was June poet-in-residence. Goodman says of Lok Fung,

“She is not just a poet but also a serious thinker about cultural studies, cultural issues, pop culture, the influence of high literature and also popular literature and music on a population.”

“She’s also very feminist in a very interesting way,” Goodman says. “A lot of her poems are love poems about failed love. She writes about makeup, about getting her hair done, about fashion.” Fung [sic.], she argues, focuses on these “quintessentially girly or feminine or seemingly frivolous sort of things” and uses them to discuss “how women function in society and how women think and feel and reflect on their own lives.”

I would, however, like to register a serious disagreement with Goodman on one point. She says, “the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry really is a field of about seven people who are working very seriously.” I find this very disappointing. The number of people working seriously on the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry certainly reaches into the double digits!
The SRB also includes a handful of Lok Fung’s poems, in Goodman’s translation, here.
Click on the image for the article in full.

Fotopoulos on Poetry Anthology in Commemoration of Liu Xiaobo

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).

To commemorate the anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death, on Friday China Channel published “Waves Against the Dawn,” Annetta Fotopoulos’s review of The Contemporary: A Poetry Anthology in Commemoration of Liu Xiaobo, edited by Meng Lang 孟浪. She writes:

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.

Li Shangyin Book Launch at Greenlight, Brooklyn

An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin

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.

Event date: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 – 7:30pm

Event address: 686 Fulton street, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Click here for the Facebook event page.

By Li Shangyin, Chloe Garcia Roberts (Translator), A. C. Graham (Translator), Lucas Klein (Translator)
$16.00
ISBN: 9781681372242
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: New York Review of Books – July 31st, 2018

Klein on Holton’s Narrative Poem by Yang Lian

Free first pageMy 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.

Click the image above to link to the full review.

Li on Translating Zhu Zhu in WLT

The cover to Zhu Zhu's The Wild Great Wall juxtaposed with a photo of the authorAs part of their “Translation Tuesday” feature, World Literature Today has published “Translating Zhu Zhu: Poetry as Lifeline,” by Dong Li on his translation of the poetry of Zhu Zhu 朱朱, The Wild Great Wall 野长城 (Phoneme Media). He writes:

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.

Click the image above to read the essay in full.