The 2018 Lucien Stryk Prize

DarkeningMirrorFinalCoversThe 2018 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize shortlist has been announced, with Diana Shi and George O’Connell’s Darkening Mirror, translations of Wang Jiaxin 王家新 (Tebot Bach) on the list. Congratulations to Shi and O’Connell!
But a look at the rest of the list: There’s Sonic Peace, by Kiriu Minashita, translated by Eric E. Hyett and Spencer Thurlow
(Phoneme Media), which is poetry. But Junichirō Tanizaki’s Devils in Daylight, translated by J. Keith Vincent, and The Maids, translated by Michael P. Cronin (both New Directions), and Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin 邱妙津, as translated by Bonnie Huie (New York Review Books)? Those are works of fiction.
The Stryk Prize is–or was–a poetry translation prize. The prize’s Wikipedia page still makes that clear:
Eligible works include book-length translations into English of Asian poetry or source texts from Zen Buddhism, book-length translations from Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean into English.
But this year, for the first time, works of prose fiction are on the shortlist.
I think this is a problem.
Seems to me that the Stryk prize was endowed with the mission of promoting a certain kind of work–translation of poetry and Zen texts from Asian languages. I believe in, and I’d bet a lot of translators believe in, the room to interpret those categories broadly. But for the Stryk nominations to be suddenly–and without public consultation–open to works of fiction, the poetry translations in question are bound to be crowded out, not recognized or promoted.
A look at Paper Republic’s wrap-up of translations published in 2017 gives a sense of what I’m talking about, even if it also offers an idea why some might want the prize to be eligible to translated fiction. Something like twenty titles of fiction translated from Chinese, but only five books of poetry. And yet look at that list: Liu Waitong 廖偉棠, one of Hong Kong’s most interesting poets; Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼, translated by Brian Holton, and two titles translated by Eleanor Goodman (who won the Stryk in 2015 for her translations of Wang Xiaoni 王小妮), including the anthology Iron Moon, the most reviewed anthology of Chinese poetry to appear in English in decades. I think it’s scandalous that neither Goodman nor Holton are on this year’s Stryk shortlist. Which just goes to show: if poetry is going to compete with fiction, and if the judges are primarily translators of fiction, then poetry translators are not going to get recognized. Are they?
Word is that ALTA didn’t make this change to increase the number of submissions, but rather simply received submissions of fiction from overzealous publishers. They asked the source of the funding about whether prose was eligible, and the source seemed not to have any issues with the eligibility of fiction. So the description of the award was revised.
But this is a problem not only because of crowding out poetry (which indeed already gets the short end of the proverbial stick when it comes to modern Asian literature), but also because this change was not done transparently. If this was really going to be a prize that includes prose, then more presses that published prose translations should have been informed so they could submit their books. Not to mention how this affects the translators–as well as the poets in Asia hoping to gain readership in translation (I don’t know about poets in other countries, but Chinese-language writers are very aware of the Stryk Prize). The more I think about it, the bigger I think this problem is.
Good luck to this year’s shortlisted candidates!

Nan Da on Recent Chinese Poetry in Translation

https://i0.wp.com/www.the-tls.co.uk/s3/tls-prod/uploads/2018/08/Nan-Da-COVER-605x770.jpg?resize=347%2C439&ssl=1Nan Z. Da knows everything.

In a cover story for the Times Literary Supplement titled “Poetry of the suicide note,” or alternately, “It is useless to live,” she reviews five recent books of Chinese poetry–both modern and premodern–in English translation: Hawk of the Mind, the collected poems of Yang Mu 楊牧, edited by Michelle Yeh; Narrative Poem 叙事诗 by Yang Lian 杨炼,  translated by Brian Holton; Michèle Métail’s study of “reversible” poems in Wild Geese Returning, translated by Jody Gladding for Calligrams; and the Calligrams re-release of The Collected Poems of Li He 李賀, translated by J. D. Frodsham and François Cheng’s Chinese Poetic Writing, translated by Donald A. Riggs, with an anthology of Tang and Song poems translated by Jerome P. Seaton.

The essay begins,

There is a type of Chinese poem called the juemingci [絕命詞], which means, roughly, verses to terminate your life. Almost the poetic equivalent of a suicide note, the juemingci … is a formal acknowledgement of one’s negative relation to the present: the world in whatever configuration it finds itself will never be for you, will never work out for you, and the mark of a fine mind is that it will go to waste.

She also writes:

Perhaps this setting aflame, like all those elements of Chinese poetry that foil translation – its grammar, its sonic and visual elements, its “characters’ formidable power of suggestion” … – might be enfolded into the aesthetics of decadence, so that discussion of Chinese poetry in translation does not have to turn endlessly on arguments about translatability. Even if one is set on regarding translation as subtraction (a tally of what is lost or needlessly added), in decadent poetry you can lose almost all of the valences and still have more than enough meaning.

But what I think is her most moving passage is,

Maybe one does not have the training to catch all the allusions (to both Chinese and foreign literature and history), maybe one does not read difficult Chinese, or maybe one does not read Chinese (or poetry) at all. None of this is to suggest that we should not try. We should, not least because these particular books evince their translators’ responsibility and accuracy, and represent the best possible resources for becoming familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese language, and accessing levels of meaning previously closed to the uninitiated.

Click the image above for the full piece.

Klein on Holton’s Narrative Poem by Yang Lian

Free first pageMy review of Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼 and translated by Brian Holton (Bloodaxe, 2017), is out in the new issue of Translation and Literature (Vol. 27, issue 2).

It’s paywalled but for subscribers and certain academic institutions, but here’s a paragraph free:

That so much of Yang Lian’s poetics – indeed, his mythopoetics – centres on the Chinese past is a particular challenge for Holton as translator. Of course, some critics from China and elsewhere have accused Yang of writing a China of and for western understanding – but why not? In any event, that it is for westerners to understand does not make it easier to translate. Holton has not shied away from providing notes to mark moments where Yang makes allusions to people and places that fall outside the expected anglophone frame of reference. Mostly, however, it is in the strength of his diction that the power of his verse lies, just as the force of Yang Lian’s word choice is what makes his poetry most compelling in Chinese. The thought and emotion of Yang Lian’s writing are immanent in the words he uses – and the same is true of Holton’s translations.

Click the image above to link to the full review.

Holton’s Yang Lian PEN Translates Award Winner

English PEN has announced its latest list of PEN Translates award winners, and Brian Holton’s translation of Narrative Poem 叙事诗 by Yang Lian 杨炼 (Bloodaxe) is one of the winners!

Chinese is also represented in Nicky Harman’s forthcoming translation of Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China 平如美棠 : 我俩的故事 , by Rao Pingru 饶平如.

Click the image to the right for the full list.

 

 

Yang Lian PBS’s Summer Recommended Translation

The UK’s Poetry Book Society has chosen as its 2017 Summer Recommended Translation Narrative Poem 叙事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼 and translated by Brian Holton. The PBS writes:

Narrative Poem, Yang Lian’s most personal work to date, is built around a series of family photographs, the first of which was taken on the day when he was born, on 22 February 1955, and the last of which dates from the time he spent undergoing ‘re-education through labour’ – and digging graves – during the mid-1970s.

The poetry ranges backward and forward in time, covering his childhood and youth, his first period of exile in New Zealand, and his subsequent adventures and travels in and around Europe and elsewhere.

In ‘this unseen structure written by a ghost’ Yang Lian weaves together lived experience with meditations on time, consciousness, history, language, memory and desire, in a search for new/old ways of speaking, thinking and living.

Click on the image for more information.

Dundee Review on Holton’s Staunin Ma Lane

holtonXinyi Jiang and Lindsay Macgregor at the Dundee Review of the Arts give their take on Brian Holton’s Staunin Ma Lane, a collection of classical Chinese poetry translated into Scots (with English “glosses”). They write:

The archaisms of the classical Chinese language, the multiple meanings of individual Chinese characters, as well as the very different cultural allusions must surely have made translation a daunting task. But if so, it never shows. There’s a natural ease to Holton’s Scots which belies the compromises which translation necessarily incurs when qualities of sight and sound, meaning and allusion jostle for survival in each line. Holton’s improvisations, translations and cover versions – faithful and playful, confident and experimental – make classical Chinese poetry both highly accessible and hugely enjoyable.

Click the image for the review in full.

Johnston on Holton’s Staunin Ma Lane

Staunin Ma Lane book coverMichael Johnston blogs about Staunin Ma Lane, Brian Holton’s translations of classical Chinese poetry:

Brian Holton’s passions for language and languages, for the poetic and the pawky, his musicianship which adds rhythm, melody, counterpoint and grace notes to his translations are all sweetly evident in the poems in this beautiful book.  It not only reads well; it looks good, such is the care taken in the design.

Brian is working in the tradition of Hugh MacDiarmid whose drunk narrator gazed at a thistle and Lewis Grassic Gibbon whose Scots Quair caught the language and the land fair and square.  A long time ex-pat, my own knowledge of Scots needs this stimulus.  The book and the poems should be on the syllabus of Scottish schools teaching Scots and Chinese.

Click the image for the full write-up.

Scotland’s National on Brian Holton

Polyglot Brian Holton has an international background but loves the Scots languageThe National (“Scotland’s only daily newspaper supporting independence”) has a write-up on Staunin Ma Lane, Brian Holton’s translation into Scots of a selection of classical Chinese poetry.

The originals date back as far as the eighth century and Holton, who says his Scots versions retains the emotional resonance, holds a strong respect for the material, saying: “If you step outside your own culture and start opening doors you never regret it.

“Pre-modern China is so different. There are more books in Chinese than any other culture in the world. It is the oldest continuous culture in the world.

“The book is an introduction to Chinese poetry in my attempt to show it can be funny and daft. It isn’t all sages sitting under trees.”

Born in Galashiels, Holton lived in Nigeria with his socialist parents, a former commando father who could speak French and Swahili and a Border Scots mum.

Holton added: “I’ve been pushing for Scots all my life. It’s an old tongue with a long history and a big range.

“I want to say to the reader, ‘deek whit the mither tongue can dae – gin it can dae this, whit’ll it no can dae?’”

Click the image above for the full article.

Brian Holton: “Translator / Ghostwriter / Ghost Composer” at CUHK

https://i2.wp.com/www.cuhk.edu.hk/rct/Images/ad/brian.jpg?resize=371%2C525

Renditions Distinguished Lecture Series on Literary Translation

“Translator / Ghostwriter / Ghost Composer”
Speaker: Brian Holton
Date: 16 December 2015 (Wednesday)
Time: 4:30–6:00 p.m. (Tea reception: 4:00–4:30 p.m.)
Venue: LT6, Yasumoto International Academic Park (YIA),
The Chinese University of Hong Kong