Mialaret on Hai Zi

Hai Zi 3Writing at mychinesebooks.com, Bertrand Mialaret offers a synopsis of the life and poetry of Hai Zi 海子. “Almost thirty years after his suicide, the poet Hai Zi remains celebrated in China,” it’s titled.

Hai Zi, who committed suicide at age 25, remains one of the most celebrated poets in China especially with the younger generations. Some very creative years, 250 short poems, 400 pages of long poems, short stories, plays. His complete works were published in 1997 by his friend, the poet Xi Chuan.

Mialaret also mentions the difference generations make in forming different poetic styles, which are born in some ways from the encounter of the personal with broader gyrations of history.

He was not part of the group of “misty” poets of the early 1980s, which were made famous by Beidao, Gu Cheng, Mangke, Yang Lian … This group refuses the revolutionary “realist” tradition and poetry at the service of politics. Poetry is an individual creation, it is a mirror of oneself. The focus is on the image in the creative process even if it is accompanied by sometimes complex and obscure texts.

The generation of Hai Zi is very different, it did not experience the re-education in the countryside, could go to university, knows the works of the world literature, the great movements of thought and all the “isms” (existentialism, surrealism, structuralism …).

Click the image for the article in full.

October Dedications by Mang Ke

Announcing October Dedications, the selected poems of Mang Ke 芒克, edited and translated by Lucas Klein, with further translations by Huang Yibing and Jonathan Stalling—part of the Jintian series jointly published by Zephyr and The Chinese University Press.

Mang Ke (b. 1950, penname of Jiang Shiwei 姜世伟) began writing poetry as a sent-down youth in Baiyangdian, rural Hebei province, during the Cultural Revolution. As co-founder of the PRC’s first unofficial literary journal Jintian (Today) in 1978, he is one of the progenitors of what would later be called Obscure or “Misty” Poetry, with spare, impressionistic poems that were among the first to break free of the imposed discourse of Maoism towards an image-based literary style that left space for both expression and interpretation. He currently makes his living as an abstract painter and lives in Songzhuang, an artists’ colony on the outskirts of Beijing.

“Mang Ke’s poems are radical in their immediacy, exploring the vexed space between public world and private experience, honing in on the gap between with sometimes uncanny directness … I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like it.”
—Rae Armantrout

“Mang Ke is a genius amongst contemporary Chinese poets. In a dark age, his early lyric poems were unparalleled–translucent, profound, and enchanting.”
—Bei Dao

For further information, including how to order, see the pages at Chinese University Press or Zephyr.

Edmond on Being Censored in Chinese

At his blog, Jacob Edmond writes about being censored in a Chinese publication. Edmond reviewed Maghiel van Crevel’s Chinese Poetry in Times of Mind, Mayhem and Money (2008) for The China Quarterly in 2011, and agreed for it to be translated into Chinese for the Journal of Modern Chinese Studies (现代中文学刊). But,

the Chinese version [of van Crevel’s book] lacks the chapter on “Exile,” which includes discussion of poems written by Bei Dao 北岛, Wang Jiaxin 王家新, and Yang Lian 杨炼 after the Chinese government’s violent 4 June 1989 suppression of dissent.

And as a result, Edmond’s review had to be censored as well.

In approving the translation of my review, I faced the same dilemma that Van Crevel and these publishers and editors face in deciding whether to allow their work to be censored: refuse to change anything and so lose the possibility of addressing a Chinese audience, or make the changes and hope that one’s translated words and the mute marks of censored omissions might communicate better than the total silence of refusal. Van Crevel’s is an excellent book on contemporary Chinese poetry: I stand by my review’s description of it as the “definitive sourcebook.” It therefore deserves a wide audience in China, where its insights are most relevant. Cutting one chapter was the price of that audience.

But, as he continues, “The pressures and choices are not, of course, the same in every situation.” He concludes with lessons that are, “like censorship itself, eminently—and frighteningly—translatable.”

Click the image above for his full blog entry.

Clips from International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong 2017

Asian American Writers’ Workshop recommends Asian Literature

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has collected recommendations from noted American writers and publishers for what to read of Asian literature. And unsurprisingly, Chinese poets and poetry are well-represented.

Barbara Epler, president of New Directions publishing, recommends Li Shangyin and Bei Dao, among others. She writes:

I am torn between favorites—Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Tanizaki’s The Maids, Li Shangyin’s Derangement of My Contemporaries, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book—but finally want to choose Bei Dao’s new memoir, City Gate, Open Up. It’s a remarkably moving autobiography of this great poet, beautifully translated by Jeffrey Yang: a testament to stubbornness and endurance, City Gate, Open Up is a love letter to the Beijing of his childhood and to his family.

And Eliot Weinberger gives an even fuller syllabus, explaining, “‘Favorite Asian book’ is as impossible as ‘favorite European book’ or ‘favorite song.’ Sorry not to play by the rules of this game–and instead rattle off a long list of personal faves–but, after all, it’s 3000 years of writing in many languages and over a hundred years of translations that one would still want to read.” His list includes:

The many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy by David Hinton (especially, for me: the poems of Tu Fu, T’ao Ch’ien, and Meng Chiao); Ezra Pound’s Cathay (now in a facsimile edition from New Directions) and his much-maligned masterpiece The Confucian Odes; A.C. Graham, Poems of the Late T’ang; Kenneth Rexroth & Ling Chung’s translation of the Sung Dynasty woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao; Gary Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems (Han Shan); Michèle Métail’s anthology of reversible poems, Wild Geese Returning (tr. Jody Gladding). (For more translations by Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, W.C. Williams, and Hinton, and essays by them on Chinese poetry: my The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.)

As for modern and contemporary Chinese poetry: Bei Dao (various translators); Gu Cheng (tr. Joseph Allen); Xi Chuan (tr. Lucas Klein). Lastly, David Knechtges’s three-volume translation of the Wen xuan, a 6th-century anthology of the usually neglected, often ridiculed documentary poetry fu form (also Watson’s Chinese Rhyme-Prose)

It’s a lot to read!

Click on the image above for the full list.

International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong 2017: 22-26 November

Click the schedule to link to more information.

Ancient Enmity–International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong

No automatic alt text available.Ancient Enmity 古老的敵意, the multilingual collection of volumes for the 2017 International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong, is now available from Chinese University Press.
Edited by Bei Dao 北島, Chris Song 宋子江, and Lucas Klein, Ancient Enmity comprises an anthology plus twenty-four individual booklets:

Maram Al-Masri, from Barefoot Souls; Gabeba Baderoon, Poetry For Beginners
Javier Bello, I Decided to Dissolve
Charles Bernstein, Pinky’s Rule
John Burnside, An Essay on Mourning
Chan Chi Tak 陳滅, Hong Kong Lights 香港韶光
Chen Dongdong 陳東東, The Emperor of Poetry Translated from Conquered Nations 譯自亡國的詩歌皇帝
Chen Xianfa 陳先發 The Question of Raising Cranes 養鶴問題
Lorna Crozier, Angel of Tigers
Julia Fiedorczuk, Orion’s Shoulder
Jérôme Game, Hong Kong is Hong Kong
Hirata Toshiko 平田俊子, The Man Without Arms
Major Jackson, Heritage
Nuno Júdice, Variation on Roses
Agnes S.L. Lam 林舜玲, Poppies by the Motorway 公路旁的紅罌粟
Semezdin Mehmedinović, Functions of the Heart
Moon Chung-Hee, A Letter from the Airport
George Szirtes, Like a Black Bird
Mark Tredinnick, Egret in a Ploughed Field
Anja Utler, Counter Position
Dmitry Vedenyapin, The Faith of a Mushroom
Haris Vlavianos, Pascal’s Will
Cui Jian 崔健, Never Turning Back 死不回頭
Chow Yiu Fai 周耀輝, Androgyny 雌雄同體.

To order click the image above.

For more information on International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong, including the schedule of readings and events, go to http://www.ipnhk.com/

Tracy Smith on Chinese poetry and China

At SupChina Anthony Tao interviews US poet laureate Tracy Smith on her recent visit to Beijing, where she traveled to translate Yi Lei 伊蕾 with Changtai Bi.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

AT: And what is your relationship with Chinese poetry?

TKS: I know a little bit about the history, but it’s very patchy. I’ve read some poems of [ancient poets] Li Po (李白) and Du Fu (杜甫), and then leap forward to [the 1970s/1980s “Misty Poet”] Bei Dao (北岛)… and now, some of the more recent translations [of Chinese poets] that have come out in the States. So it’s a really incomplete body of knowledge so far. But it’s still growing, a growing region of my consciousness.

And

AT: You recently took part in a translation workshop as part of your trip [organized by Ming Di (明迪), along with renowned poets such as John Yau, Kevin Young, Mario Bojórquez, Xi Chuan (西川), Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河), etc.]. What was it like to see your poems in Chinese?

TKS: I wish I could speak the language so I could really hear what it became in this other language, which I can’t. I love the sound. I’m mystified, I’m fascinated by the characters. Even though I know what the poem said, I don’t know what they say. But I think it’s exciting to know that there’s a version of my poems now that can be touched on for readers in a different language, and I’m curious to know how the references live on the other side. I know there’s a lot of choices. Ming Di translated a poem [of mine] called “Ash,” and she said, “Okay, is it this kind of ash, is it this kind of ash?”

So just thinking about the possibilities. And then having to make that affirm certain meanings or implications also makes me have to listen to my poems differently. And some of the things that happened unconsciously, I’m urged to reflect upon them more consciously now because I have to say, “Is it that or that? Well, actually, it’s more this thing than the other, and this is why.”

For the full interview, along with a clip of Smith’s reading, click the image above.

 

Turner on Bei Dao & Weinberger at Columbia

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting

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