Greenlight is thrilled to present an evening celebrating Li Shangyin, foremost poet of the late Tang dynasty, on the occasion of a new translation of his work published by the New York Review of Books. This new collection presents Chloe Garcia Roberts’s translations of a wide selection of Li’s verse in the company of other versions by the prominent sinologist A. C. Graham and the scholar-poet Lucas Klein. Combining hedonistic aestheticism with stark fatalism, Li’s poetry is an intoxicating mixture of pleasure and grief, desire and loss, everywhere imbued with a singular nostalgia for the present moment. Rarely translated into English, Li’s work has an esotericism and sensuality that sets him apart from the austere masters of the Chinese literary canon. Garcia Roberts and Klein read and discuss Li’s work during this event, followed by a signing, Q&A, and a wine reception to follow.
The blog of 24PearlStreet has published an interview with poet and translator Chloe Garcia-Roberts about the creativity of translation and writing outside genres. Here’s how it begins:
MAIREAD HADLEY: In what ways is translation a creative process? Would you describe it as such?
CHLOE GARCIA-ROBERTS: It is completely a creative process. In the same way that drawing from life is a creative process. My subject is there, independent and complete, but my job is to recreate that subject in a different language. To so effectively draws on everything that I have to the same depths as any of my own writing, albeit in a completely different way.
For me, translation is a complementary creative process to creative writing. I was discussing it with a colleague just this week and articulated the relationship between the two as a form of crop rotation. If I am in poetry writing mode all the time, I get depleted, and if I am in translation mode all the time, I also get depleted. But if I alternate the two in my life, they feed each other, they make the yields stronger for either effort, and they enrich me more.
Click the image for the full interview.
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.
The 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.
Chloe 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 (外) 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:
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
Click the image above for the dialogue in full.
David 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 Contemporaries 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
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 (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.
The Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard has finally uploaded our recording from last March!
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
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.
The PEN/Heim Translation Fund has announced its 2013 winners.
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
Wax tears on candles.
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.
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)