The Translator Relay: John Balcom

Words without Borders talks to translator of Chinese poetry & fiction John Balcom (Recent publications include Stone Cell by Lo Fu 洛夫 (Zephyr 2012) and Trees without Wind by Li Rui 李锐 (Columbia University Press 2012)). He says:

What I like about translating poetry is that the often brief text allows for focus.  You can keep the entire poem in your head and work on it, fiddling with the words and syntax, the structure and the wordplay.  This is perfect during the academic year – I can work on a translation when I walk to and from the office in the morning and the afternoon.   Classical poetry, as I alluded to earlier, is challenging in the extreme; modern poetry, which is what I have translated a good deal of over the years, is much more doable.  Modern and contemporary Chinese poetry is generally free verse written in the vernacular, which makes for happier results in English.  Short stories and essays are also good during the academic year – I find that if I have to put such texts aside, I can usually pick up where I left off without much trouble. Translating a novel, however, requires stamina, momentum, and uninterrupted focus, which is hard to maintain when I’m teaching.  I find it a bit harder to reconnect with a longer text if I have to put it aside for any length of time.

Click on the image above for the full Q & A.