Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, human rights activist, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and poet, died on July 13, 2017–less than a month after he was granted medical parole for a terminal liver cancer diagnosis.
Graywolf Press, which published his poetry and that of his wife Liu Xia 刘霞 in English translation, now has a page in commemoration of Liu. It links to a piece by Jeffrey Yang, translator of June Fourth Elegies 念念六四, and it quotes executive editor Jeff Shots saying, “we stand in sadness and in solidarity with poet and artist Liu Xia and their families, and those many still wrongfully imprisoned for exercising freedom of speech.”
The page also includes a statement by Jennifer Kronovet, co-translator of Liu Xia’s Empty Chairs 空椅子:
Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia have been powerful symbols in the fight for democracy in China. But reading their poetry, one is reminded that in addition to being symbols, they are also real people, full of humor and insight and love for each other. I hope that Liu Xiaobo continues to be a powerful symbol in China and across the world, but I also hope that Liu Xia will have the chance someday to just be a person, free.
The National Translation Award Longlists for Poetry and Prose have been released–and Chinese poetry is represented in the form of Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字, by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西. (For some reason the publisher is listed as New Mexico State University, but actually the book is available from Zephyr / mccmcreations).
Carlos Rojas is also longlisted for his translation of The Explosion Chronicles 炸裂志, by Yan Lianke 阎连科. Other notable nominees are Jeffrey Angles, Ottilie Mulzet, Daniel Borzutsky, George Szirtes, and Esther Allen.
Classical Chinese is an intrinsically interesting language. It refers to the written language of the premodern Chinese tradition and covers a period of some 2500 years (500 BCE~1920 CE) … It served as the shared language of the elites in premodern China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Knowledge of classical Chinese opens you up to new worlds. It represents the human experience of something like 1/5 of the people who ever walked the earth.
More practically speaking, knowledge of classical Chinese will also greatly improve your modern Chinese. The two are distinct languages (at least, by any meaningful definition of “language”), but the modern Chinese languages grew out of their classical ancestor and still bear its imprint. Most of the set phrases (chengyu成語) that mark one’s speech as refined in modern Chinese are summaries of or quotations from classical sources and therefore obey classical structures. Many of the puzzling usages in formal, written Mandarin (the kind used in newspapers) make perfect sense with a basic knowledge of classical Chinese.
In addition, he provides links for recommended learning materials–some of them free–by the likes of David Hawkes, David Knechtges, Edwin Pulleyblank, Mark Edward Lewis, Michael Fuller, Paul Kroll, Paul Rouzer, Richard Mather, Stephen Owen, Zong-qi Cai 蔡宗齊, and Hugh Stimson, to help with reading classical Chinese poetry and prose (I guess it’s time for some women to publish materials on learning classical Chinese).
Announcing Zero Distance | New Poetry from China, edited and translated By Liang Yujing–newly published by Tinfish Press.
“Another anthology?” you’re probably thinking–“Just what we need! Put it on the shelf next to the other dozen or so anthologies of modern and contemporary Chinese poetry that have been published in English since 1990. But look at the names this anthology includes:
Ba Ling 八零 Xidu Heshang 西毒何殇 Song Yu 宋雨 Wang Youwei 王有尾 Li Suo 里所 Mie Ren 乜人 Zuo You 左右 Ma Fei 马非 Ai Hao 艾蒿 You Ruoxin 游若昕 Wu Yulun 吴雨伦 Li Xunyang 李勋阳 Qin Bazi 秦巴子 Dong Yue 东岳 Xi Wa 西娃 Zhu Jian 朱剑 Li Yi 李异 Ya Zi 芽子 Jiang Tao 蒋涛 Xiao Zhao 小招 Han Jingyuan 韩敬源 Tu Ya 图雅 Ouyang Yu 欧阳昱 Chun Sue 春树 Yu Youyou 余幼幼 Huang Haixi 黄海兮 Shen Haobo 沈浩波 Wei Huan 苇欢 Yi Sha 伊沙
I’ve barely seen any of these poets in an anthology before! Zero Distance, then, should be something new.
Click on the image above for ordering information.
Narrative Poem, Yang Lian’s most personal work to date, is built around a series of family photographs, the first of which was taken on the day when he was born, on 22 February 1955, and the last of which dates from the time he spent undergoing ‘re-education through labour’ – and digging graves – during the mid-1970s.
The poetry ranges backward and forward in time, covering his childhood and youth, his first period of exile in New Zealand, and his subsequent adventures and travels in and around Europe and elsewhere.
In ‘this unseen structure written by a ghost’ Yang Lian weaves together lived experience with meditations on time, consciousness, history, language, memory and desire, in a search for new/old ways of speaking, thinking and living.
The tenth anniversary issue of Almost Islandis now out, featuring sections of my translation of “Taj Mahal Tears” 泰姬陵之泪 by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河–alongside new work by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, John Robert Lee, Régis Bonvicino, and Valerie Mejer Caso. The editors write:
“Taj Mahal Tears” was produced from a visit by Chinese poets to India for the Almost Island Dialogues in 2009. The singular poet Ouyang Jianghe composes this poem from a confluence of streams – those of history, geography, primal emotion, and over all this the almost aerial gaze of a poet-philosopher.
Here is an excerpt:
The tears of 1632 still flow in 2009.
From a pillar of tears a Mughal prince
stands up, the form of a woman appearing in stone.
Tears flow into stone, chiseling through, reticulating, …….flow stopped,
still flowing. The mutable master of rivers and mountains, tears flow state coffers
empty, flow time itself to its terminus.
Weapons flow past with no sight of warriors.
Sitars flow past without sound of strings.
Dāru in hand, yet drunkenness flows away from the body of the drinker.
Gold, utensils, a dance of arsenic and antimony, flowing away all the same.
And memory and amnesia, and the body’s mixed emotions, nothing can suffer their flowing.
The Poetry Foundation has published “Bei Dao’s Beijing: The eminent Chinese poet on exile and his native city,” Julian Gewirtz’s review of City Gate, Open Up, the newly published memoirs of Bei Dao 北岛, translated by Jeffrey Yang. The review also weaves in decades of Bei Dao’s poetry, creating a compelling narrative of his development and longstanding interests. It ends:
Faced with the weight of history and the force of politics, Bei Dao’s struggle to “refute the Beijing of today” and “rebuild” his Beijing ultimately—perhaps inevitably—proves unattainable in either poetry or prose. He writes in his memoir, “This long-consuming task of rebuilding and reconstruction—I feel it’s almost impossible to achieve.” Yet this does not undermine the value of the attempt. In the 1994 interview, he elaborated on this point: “On the one hand poetry is useless. It can’t change the world materially. On the other hand it is a basic part of human existence… [and] what makes human beings human.” His yearning for a lost Beijing might fit the same rubric: a desire at once “useless,” “impossible,” and intensely human. “Writing is a renaming of the world,” he has said, and his memoir, like his poetry, is fundamentally an act of “renaming.” In a recent poem, “Black Map” (translated by Weinberger), Bei Dao imagines a final salute to his lost city:
Beijing, let me
toast your lamplights
let my white hair lead
the way through the black map
as though a storm were taking you to fly
I wait in line until the small window
shuts: O the bright moon
I go home—reunions
are one less
fewer than goodbyes
The current issue of Standmagazine features an interview with Chinese poetry translators Eleanor Goodman, Canaan Morse, and Heather Inwood–and the translations they’ve curated for the issue. In answer to the question “What kind of poetry translates best and is any simply ‘untranslatable’?” Morse writes:
CM: Let’s not wrongly ascribe agency here. Poetry doesn’t translate; translators translate. Inspired, dedicated translators translate best. No poetry is untranslatable as such, except for the mountain of government-sponsored, sycophantic screed that is literally too painful to translate.