Turner on Bei Dao & Weinberger at Columbia

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To promote City Gate, Open Up, Bei Dao 北岛 appeared with Eliot Weinberger at Columbia University on September 26. Matt Turner was in the audience, and here he gives his report on the evening:

We sat down in a very bright, medium-sized lecture hall that looked like it was modeled after a circa-1985 computer case. It filled up quickly with Chinese students. As much as their elders may complain about the ’90s generation, here they were—listening, taking notes, and asking questions. I looked around and noticed a couple of local poets in the audience. Bei Dao and Eliot Weinberger (along with an interpreter for Bei Dao whose name I didn’t catch) were introduced, read passages from his recent memoir, City Gate, Open Up, and launched into a discussion about the organization of the book (it was written in installments for a financial magazine) and the difficulty remembering the details necessary for its writing (photographs were needed).

Weinberger would ask a question in English, Bei Dao would look at him and say something brief in English—and then look at the interpreter for a translation of Weinberger’s comments. Bei Dao would reply in Chinese, Weinberger would look at the interpreter, and so on… Given that it was not billed as a Chinese-language event, the English was necessary—even if 95% of the audience understood Chinese.

The conversation had a number of moments like this:

Bei Dao (in English): I will tell you how my parents met, and how they made me.

Weinberger: You’ll tell me how they made meat?!?

This lightened the mood of the talk, which focused on Bei Dao’s childhood and youth during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. And Bei Dao made dark jokes about not having enough to eat and about missing exams because the schools were closed. To deflect some of the more pointed questions about Chinese history, he repeatedly insisted that the history of China during the period in question was tai fuza: too complex for easy summary or simple statement of fact. Bei Dao did not discuss the traumas of the Cultural Revolution (he goes into detail in his book), but emphasized the free travel for students unbound by the demands of a structured education. The period opened the door for its survivors to discover and reinvent themselves.

One person asked (paraphrasing): What do you think of the poetry written in China today, and what is your relationship to it.

Bei Dao: Tai fuza! Next!

Another person asked (paraphrasing): When you wrote your book, did you try to reconstruct the city you grew up in, or did you try to make it into a new home?

Bei Dao (paraphrasing): It would be impossible to reconstruct the city, as it’s changed beyond recognition. And whenever I travel through China I notice the cities now all look the same, which is the problem of modernization in China.

He also said: When I’m at home, I feel lonely. When I travel, even back to Beijing, I feel the same. This is the basic contradiction of being a poet…

Afterwards, I was nervous about talking with Bei Dao. When we met, I forgot all the Chinese I had just rehearsed in my mind. I gave him a magazine with my review of him memoir in it. He seemed very happy about this, and signed my book. We stumbled through. Next!

–Matt Turner

Turner on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

The World of Chinese has run Matt Turner’s informative review of Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up, “Goodbye, Beijing.”

Turner begins with pennamed Bei Dao’s birth and name:

Construction worker, underground publisher, and acclaimed poet, Zhao Zhenkai (赵振开) was born, in his own words, in 1949, “as Chairman Mao declared the birth of the People’s Republic of China from the rostrum in Tian’anmen Square…in [a] cradle no more than a thousand yards away.”

In the 1970s, he would accrue near-celebrity status for his pseudonymous poetry, which was wild and defiant—and unlike anything in circulation at the time. His fame brought enemies, however, and attacks by official censors. Zhao’s pen name, Bei Dao (北岛, “Northern Island”), reflected such conflicted feelings: love for his northern home, as well as desire to be free of others’ impositions.

The book is “written in dreamlike vignettes,” Turner says, and “translated with little poetic license by Jeffrey Yang.”

Click on the image above for the review in full.

ARB on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

City Gate, Open Up, Bei Dao, Jeffrey Yang (trans) (New Directions, April 2017) London-based poet Jennifer Wong’s review of City Gate, Open Up, by Bei Dao 北島 and translated by Jeffrey Yang, is now up at Asian Review of Books. “Born and raised in Beijing,” the review begins, “Bei Dao spent decades in exile in Europe because of his alleged involvement in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.” Aside from that mistake, though (Bei Dao spent most of the years between 1989 and 2007 in the US)–and the fact that the review doesn’t say a word about the translator or the translation–it’s a nice review.

Wong writes,

Written with honesty, conscience and courage, this is a powerful account that merges personal memories with the collective history in the making of modern China, and inspires the reader to consider the many important social and political concerns in Chinese society that still remain today.

Click the image above for the full review.

Owen & Swartz’s Ruan Ji and Xi Kang from de Gruyters

As part of the ongoing Library of Chinese Humanities series, de Gruyter has now published the complete Poetry of Ruan Ji and Xi Kang, with translations by Stephen Owen and Wendy Swartz (edited by Ding Xiang Warner and Xiaofei Tian). It is not only available for sale, it is also available for open-access free download in .pdf format.

As the promotion materials state, the present translation of Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210–263)

not only provides a facing page critical Chinese text, it addresses two problems that have been ignored or not adequately treated in earlier works. First, it traces the history of the current text … Second, [earlier] translations have been shaped by the anachronistic assumption that Ruan Ji was loyal to the declining Wei dynasty, when actual power had been taken by the S[i]ma family, who founded the Jin dynasty after Ruan Ji’s death. The introduction shows how and when that assumption took full shape five centuries after Ruan Ji lived and why it is not tenable. This leads to a different kind of translation, closer to what a contemporary reader might have understood and far less certain than referring it to some political event.

Meanwhile, Xi Kang 嵇康 (ca. 223 – ca. 262) is presented with

a complete scholarly translation of his poetic works (including “Rhapsody on the Zither”) alongside the original texts. Many of Xi Kang’s poems are difficult and most are laden with allusions and quotations, adding another level of challenge to interpretation. Basic explanatory notes are provided.

Click the image for ordering / download information.

NYTimes on Yu Xiuhua’s “Unusual Path From Isolated Farm Life to Celebrity”

In “A Chinese Poet’s Unusual Path From Isolated Farm Life to Celebrity,” the New York Times follows up on Yu Xiuhua 余秀华:

“Her poems, among contemporary Chinese poems, are like putting a murderer among a group of respectable ladies,” wrote Mr. Liu, the Poetry editor. “Everybody else wears fancy clothes, puts on makeup and perfume and readers can’t see a single bead of sweat. But hers are full of smoke and fire — and mud and landslides. Her words are stained with blood.”

Born in 1976 in Hengdian, Ms. Yu never finished high school. At 19 she married a construction worker 12 years older, in a wedding arranged by her parents, who were concerned that she would never be able to care for herself. At 27, she began writing poetry.

Understand the world with sharp insight and commentary on the major news stories of the week.

“I needed to do something to keep my spirit up,” she said. “Each day, I wrote one or two poems, and I felt I had accomplished something.”

Chinese Poetry on the Lucien Stryk Shortlist

notwritten_wALTA (the American Literary Translators Association) has announced the shortlist for the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, recognizing the importance of Asian translation for international literature and promoting the translation of Asian works into English.

This year’s judges are Eleanor Goodman, Kendall Heitzman, and Aditi Machado, and they’ve selected Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字, by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西 for the shortlist. The judges write:

Jennifer Feeley’s superb translation captures all of the creativity, intellect, and playfulness in the verse of premier Hong Kong poet Xi Xi. In these skillfully wrought and daring poems, Feeley employs all the tools of the English language, including unforced end and internal rhyme, alliteration, wordplay, and references that run the gamut from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to fine art to contemporary politics. In deceptively lighthearted poems such as “Excerpt from a Feminist Dictionary,” the verse rings as powerfully in the English as it does in the original Chinese. This translation is essential reading, providing a window into the rich literature of Hong Kong and the larger Sinophone world.

Also shortlisted are two works of Korean poetry, Brother Anthony of Taizé’s translation of Night-Sky Checkerboard by Oh Sae-young, and Kim Yideum’s Cheer Up: Femme Fatale, translated by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson.

Click on the image above for the shortlist in full.

David Hinton’s Wilds of Poetry

The Wilds of PoetryShambhala announces The Wilds of Poetry, a study of American poetry by Chinese poetry translator David Hinton.

Hinton takes Henry David Thoreau’s description of “a moment on Mount Ktaadin when all explanations and assumptions fell away for him and he was confronted with the wonderful, inexplicable thusness of things” as “the starting point for his account of a rewilding of consciousness in the West: a dawning awareness of our essential oneness with the world around us.”

The press release explains,

Because there was no Western vocabulary for this perception, it fell to poets to make the first efforts at articulation, and those efforts were largely driven by Taoist and Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist ideas imported from ancient China. Hinton chronicles this rewilding through the lineage of avant-garde poetry in twentieth-century America—from Ezra Pound and Robinson Jeffers to Gary Snyder, W. S. Merwin, and beyond—including generous selections of poems that together form a compelling anthology of ecopoetry.

Having, as a translator, “recreated ancient Chinese rivers-and-mountains poetry as modern American poetry,” Hinton in The Wilds of Poetry “reenvisions modern American poetry as an extension of that ancient Chinese tradition: an ecopoetry that weaves consciousness into the Cosmos in radical and fundamental ways.”

Read a sample here. Click on the image above for ordering information.

Stern and Ming Di’s Liu Xia on Poetry Northwest

Poetry Northwest has published Jennifer Stern’s and Ming Di’s translations of poems by Liu Xia 刘霞, the missing widow of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波. Stern writes in her introduction:

Many of us here read and write poems to know that we exist, and that we are entwined with others through an art form that exists all over the world. Liu Xia is one of us, a poet. I wish there was one way to stop the erasure of a human, but I don’t think there is. Yet we can do this: read Liu Xia’s poems. They exist. We can enjoy them, or not. We can argue with them. We can pass them on to a friend and say, “Read this, this poet exists.” We can teach her poems or keep them for ourselves. We exist. And because of that, Liu Xia’s poems can speak even when her voice can’t be heard. I want to believe that it’s harder to erase this person, specific in her words and life, when we’re in the middle of a conversation.

Follow the link above for the full suite.

The 2018 Return of the Bookworm International Literary Festival

The Global Times reports:

Ever since the Bookworm Beijing bookstore postponed and later canceled its annual Bookworm International Literary Festival (BLF) fans have been waiting and wondering whether the 10-year-old event would return.

Well, the wait is over as according to Peter Goff, the general manager of the Bookworm, the BLF will be back in full swing from March 8 to 24 in 2018 in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou.

And the participating authors? Among Chinese writers, Goff hopes to invite Xi Chuan, Yu Hua [余华], and others. “He said the festival also invited foreign writers from countries like Croatia, Serbia and the Czech Republic to help readers understand those countries better,” the Global Times writes.

Click the image for the full article.