The new issue of Plume is here, and with it Alexander Dickow’s “Mystery and Surprise: Two Chinese Poets,” reviewing two quite different books of Chinese poetry in translation: Li Shangyin 李商隱, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts, Lucas Klein, and A.C. Graham (NYRB), and October Dedications, the selected poetry of Mang Ke 芒克, translated by Lucas Klein with Yibing Huang and Jonathan Stalling (Zephyr / Chinese UP).
The review begins:
The contemporary Chinese poet Mang Ke and the Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin (9th century) could hardly be more different. The former, particularly in the later poems of the chronologically arranged collection, seems fresh and spontaneous, capricious; the latter hermetic and mysterious. The contrast lends itself to an examination of what makes both poets’ work alluring. Li Shangyin seems to offer the mystique of an authentically coded poetic language. While both Mang Ke and Li Shangyin are highly allusive, Mang Ke feels bright and sensuous, Li Shangyin dark and richly layered.
It’s rare enough for translated poetry to be reviewed at all, but when it is reviewed it tends to be reviewed by other experts in the field. I think it’s wonderful that these books are reviewed by a translator of French poetry with no expertise in China or Chinese literature. If our readers are only those who can check our work, what’s the point of translating in the first place? The whole purpose of translation is bringing work from one language to new audiences, so it’s wonderful that Plume went with a reviewer who doesn’t need to know Chinese, but clearly understands poetry and translation.
Click here to read the review in full.