Chloe Garcia Roberts on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following comment is from poet and translator Chloe Garcia Roberts:

Burton Watson’s translations were the weft of my education. His voice spanning the entirety of my development as a translator and as a writer, underlying studies in literature, philosophy, history, and culture. However he is not someone I discovered, or searched for, or followed because the result of the regard in which he is held across the disciplines is that his were always the translations first recommended, first suggested, first given. Which is to say his texts were so vital, so true, as to always be present.

From Mr. Watson’s work I learned that the shortest distance between two words of different languages is a straight line. His translations do not wade too much into the hinterlands of implied meaning and subtext but instead utilize the approach of identifying and implementing the core essence of the word, the phrase, the text so that what reads as simple and spare can still reverberate with the plural tones of the original.

From Mr. Watson’s work I learned that translation is a medium through which the original is encountered, and thus it should be transparent. His fingerprints over time I’ve learned to recognize as the meticulous erasure of his presence. Like glass, his translations almost allow the reader to forget her separation. And also, like glass, they have a mass, a hardness, a heft, so that separation once acknowledged can become a pleasure and, for me, an enticement.

From Mr. Watson’s work I learned to love what he did, to long for my own encounters with the texts he led me to. And when I was finally able to bring my Chinese to a level that I could go there on my own, I found that his love became my own. And when I say love I mean the wonder of his reading. And when I say love I mean the reverence of his rendering.

For me Burton Watson was a constant. And somehow, naively, I assumed he would always be so.

Contact me if you would like to add your own remembrance.

Klein on New Premodern Chinese Poetry Translations in LARB

2016-07-15_1030The Los Angeles Review of Books @lareviewofbooks has published “Tribunals of Erudition and Taste: or, Why Translations of Premodern Chinese Poetry Are Having a Moment Right Now,” my take on what looks like something of a resurgence in translation into English.

I use a nineteenth-century debate between Matthew Arnold and Francis Newman to frame a review of Chloe Garcia Roberts’s translation of Li Shangyin 李商隱, David Hinton’s translation of Wang An-shih 王安石, an anthology / travelogue by Red Pine (Bill Porter), and Stephen Owen’s translation of the complete Du Fu 杜甫, alongside Ira Nadel on Ezra Pound and the New Directions re-release of Ezra Pound’s Cathay (and mention of Gary Snyder, Bob Perelman, Paul Kroll, Eliot Weinberger, and more). Here’s how it ends:

The stakes of poetry translation from Chinese are indeed the stakes both of how we understand translation and how we in the English-speaking world understand China. Translation is neither simply a matter for scholars to judge, nor is it something that can be left to the unaccountable imaginings of revelers in poetry — any more than China should be something only specialists or tourists alone can pronounce upon. Rather, bringing expertise and excitement together, translation can help expand our conceptions of poetry and of China, demanding more from ourselves, and more from it. The contentiousness may remain, but it can motivate us to create new and better representations.

So will American poetry turn outward again, and in the process help redefine China as more than a strategic competitor, accused of currency manipulation by presidential candidates, or more than a polluted manufacturer to which we outsource abuses of human rights and labor? Will Chinese literature prove an old repository of poetic presentation from which the United States can both learn and create new beauty? Certainly larger historical and socioeconomic forces will determine the directions our poetry turns, but insofar as what we publish has any role, I see reasons for optimism — and in that optimism, a readiness to engage in the tensions of global and local that inhere in translation.

The recent poetry collections covered in this essay demonstrate a hunger for new ways of understanding and appreciating China, and more are coming soon … With these additions reaching new audiences, we may see premodern Chinese poetry making it new once again.

Click the image for the full article.

Roberts & Chen on Li Shangyin

Li_Chao-tao_001Chloe Garcia Roberts and Guangchen Chen 陳廣琛 talk about Li Shangyin 李商隱 at The Critical Flame. Roberts says:

The poem opens with the sounds of imminence, the Eastern Wind, and with these rustlings of the approaching rain the rain arrives. Where? To the subject. Who is not there, to the reader who is not named, to the I. Here. By not giving you a subject, the I is fractured, you are there, he is there, the I is there. In the next line the focus moves back out, beyond () to another sound which calls our/the I’s attention, out on the horizon, the edge of hearing/awareness, the thunder, and just like that in the first pair of couplets, Li Shangyin has succeeded in pulling us forcefully into this poem along the path of sound and then repelled us back out also following sound at an incredible, almost breakneck speed. We are stunned, disoriented, and thus in the perfect state to descend further into his world.

She’s talking about this poem, and her translation:

Untitled

Rush, rustling of the East Wind, a fine rain arrives
Beyond the Lotus Pool, is a delicate thunder

Golden Toad bites the lock, burning perfume enters
Jade Tiger weights the cord above the water well, circling

Young Secretary Han: glimpsed by Lady Jia though curtains, briefly
Talented King Wei: bequeathed Princess Fu’s pillow, only afterward

Spring Heart, refrain from competing with flowers in effusion
One measure of longing, one measure of ash

無題
颯颯東風細雨來,芙蓉塘外有輕雷。
金蟾嚙鎖燒香入,玉虎牽絲汲井回。
賈氏窺簾韓掾少,宓妃留枕魏王才。
春心莫共花爭發,一寸相思一寸灰。

Click the image above for the dialogue in full.

Omniglot Seminar: Cosmologies of the Classical with Chloe Garcia Roberts & David Hinton

headshotDavid Hinton, author of Mountain Home and translator of Chinese poets including Wang Wei 王維, Hsieh Ling-Yün 謝靈運, and Bei Dao 北島, joins Chloe Garcia Roberts, translator of Derangements of My Contemporariesheadshot by Li Shangyin 李商隱. They will discuss their individual approaches to classical poetries and cosmologies, while exploring the influence of classical Chinese poetry on American modernism.

When: Wednesday, September 24, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Woodberry Poetry Room, Lamont Library, Room 330.
Harvard University, Cambridge MA

Li Shangyin & Chloe Garcia Roberts in the Harvard Gazette

Chloe Garcia Roberts605The Harvard Gazette has a feature on Chloe Garcia Roberts and her translation of Derangements of My Contemporaries 義山雜纂 by Li Shangyin 李商隱, forthcoming from New Directions.

For a poet writing in late Tang-era China, Li Shangyin sure was cheeky.

“The list-poems document one person’s reactions to and interactions with the mundane aspects of his life, and there isn’t anyone alive who can’t relate to that,” said Garcia Roberts.

She calls the list-poems funny and bitter.

“They read like a notebook that you keep in your pocket to write down things that irritate you. One of the poems I really love I’ve translated as ‘Scenery Killers,’ but the basic idea is chronicling things that spoil your enjoyment of your surroundings.”

For the full article, click the image above.

Announcing the Ancient Asia issue of Cha

Announcing the Ancient Asia Issue of Cha (December 2013), featuring new translations of Chinese poetry by Xi Chuan, Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, Du Fu 杜甫, He Qifang 何其芳, Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚, Liu Yong 柳永, the Shijing 詩經, Laozi 老子, Du Mu 杜牧, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, and new work by Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, Eleanor Goodman, Sharmistha Mohanty, and Jonathan Stalling. The full list of contributors:

Translation: Lucas Klein, A.K. Ramanjuan, Reid Mitchell, George Life, Canaan Morse, Michael Gray, Christopher Lupke, Dulal Al Monsur, Nicholas Francis, Michael Farman, Michael O’Hara, Eleanor Goodman, Chloe Garcia Roberts

Poetry: Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, W.F. Lantry, Aditi Rao, Stuart Christie, Luca L., Xiao Pinpin, Kate Rogers, Pey Pey Oh, DeWitt Clinton, Elizabeth Schultz, Stephanie V Sears, Joshua Burns, James Shea, Sean Prentiss, Steven Schroeder, Marjorie Evasco, Arjun Rajendran, Pui Ying Wong, Julia Gordon-Bramer, June Nandy, Janice Ko Luo, Stuart Greenhouse, Barbara Boches, Cathy Bryant, Justin Hill, Eleanor Goodman

Fiction: John Givens,  Xie Shi Min, Sharmistha Mohanty, Zhou Tingfeng, Khanh Ha

Articles: Jonathan Stalling, Michael Tsang

Creative non-fiction: Pavle Radonic

Photography & art: Alvin Pang (cover artist), Adam Aitken

Click the image above to access the full issue.

Xi Chuan and Lucas Klein recording at Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room

PhotographThe Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard has finally uploaded our recording from last March!

The Woodberry website lists titles in pinyin because it doesn’t support Chinese characters, so here are the titles for what we recorded in Chinese with English translation:

无关紧要之歌 A Song of no Matter

墙角之歌 A Song of the Corner

窝藏着我的尾巴 I Bury My Tail

关于黑暗房间里的假因果真偶然 On False Causality and True Chance in a Dark Room

厄运 Ill Fortune

熟人 Acquaintances

伴侣 Companion

我奶奶 My Grandmother

蚊子志 Notes on the Mosquito

Thanks to Chloe Garcia Roberts for the arrangements!

Click on the image above to link to the virtual listening booth.

PEN Translation Grants for Chinese Poetry

The PEN/Heim Translation Fund has announced its 2013 winners.

The Fund’s Advisory Board are: Susan Bernofsky, Barbara Epler, Richard Sieburth, Lauren Wein, Eliot Weinberger, Natasha Wimmer, Matvei Yankelevich, and chair Michael F. Moore.
Special congrats to:

Chloe Garcia Roberts for her translation of Escalating Derangements of My Contemporaries by the 9th century Classical Chinese poet Li Shangyin. Garcia Roberts’ translation of these spare, immediate poem-lists is lyrical and intuitive. (To be published by New Directions)

Not Poor: Indications

Thoroughbreds sighing.
Wax tears on candles.
Chestnut shells.
Lychee husks.
Stacks and heaps of money, rice.
Mother of pearl hairpins, abandoned.
Jargon of orioles, swallows.
Eddies of fallen blossoms.
Songs sung atop a tall building.
Books read aloud.
Sounds of grinding medicine, rolling tea.

Eleanor Goodman for Something Crosses My Mind, selected poems of Wang Xiaoni. Xiaoni’s sharp apprehensions of daily life have made her, since the 1970s, one of China’s most influential poets. Goodman’s pitch-perfect translation makes Xiaoni’s work available for the first time in book form in English. (To be published by Zephyr Press)

Typhoon, No. 1

The night of the typhoon, the sky was full, the world destroyed.

From west to east, herds of black cattle rolled on their heads
the wind’s hoofs beat at the windows
everything on the ground rose to the sky.

The people were packed into the night
the night was packed into an exploding drum.
The wildly arrogant air
presented rolling tanks from another world.
There was no sign of resistance
that’s just the way the extraordinary happens.

And also:

Jeremy Tiang for Nine Buildings by Chinese playwright Zou Jingzhi. These blunt, tamped-down translations of tales of youth during cultural revolution in Beijing address the grim cruelty of that time. Tiang’s language has a tang and matter-of-factness that effectively communicates the harshness of this text. (Available for publication)

Li Shangyin’s Random Lists

from The Za Zuan 雜纂 by Li Shangyin 李商隱, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts:

Li ShangyinINTOLERABLE

A fat man in summer months.
Entering the dwelling of a hateful wife.
An impoverished scholar taking an examination.
Maliciously scolding other people’s servants, slave girls.
Discovering repellant behaviors in colleagues.

for more, click here.

New Issue of Cerise Press

Cerise Press Vol. 3 Issue 9 Cover

The Spring 2012 issue of Cerise Press is now online, with new work by Cole Swensen, interviews with Chinese translator Nicky Harman and Tibetan-Chinese writer Woeser ཚེ་རིང་འོད་ཟེར་ / 唯色, and an essay by Chloe Garcia Roberts on her translations of the poetry of late Tang poet Li Shangyin 李商隱.

Also see my feature “Xi Chuan: Poetry of the Anti-lyric” from an earlier issue, with translations of “Power Outage” 停电, “Re-reading Borges’s Poetry” 重读博尔赫斯诗歌, and “Three Chapters on Dusk” 黄昏三章. (And my earlier co-translations of poems by Bei Dao 北岛 with Clayton Eshleman).