Canaan Morse reviews John Balcom’s translation of Grass Roots: Selected Poems by Xiang Yang 向陽 (Zephyr) for World Literature Today:
Balcom’s ubiquitous preference for merging verbs into adjectival phrases or deleting them entirely strengthens static image and removes dynamic energies that might be considered noisier in English than in Chinese.
And yet the poems are not quiet. They are vividly aware of the aporias and ambiguities inherent in the classical Chinese narrative that iterates time through space, and they speak to them … Balcom’s flexible English represents some of these differences with facility; lines like “A bloody rain falls on fields plowed by bullets” stand apart from lines like “The surprise encounter of the fish and the leaves,” which are brilliant for entirely different reasons. Yet many of his decisions, especially his frequent deletions, seem hard to justify … Balcom’s introduction makes no mention of his process. Translation is frequently maligned as either a derivative act or a violent, domineering one. Perhaps greater transparency could prevent it from being either.
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