Over at Cha, Daryl Lim reviews Hawk of the Mind: Collected Poems (Columbia University Press), the selected poems of Yang Mu 楊牧, edited by Michelle Yeh. Though Lim credits Yang’s poetry as “lyrical, urbane, cosmopolitan and deeply humanist,” he’s less impressed with the volume:
We are not told whether Collected in fact represents Yang Mu’s entire poetic oeuvre, or whether the editor has made selections. If so (which I suspect to be the case), it is also unclear how the editor went about making these choices or what organising principle lies behind them. I gather the poems are arranged chronologically. (But I can’t be sure.) Finally, the foreword tells me that I, the reader, will through engagement with Yang Mu’s poetry, “emerge more aware of the world and what it means to be human.” As it is though, I am still unaware of the shape of Yang Mu’s poetic corpus and career.
As for the translations,
No less than eleven translators are listed in the final pages of the book … I wish then that the editor, Michelle Yeh, had also written about the possible issues arising from this: did she consider whether having eleven translators for the work of one poet might lead to issues of coherence or dissonance? Did she consider re-translating (she is one of the translators) some of the poems? Did she edit any of the translations? Without the benefit of the original texts on the facing page (or even the original Chinese titles), it is difficult for the reviewer to judge whether the diversity of translators has had any effect on the final product. It is very difficult to look up specific poems. (There is also no index of poems or first lines.)
Not that Lim names them, of course (other than Arthur Sze, in one example). Then again, neither does Columbia UP on its web page for the book.
Xi Chuan and other Chinese and American poets are at the University of Oklahoma for the US-China Poetry Dialog, organized by Jonathan Stalling.
The first public events will be on the 24th at 10:30 a.m. in OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library and 7 p.m. at Fred Jones Museum of Art. There will also be a reading on the 25th in Eureka Springs, AR, at 7 p.m. at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, and on the 26th in Bentonville, AR at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art at 6 p.m.
“Everything can happen in the teeming space of a stanza by Arthur Sze; almost everything does. The profane and the glorious are never far apart; more often than not they are contained in the same couplet. And the extraordinary invariably manifests itself in the ordinary or as he writes, “Revelation never comes as a fern uncoiling/a frond in mist; it comes when I trip on a root,/slap a mosquito on my arm.” Sze specializes in the serial or linked poem. He specializes in irresoluble contradictions and the simultaneity of their circumstance. He is deft with improbable metamorphoses. He is undeterred from the uninflected actual, “When//Robin’s coworkers were terminated, she left/ her communications job to groom horses.” Little escapes his attention, be it a particular mushroom camouflaged in the forest floor or light lifting off the length of a power line while a sous-chef slices ginger and scallions. All that is teeming is specific and nothing is unrelated. His “mind aligns such slivers.” Sze is hyper-awake to a chance that a petal may tip the balance of life; to the fact that “we cannot act if we are asleep.” Through eight collections of poetry,translations of Chinese poetry and the recently edited Chinese Writers on Writing, Arthur Sze has proven to be one of our most patient, painstaking, and prepared observers. The impression of land and sky on mind and mind on the mess we tend to make of things is seldom brought to such an exquisite degree of awareness. In exacting language, Sze has brought his gleaming perceptions and looming concerns to a rare quality of order.”
Sky Lanterns brings together innovative work by authors—primarily poets—in mainland China, Taiwan, the United States, and beyond who are engaged in truth-seeking, resistance, and renewal. Appearing in new translations, many of the works are published alongside the original Chinese text. A number of the poets are women, whose work is relatively unknown to English-language readers. Contributors include Amang, Bai Hua, Bei Dao, Chen Yuhong, Duo Yu, Hai Zi, Lan Lan, Karen An-hwei Lee, Li Shangyin, Ling Yu, Pang Pei, Sun Lei, Arthur Sze, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Wei An, Woeser, Yang Lian, Yang Zi, Yi Lu, Barbara Yien, Yinni, Yu Xiang, and Zhang Zao.
Sky Lanterns also features images from the Simple Song series by photographer Luo Dan. Traveling with a portable darkroom in remote, mountainous regions of southern China’s Yunnan Province, Luo Dan uses the laborious nineteenth-century, wet plate collodion process of exposure and development. In exquisite detail, he captures a rural life that has remained intact for centuries.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to grasp a progressive development of modern Chinese literature since the wake of the 20th century, when the Chinese language became vernacular. That said, this anthology presents an intelligent, personal selection of landmark essays, novel excerpts, poems, manifestos and conversations (many of which are newly commissioned translations) by 41 writers from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. A seminal work that helps increase a critical understanding of Chinese writing and literary aesthetics free from official ideology, Chinese Writers on Writing invigorates dialogue about the differences and universality of Chinese language — and its consciousness — in reference to our global framework today.