This question came up again during the discussion after the reading, with translator Canaan Morse asking Xi Chuan how he feels when people expect him, as a Chinese writer, to be writing the same sorts of things the Tang poets were writing a thousand years ago. His answer was short and to the point: “I hate it!” Another memorable moment came when he was asked if he thought one had to get angry or upset to write good poetry: he replied to the effect that it’s hard work that creates good poetry, not emotion, and at that point I’m sure I heard millions of emo voices cry out in terror, and be suddenly silenced.
Lucas also discussed at some length the processes that went into creating the book, his own attitudes to translation, and translating Xi Chuan in particular. Once again I was struck by the sheer amount of time and love which had gone into these poems, both in their original language and in their English form. The role of the translator is so often relegated to that of mouthpiece, a faceless channel for the poet’s vision, but in good translation–and in good literature–there is always a sense of partnership. After the talk, I asked both poet and translator to sign my book, and Lucas’ signature sitting neatly below Xi Chuan’s on the title page seems to me a perfect symbol of everything they’re doing right.
I’m back from Beijing, where my reading with Xi Chuan at the Beijing Bookworm was–to my mind, at least–a great success: great turnout, a lively reading, and interesting, probing questions from the audience about the poetic process for Xi Chuan and my process as a translator.
Editorial Director Qiu Huadong (邱华栋) revealed some of the first issue’s contents:
Excerpts from the novels that won the 2011 Maodun Literary Prize, plus interviews with their authors. He did not specify which novels would be excerpted, but the five winners were: On the Plateau, Zhang Wei (你在高原 , 张炜著) ; Skywalker, Liu Xinglong (天行者, 刘醒龙著); Massage, Bi Feiyu (推拿, 毕飞宇著); Frogs, Mo Yan (蛙, 莫言著) ; and One Sentence Worth Thousands, Liu Zhenyun ( 一句顶一万句, 刘震云著) See Rewarding Writer-Officials? for insight into the controversy surrounding this year’s Maodun Prize.
Short stories by authors born in the 1970s and 1980s, including Jiang Yitan (蒋一谈), Qi Ge (七格) and Di’an (笛安).
Poems by Xi Chuan (西川), Lei Pingyang (雷平阳) and others
Short stories by other writers including Li Er (李洱)
Introductions to new books such as Ge Fei’s Spring in Jiangnan (春尽江南, 格非著), Wang Anyi’s Tiānxiāng (天香, 王安忆著), Jia Pingwa’s Old Kiln (古炉, 贾平凹著), and Fang Fang’s Wuchang City (武昌城, 方方著)
The Xi Chuan pieces they’ve published are “Looking at the Mural in the Ruicheng Temple of Eternal Joy” 观芮城永乐宫壁画, “Ill Fortune H 00325” 厄运 H 00325, “Dragon” 龙, and “The Body and History” 体相与历史.