Todorova reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications

Writing for Hong Kong Review of Books, Marija Todorova reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications (Zephyr Press, 2018), translated by Lucas Klein, Huang Yibing, and Jonathan Stalling. October Dedications “is arguably one of the most important titles published so far in the Zephyr Press Jintian series of Chinese poetry,” she writes!

Todorova, a translation studies scholar, looks at the book primarily for what it does to highlight translation. She notes the Foreword as a “visible sign of the translators’ contribution to the translated work”:

Klein writes extensively about the poet Mang Ke, his style and importance, helping the reader situate his poetry historically and culturally. His impressionistic poems were among some of the first in China to break free of the imposed didacticism of the Cultural Revolution … Klein dedicates two full pages of the Foreword to explaining his translation decisions and methods. Setting a goal to “respect and recreate [Mang Ke’s] economy”, and preserve his simple vocabulary and repetitive imagery, Klein skilfully manages to achieve this:

pallbearers drift by like a cloud
the river slowly carries the sun
dying the water’s long surface golden yellow
such stillness
such vastness
such sadness
a meadow of wilted flowers (“Frozen Land”, 11)

The translation is a masterful recreation of Chinese punctuation and line length in English translation, omitting the use of any punctuation and capital letters, except in the titles. This “foreignisation” strategy adds to the experience of Mang Ke’s poetry by an English language reader without “compromising” the understanding of the poetic imagery by a reader otherwise unfamiliar with the Chinese language and poetry.

Todorova ends the review saying that October Dedications “is important not only for being the first to make available the experimental poetry of Mang Ke to wider international audiences by rendering it in English, but also because it raises highly important issues in the art of poetry translation.”

Click the image above for the review in full.