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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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“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.”
ALTA (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.
Shambhala announces The Wilds of Poetry, a study of American poetry by Chinese poetry translator David Hinton.
Hinton takes Henry David Thoreau’s description of “a moment on Mount Ktaadin when all explanations and assumptions fell away for him and he was confronted with the wonderful, inexplicable thusness of things” as “the starting point for his account of a rewilding of consciousness in the West: a dawning awareness of our essential oneness with the world around us.”
The press release explains,
Because there was no Western vocabulary for this perception, it fell to poets to make the first efforts at articulation, and those efforts were largely driven by Taoist and Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist ideas imported from ancient China. Hinton chronicles this rewilding through the lineage of avant-garde poetry in twentieth-century America—from Ezra Pound and Robinson Jeffers to Gary Snyder, W. S. Merwin, and beyond—including generous selections of poems that together form a compelling anthology of ecopoetry.
Having, as a translator, “recreated ancient Chinese rivers-and-mountains poetry as modern American poetry,” Hinton in The Wilds of Poetry “reenvisions modern American poetry as an extension of that ancient Chinese tradition: an ecopoetry that weaves consciousness into the Cosmos in radical and fundamental ways.”
Read a sample here. Click on the image above for ordering information.
Poetry Northwest has published Jennifer Stern’s and Ming Di’s translations of poems by Liu Xia 刘霞, the missing widow of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波. Stern writes in her introduction:
Many of us here read and write poems to know that we exist, and that we are entwined with others through an art form that exists all over the world. Liu Xia is one of us, a poet. I wish there was one way to stop the erasure of a human, but I don’t think there is. Yet we can do this: read Liu Xia’s poems. They exist. We can enjoy them, or not. We can argue with them. We can pass them on to a friend and say, “Read this, this poet exists.” We can teach her poems or keep them for ourselves. We exist. And because of that, Liu Xia’s poems can speak even when her voice can’t be heard. I want to believe that it’s harder to erase this person, specific in her words and life, when we’re in the middle of a conversation.
Ever since the Bookworm Beijing bookstore postponed and later canceled its annual Bookworm International Literary Festival (BLF) fans have been waiting and wondering whether the 10-year-old event would return.
Well, the wait is over as according to Peter Goff, the general manager of the Bookworm, the BLF will be back in full swing from March 8 to 24 in 2018 in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou.
And the participating authors? Among Chinese writers, Goff hopes to invite Xi Chuan, Yu Hua [余华], and others. “He said the festival also invited foreign writers from countries like Croatia, Serbia and the Czech Republic to help readers understand those countries better,” the Global Times writes.
And shadows of branches steal in through the window the oak desk
that’s so fragile I am forced to love it has exploded just a little bit
而树枝阴影由窗口潜入 清脆地 使我珍爱的橡木书桌一点点炸裂
“My version of the line,” he writes, “stretches the grammar without apparent rationale … I had inserted an entire concept, so fragile I am forced to love it. It’s not in the poem, I brought it into the poem, and I knew where it had come from.”
What follows is an incredibly moving remembrance of fortune, fathers, and furniture. Admussen ends with,
The translator regrets the error. I am especially sorry to admit that I still don’t know what the translation should look like or if there exists a version that will feel both stable and “right.” I’ll keep trying: perhaps my repeated mistakes will reveal as much about the poem as a translation could. I don’t know how to remember my father or how I should have acted in the Goodwill parking lot. The memorial, if it exists, seems to be happening outside what I think I am saying. All I can do for now is show you what I have done, to describe the psychological result of the process of translation, the experience of the texture, language to language, father to son, writer to reader: how qingcui it is, how fragile, how much like music.
In honor of the recent passing of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, here is a link to an old piece, which had slipped by without my noticing it when it was first published: Nick Admussen’s “Awkward, Diligent: Liu Xiaobo’s Love Poetry” for his wife, Liu Xia 刘霞. Admussen writes:
In addition to the essays that have made him famous, Xiaobo generally writes two kinds of poems. One, best represented in translation by Jeffrey Yang, is a series of poems written for the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, often on the anniversaries of the event. The other is a series of poems addressed to Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia—a number of these appear in English at the end of Yang’s translation, as well as in the collection No Enemies, No Hatred, which I helped translate. The elegies for Tiananmen are persistent, ritual, endlessly harsh: they display not only the cruelty and excess of the government reaction to peaceful protest, but Liu’s own sense of responsibility, loss, and helplessness. He writes, “Even if I have the courage / to be jailed again / it isn’t courage enough / to dig up corpses from memory.”
Xiaobo’s poems to his wife, though, are the most illuminating to me. During some of his stays in prison, he was able to write and send hundreds of poems and letters to Xia. These poems waver between public documents and interpersonal contact. They wheedle playfully: “. . . think of me as a cigarette / now to light, now to rub out / go ahead, smoke!” They reach out: “One letter is enough / for me to transcend everything and face / you to speak.” They often seem, implicitly or explicitly, to apologize: “Beloved / my wife / in this dust-weary world of / so much depravity / why do you / choose me alone to endure.” But they remonstrate and mock, too: a poem on Kant is dedicated to “Xia, who has never read Kant.” Taken together, the poetry enacts a love in progress, a need, a selfless drive to care for and support the beloved that is deeply tied to a simultaneous, frightening urge to manipulate and transform him or her for self-serving purposes.