Emergence Magazine has published an interview with Bill Porter, a/k/a Red Pine, renowned travel writer and translator of classical Chinese poetry.
The interview covers his early interest in China and poetry, and his beginnings as a translator, as well as some of his understanding of translation:
Around thirteen or fourteen years ago, I was invited to a conference on Chinese poetry at a college in Boston called Simmons College. They asked me to give a talk or write a paper about translation, and I had never, ever thought about what I do. You know, you do something, and you don’t know how you do it. That’s when I thought: what am I doing? And that’s when I realized—the metaphor I came up with was this dance metaphor. I see this beautiful woman dancing on a dance floor, and her dance is just so entrancing. I want to dance with her, but I’m deaf. I don’t hear the music. I just see the results of her hearing the music. So, I go on the dance floor, and I try to dance with her. Obviously, I can’t dance across the room. That’s not very rewarding. Also, I can’t put my English feet on top of her Chinese feet to emulate her dance, which is what a lot of people think translation is. You know, it’s accurate, literal, but it kills the dance. But you have to dance close enough to pick up the energy, especially when you’re deaf and you’re not hearing where this stuff is coming from. That, to me, is what translation is about for Chinese poetry. Every day that I go up on the dance floor to dance with that same dance, I’m going to do it differently. And there’s good days and bad days. It could always be better and will always be different, every time I go up on the dance floor. But, I discovered that’s what I like to do. I like to translate.
People ask me, “Well, don’t you write poetry too?” I would never have the chutzpah to get on the dance floor by myself because I don’t hear any music. But, I’m really attracted to the feeling of dancing with somebody else. I would never dance alone. But that’s what I do—I translate. I dance with people.
I was at that conference at Simmons–it was the first time I met Bill (and many others in the Chinese poetry world). His essay on translation, “Dancing with the Dead,” has since appeared in a couple other places, but I published the version as he read it at the Simmons conference when I edited CipherJournal.
Click here read the interview in full.