Eleanor Goodman on Contemporary Chinese Poetry from Zephyr


As part of Paper Republic‘s series of blogs for Global Literature in Libraries throughout February, Eleanor Goodman writes on Zephyr Press, which she says “has done more to raise the profile of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation than any other press today”:

Their books are carefully curated, well edited, and beautifully produced. Above all, their translators (here I must profess that I am one of them) tend to be at the top of the field, which is of course essential to the making of a good book in English.

Alongside mentions of their publications of Han Dong 韩冬, Bai Hua 柏桦, Lan Lan 蓝蓝, and Yu Xiang 宇向, Goodman specifically writes about her translation of Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, about Andrea Lingenfelter’s translation of Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Austin Woerner’s translations of Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西, Steve Bradbury’s translation of Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü 夏宇, and my own forthcoming translations of Mang Ke 芒克.

With with “deep resources of scholarship and natural talent to draw upon,” she writes, it is

this mix of qualities—the best of the contemporary Chinese poetry world combined with translators who are also careful readers and appreciators of poetry—that makes the Zephyr collection so unique and valuable. These books are a labor of love from start to finish, and it shows in the final products. There is simply no better introduction to the contemporary Chinese poetry scene available today.

Click the image above for the full article.

Turner on Woerner’s Ouyang Jianghe

Matt Turner writes in Jacket2 about Austin Woerner’s translations of Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, as published in the two Zephyr volumes Doubled Shadows 重影 and Phoenix 凤凰. He lays out the problem:

Ouyang Jianghe’s poetry presents to any translator the difficult decision of whether or not to pursue his work as a language artifact to be translated as close to literally as possible, or whether to amplify its implicit beliefs, and its abstractions — through a historical lens, or otherwise. But since he is said by translator Austin Woerner to be known as the “most hermetic of the Chinese hermetic poets,” we can expect a pronounced “cryptic language” that doesn’t easily yield access to, as Woerner describes it, “the poem’s mystery.” In such a case, translating in a straightforward manner may be an unproductive task.

However, Turner’s

quarrel with Woerner here is not over his translations per se — his Chinese is fantastic, Ouyang Jianghe is a difficult poet, and Woerner’s translation methods are up-front and consistent. My quarrel is with Woerner’s poetics, which relies upon clichés about the mysterious quality of poetry and the imagination in order to, as he ironically says, “reduce poetry to its purest essence” — an essence that apparently resides in readers’ faculties … Such renditions say more about the translator’s ideas of how poetry sounds than they do Ouyang Jianghe’s, and, more importantly, deflate any ambitious poetic work that may be happening in the Chinese. Should the reader, unaware of the details of the Chinese language or its material context, be expected to do any better? Or is the supposed “mystery” of this line the beginning of a rewarding imaginative journey?

For the full critique, click the image above.

Lantz on Phoenix

41ngjbO5jzL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Tim Lantz at the LA Review reviews Phoenix 凤凰, by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 as translated by Austin Woerner:

It’s not hard to see why Ouyang Jianghe considers Phoenix his magnum opus. The book-length poem, at once difficult and exciting, feels like somehow watching the brain and musculature of an in-motion animal. Juxtapositions, short narratives, and allusions to the Chinese literary tradition—these disparate parts are surprising with their motion. With this combination, Ouyang critiques the constant ad hoc of globalization, especially as it speeds China through demolition to buildup. “The forest is gone now; a cement world looms. / Flightless, we build homes in the sky, / adding brick and tile to the ecology of the birds.” Even one’s speech and writing require pieces from the other side of the world, Ouyang points out.

For the full review, click the image above.

Ou Ning’s How to Start Your Own Utopia in English

How to Start Your Own Utopia, by Chinese poet, activist, editor, and curator Ou Ning 欧宁, is now available in English.
Volume one contains a facsimile of Ou Ning’s original notebook in full color; the second volume is a translation of the notebook from the Chinese by Mai Corlin and Austin Woerner, a previously unpublished interview with Ou Ning, and his 2012 text laying out an understanding of ongoing anarchist practices in a totalitarian, capitalist reality.
Click the image for more.

Asymptote write-up of Ouyang Jianghe’s Phoenix

Dylan Suher for Asymptote writes on Austin Woerner’s translation of Phoenix 凤凰, by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 (after a sculpture by Xu Bing 徐冰) (Zephyr, 2014):

This excellent Zephyr Books edition packages the poem together with pictures of the sculpture, and, in what happily seems to be becoming the norm, places Woerner’s translation alongside the original. The bilingual reader can thus fully appreciate that the translation, rather than aiming to fix the quicksilver of the original, is a piano four-hands between two talented writers. From verse 14:

Ransacks the void till no emptiness remains,
while prestidigitating truths from thin air;


Woerner translates “” (tao), “to pull out” or “to fish out,” as “ransack” in the first line and “prestidigitate” in the second. These words do not quite come out of thin air, but—to borrow from the language of finance—it is a leveraged interpretation, and its yield is spectacular. The Zephyr books edition of “Phoenix” is therefore poetry truly suited to this age of globalization: two poets from opposite sides of the world collaborating to illuminate the way of life that unites them both.

Click on the image for the full write-up.

Video of Ouyang Jianghe reading from Phoenix

The write-up from Paul Manfredi’s China Avantgarde blog:

Ouyang Jianghe’s 欧阳江河 poem was inspired by a sculptural work of the same title by Xu Bing 徐冰. Xu Bing’s sculpture, actually two sculptures–a male “feng” 鳳 and female “huang” – is comprised almost entirely of objects found on worksites in Beijing … Ouyang’s poem was also a two-year project, extending between 2010 when he saw Xu’s sculpture in New York, and 2012, when the work of 19 stanzas was finally published. At roughly 400 lines, the poem was first published in 2012 by Oxford (Hong Kong), and then re-published by Chinacitic Press this past July. The recording of the poem in the video took place on July 5, at the Central Academy for Fine Arts in Beijing where Chinacitic was promoting Ouyang’s book…  Xu Bing was also present at the event.

As Manfredi’s first feature in his Visual Poets series, the reading is preceded by close-ups of Ouyang Jianghe’s calligraphy of poetry by Bei Dao 北島 in different styles. Subtitled translation by Austin Woerner. Available for order from mccm creations.

Asia Society Hongkong Launch of Ouyang Jianghe’s Phoenix

August 8: Evening Poetry Reading and Discussion

Drinks Reception at 6:30 pm
Reading & Discussion at 7:00 pm
Close at 8:00 pm
Asia Society Hongkong

Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 will read from his ekphrastic mini-epic Phoenix 凤凰, with poet Nicolas Wong reading Austin Woerner’s English translation. A discussion on the relationship between Ouyang’s writing and its inspiration in the sculpture by Xu Bing 徐冰 will follow.

From Woerner’s preface to the translation:

The poem multiplies the complexity of his earlier poems; it is, by his own account, his magnum opus. Synthesizing his earlier concerns of the materiality of language, the Chinese literary legacy, and the role of art in society into a sustained meditation on the theme of flight, it reflects two and a half decades of work refining the “obscure” language of Misty poetry into a vessel for sophisticated philosophical inquiry. The poem, written by Ouyang in 2010 after a silence of almost two decades, is the culmination of his experiment, where in the eighties and nineties he produced a body of poems distinguished by their length, technical intricacy, and high degree of abstraction. He has, in his recent work, taken this project to a new level, writing book-length poems of densely interlinked stanzas rife with wordplay, a fugue-like development of motifs, and the technique of argument by paradox — known in Chinese as beilun (悖論) — employed by the philosopher Zhuangzi (莊子) to capture the illogical logic of Daoism.

Click the image above for further event information and free registration.

Farewell to Chutzpah! Lee Yew Leong interviews Austin Woerner

Ou Ning’s 欧宁 literary journal Chutzpah! 天南 is closing, and to commemorate it, Asymptote‘s Lee Yew Leong interviews its English pullout Peregrine editor Austin Woerner. Austin sez:

What was unique about Chutzpah! was that it didn’t see itself as a journal of Chinese literature per se, but rather as part of a global literary conversation … the magazine’s Chinese editors were very plugged into international literary goings-on, and in addition to translating “hot” Western writers into Chinese—Arundhati Roy, Roberto Bolaño, Jesmyn Ward, and Junot Diaz are a few of the bigger names—we collaborated with n+1 and A Public Space, and published interviews with prominent Western intellectuals. But that’s just one facet of the magazine’s identity. A big part of Ou Ning’s mission was to promote the work of younger Chinese writers and some older ones who hadn’t gotten the attention they deserved, and to create a niche in the Sinophone literary ecosphere for more offbeat, unconventional writing. The issues were themed and carefully curated, and the style was eclectic—we published everything from traditional realism to avant-garde experimentation to scifi, fantasy, and detective fiction—and our Sinophone contributors hailed both from mainland China (including ethnic minorities like Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Yi), and from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and throughout the Chinese diaspora, from Singapore and Malaysia to the U.S. and the U.K. … As far as the English supplement goes, the notion was to make some of these new Sinophone writers available in English so that their work might eventually find readers outside of China and the exchange might become more bidirectional.

What satisfied me most was to have had a hand in creating a community of Chinese-English literary translators, and to have given a handful of translators, particularly younger ones, a chance to hone their craft and encounter new authors. When I started as English editor, my first priority was to make sure that translating for Chutzpah! was a worthwhile experience for our translators. So even though we often operated on a breakneck schedule, I insisted on having a complete editorial process, giving translators detailed responses and line edits and building in at least a couple days for revision and back and forth. I thought of “Peregrine” as a kind of translation incubator, where Chinese-English translators could cut their teeth on new authors and forms with the benefit of editorial feedback and in a friendly environment.

For the interview in full click the image above.

WLT Review of Han Dong & Ouyang Jianghe

A Phone Call from Dalian World Literature Today has published Josh Stenberg’s review of Zephyr books A Phone Call from Dalian by Han Dong 韩东, translated by Nicky Harman, and Doubled Shadows by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, translated by Austin Woerner:

Ouyang Jianghe and Han Dong … both occupy established places in what, for over thirty years, has been known as avant-garde Chinese literature. In poetic approach, they represent divergent tendencies—Ouyang cosmopolitan, clean, and heavily referential; Han craftily offhand, personal, confidently bizarre, not tetchy about grime Doubled Shadowsor sex. Where Ouyang often seems to offer an argument about the cultural currents and skirmishes of today’s China, Han’s work most often reads as a lament for the failure of attempts to bridge the spaces between people


January 2012 Issue of Asymptote

The January 2012 issue of Asymptote is now online, featuring Xi Chuan‘s “Beast” 巨兽, “The Distance” 远方, and “Poison” 毒药, in my translations. You can also hear a recording of “The Distance” read in Chinese by Huang Yin-Nan.

This issue also hosts a great range of international writing, especially when it comes to writing in Chinese: there’s Xi Chuan’s friend Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, translated by Austin Woerner, and Taiwanese superstar poet Hsia Yü 夏宇, translated by Steve Bradbury. And then there’s the Taiwan Fiction Feature.

Great to be included in that group!