Ilan Stavans talks to Xiao Hai to promote the latter’s new book Song of Shadows, translated by Zhu Yu:
What in Song of Shadows might get lost in translation?
It’s difficult to translate poetry. A translation can be correct or wrong, good or bad. A translation may gain or lose something from the original, too. The present translator of Song of Shadows is one I trust in. She has been studying, teaching, and translating English poetry for many years, and she writes poems, too. She translated Song of Shadows because she loves it. She didn’t think of getting it published when she started the translation. Instead, she wanted to compare the subtle differences of the long poem expressed in different languages. The things that are difficult to translate lie in 1) the classical Chinese poems and historical stories I mention in this work that may be unfamiliar to a Western audience and 2) pun and polysemy that may not work in different languages.
What is the status of poetry in China now?
Poetry still enjoys a loyal readership in contemporary China. Every good poet (past and present, home and abroad) has his or her audience, though poetry is not as popular as movies or music. Poets cannot feed themselves on writing alone, but they always have their followers as long as they stick to their free will and creative power and are willing to lead a simple or even hard life.
Click the image above for the full conversation, on dining tables, eyeglasses, censorship, and publishing fees.