James Sherry’s reply to Goodman’s review of The Reciprocal Translation Project

As I posted in early August, Eleanor Goodman reviewed The Reciprocal Translation Project (Roof Books), edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong, for LARB‘s China Channel. She called the book a “messy, fraught endeavor”:

There is no acknowledgement of the structure, form, tone, emotional texture, repetition, surprise, rhythm, rhyme, sound effect, level of diction, intent, etc., etc., of the original.

Well now James Sherry has replied, in the form of a letter to the editor of China Channel. “I agree with Goodman,” he writes, “that we should expand our description of the ‘bilingual specialists’ to include these translators’ other roles as mentioned above. In the second printing, we have amended that.” He concludes, though:

I do appreciate Goodman’s term “responses” to describe some of the poetic translations of the original poems, but her tendency to look at the translation process from a single perspective undermines her own well-framed statement “translation is a notoriously tricky business.” The Reciprocal Translation Project establishes a range of solutions, not all of which will be imitated, but will all be read as relevant to the process of communicating between languages and cultures. Clearly, the standard approach has not produced great understanding between our two cultures. Perhaps this discussion with all its outliers, queerness and experiments can promote a willingness to see poetry in global and environmental terms instead of only in terms of our prior understanding. Thanks, Eleanor, for inviting this discussion.

Click the image above for the letter in full.

 

Xi Xi Wins 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

Image may contain: 3 people, including Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, people smiling, people sitting and indoorNewman Prize winner Xi Xi with her nominator Tammy Ho and translator Jennifer Feeley (photo by Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁)

NORMAN, OK—An international jury has selected the Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西 (born 1937) as the winner of the sixth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the third female Newman laureate, and the first from Hong Kong.

Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of seven distinguished literary experts nominated seven poets this spring, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on October 9, 2018.

Winner Xi Xi 西西 (the pen name of Zhang Yan 張彥) will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, on March 7–8, 2019. In addition to this year’s nominating juror, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong Baptist University), other nominees and jurors include Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, nominated by Nick Admussen (Cornell University); Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, nominated by Eleanor Goodman (Fairbank Center, Harvard University); Xi Chuan 西川, nominated by Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong); Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, nominated by Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta); Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, nominated by Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University); and Bei Dao 北岛, nominated by Wang Guangming (Capital Normal University).

“This year’s nominees represent an extraordinarily wide variety of Sinophone poetry,” said this year’s Newman Prize Coordinator, Jonathan Stalling. “The jurors spent over an hour in vigorous deliberation before they finally emerged with one poet out of the many. It is genuinely exciting to see Xi Xi’s poetry and her lifelong contributions to world letters recognized by this year’s prize.”

According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,

Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.

Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan 莫言, Han Shaogong 韩少功, and Wang Anyi 王安忆, who won the 2009, 2011, and 2017 Newman Prizes, respectively. Mo Yan went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poets Yang Mu 楊牧 and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen 朱天文 won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2013 and 2015.

The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues over a decade ago, in 2006. The University of Oklahoma is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

 

美國中部時間2018年10月8日,中國香港作家和詩人西西獲得第六屆紐曼華語文學獎(詩歌獎)。她是紐曼華語文學獎的第三位女性獲獎者,也是第一位來自香港的獲獎者。

紐曼華語文學獎是由美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2008年設立的獎項,是美國第一個為華語文學或詩歌設立的獎項,每兩年頒獎一次。評委們完全基於文學價值選出為最能表現人類生存狀況作品。所有在世的用中文寫作的作家都有機會入選。諾貝爾文學獎得主莫言是2009年年首位紐曼文學獎得獎者,中國大陸作家韓少功和王安憶分別於2011年和2017年折桂,台灣詩人楊牧和台灣作家朱天文分別在2013和2015年領此殊榮榮。

紐曼華語文學獎的七位專家評審早在今年年初提名了七位詩人。今天,他們經過六輪投票,決定出最終得獎者。獲獎者西西(原名張彥)可獲得一萬美元的獎金,紀念獎牌一塊,銅質獎章一枚,並將受邀於2019年三月7日至8日參加在俄克拉荷馬大學舉辦的紐曼學術研討會和晚宴。西西的提名者是香港浸會大學的何麗明教授(Tammy Lai-Ming Ho)。另外六位評委和被提名的詩人信息如下:康奈爾大學的安敏軒(Nick Admussen)提名了詩人於秀華,哈佛大學費正清中心的學者顧愛玲(Eleanor Goodman)提名了詩人王小妮,香港大學的柯夏智(Lucas Klein)教授提名了詩人西川,阿爾伯塔大學的陸敬思(Christopher Lupke)教授提名了詩人蕭開愚,萊頓大學的柯雷(Maghiel van Crevel)教授提名了詩人鄭小瓊,以及北京首都大學的王光明教授提名了詩人北島。

今年紐曼華語詩歌獎評委團的組織者石江山(Jonathan Stalling)說,“本次被提名的詩人們代表了華語詩歌極度豐富的多樣性。”“評委們經過一個多小時的熱烈的評議和投票才選出了最後的勝者。西西的詩歌和她畢生對文學的貢獻在今年的紐曼文學獎上得到了肯定,這是一件真正激動人心的事“。

何麗明博士在提名詞中寫道:“很長一段時間以來香港文學都被視為是次要的,甚至有人認為這個城市不能出產重要的文學作品或著名的作家。香港詩歌或許在很多人眼中是個更抽象和虛妄的概念。西西或諧或莊的詩歌道出了這個城市及其居民的品格。她的詩歌也證明了一個城市的故事不必是宏大的敘述,而可以是表面瑣碎的絮語,寓言或者童話。西西的詩歌陰柔,纖細,機智,敏銳,動人心弦,無可辯駁地宣示著香港詩歌的存在感“。

紐曼華語文學獎的主辦方美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2006年成立。該學院的成立與Harold J. Newman和Ruth Newman夫婦的慷慨捐贈密不可分。俄克拉荷馬大學還設有中國文學翻譯檔案館,“今日中國文學”雜誌,“今日世界文學”雜誌,並定期主辦紐斯塔特(Neustadt)國際文學獎。

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!

Goodman on The Reciprocal Translation Project

Writing for the LARB China Channel, Eleanor Goodman reviews The Reciprocal Translation Project, edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong 孙冬. And she comes out swinging!

The Reciprocal Translation Project is a messy, fraught endeavor. Here is the back blurb, which is also the first paragraph of the editors’ introduction:

In The Reciprocal Translation Project, six Chinese and six American poets have translated each other’s works. Since few of these poets speak both languages, bilingual specialists have fashioned literal translations including several options for words that have multiple meanings. These literal translations have been given to three poets in the other language to write poetic translations. In this volume, then, the reader will find an original poem, a literal translation, and three poetic translations of each poem as well as explanatory notes and biographies.

One hardly knows where to begin with this tangle. Here we have poets who have “translated” each other’s work, despite largely not knowing each other’s languages. This is done grâce à people mysteriously labeled “bilingual specialists,” who put together something called “literal translations, including several options for words that have multiple meanings.” That is to say: they translate the poems. So why are these “bilingual specialists” not the “translators”? The point, as I take it, is to save that particular appellation for “the poets” involved in the project, an issue which I will return to below.

She comes out swinging, but can she be wrong when she frames Xi Chuan this way?

Forgive me for being stodgy, but to my mind, a “translation” that changes the mode of address, the timing, the references, the places and the priorities of the original is not a translation at all. It is a new poem that stands on its own, or not.

The “literal translation” of Xi Chuan’s poem “Travel Diary” (出行日记) begins:

I drove the car onto the highway, which was precisely to begin a massacre of butterflies; or the butterflies seeing me speeding toward them, just decided to launch a suicide flight. The smashed to death on the windshield. They stubbornly mashed to death on my windshield.

This is an awkward but not inaccurate rendering of the Chinese. Nada Gordon’s “translation” is:

Wanted to massacre some fucking butterflies so drove my fucking car onto the fucking highway to massacre them. They were kamikaze butterflies, they were going to fucking kill themselves on my windshield. Splat. Fuck those fucking butterflies, stubborn assholes all up on my windshield.

Whatever one thinks of this, it certainly does not represent Xi Chuan’s tone or intention.

And she goes further:

The editors comment in their introduction: “Many modern translators present themselves as poets, not simply facilitators of communication. Revaluing translation in this way brings the translator out of the shadow of the author, leveling their identities.”

But this anthology has precisely the opposite effect. By involving “bilingual specialists” who actually do the grunt work of the translation, and then privileging the non-English-speaking or non-Chinese-speaking poet by labeling him or her the “translator,” the real translators are effectively hidden. There is also an underlying assumption that the act of translating involves grasping the literal meaning of a word (“including several options for words that have multiple meanings” – as though there are words that do not!) and that’s all that is needed. There is no acknowledgement of the structure, form, tone, emotional texture, repetition, surprise, rhythm, rhyme, sound effect, level of diction, intent, etc., etc., of the original.

Click the image above for the full review.

Seattle Review of Books Interview with Eleanor Goodman on Lok Fung

No automatic alt text available.Word on the street is that Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box 自我紙盒藏屍的日子, the selected poems of Lok Fung 洛楓 (Natalia Chan), translated by Eleanor Goodman, is back from the printers.
In honor of the book, then, here is a recent article about Goodman on Lok Fung from the Seattle Review of Books, where Lok Fung was June poet-in-residence. Goodman says of Lok Fung,

“She is not just a poet but also a serious thinker about cultural studies, cultural issues, pop culture, the influence of high literature and also popular literature and music on a population.”

“She’s also very feminist in a very interesting way,” Goodman says. “A lot of her poems are love poems about failed love. She writes about makeup, about getting her hair done, about fashion.” Fung [sic.], she argues, focuses on these “quintessentially girly or feminine or seemingly frivolous sort of things” and uses them to discuss “how women function in society and how women think and feel and reflect on their own lives.”

I would, however, like to register a serious disagreement with Goodman on one point. She says, “the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry really is a field of about seven people who are working very seriously.” I find this very disappointing. The number of people working seriously on the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry certainly reaches into the double digits!
The SRB also includes a handful of Lok Fung’s poems, in Goodman’s translation, here.
Click on the image for the article in full.

Newman Prize Nominees Announced

The nominee list for the 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature has been announced!
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Convened by Jonathan Stalling at the University of Oklahoma, this year’s judges are Nick Admussen, Eleanor Goodman, Tammy Ho Lai-ming, Lucas Klein, Christopher Lupke, Maghiel van Crevel, and Wang Guangming 王光明.
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This year’s finalists are Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, Xi Xi 西西, Xi Chuan 西川, Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, and Bei Dao 北岛.
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The winner will be announced in the spring of 2019.

The Moving Target: Translation and Chinese Poetry at Leiden

On 1–2 June 2018, an international group of scholars will meet at Leiden University to discuss fifteen papers that bring together expert knowledge on poetry in Chinese and critical engagement with the notion of translation. Texts, authors, and issues discussed range from the ancient Book of Songs to 21st-century migrant worker poetry and from Yu Xiuhua in English to Paul Celan in Chinese. The papers highlight the richness of the study of interlingual and cultural translation, with Chinese poetry as a shining example.

The workshop is open to all and you are welcome to attend any or all of the presentations.

Attending the workshop will be Joseph Allen, Lucas Klein, Nicholas Morrow Williams, Zhou Min, Tara Coleman, Chris Song, Christopher Lupke, Jenn Marie Nunes, Liansu Meng, Joanna Krenz, Jacob Edmond, Eleanor Goodman, Nick Admussen, Rui Kunze, Maghiel van Crevel, and Wilt Idema.

Click the image for further information, including a full schedule with paper titles.

Return of Pratik features Contemporary Chinese Poetry

After a decade-long hiatus, Pratik, the English-language Nepali literary journal, is resuming publication–and with a feature of contemporary Chinese poetry including Xi Chuan, Duo Duo 多多, Jidi Majia 吉狄马加, Chen Si’an 陈思安, Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, Yuan Yongping 袁永苹, Li Yawei 李亚伟, and Shen Wei 沈苇.
Translations of Xi Chuan & Duo Duo by Lucas Klein; other translations by Jami Proctor Xu, Eleanor Goodman, Zhou Xiaojing, Tim Hathaway, and Yuyutsu Sharma with Hao Lin.
Pratik is edited by Yuyutsu Sharma.
Click for the report by The Kathmandu Tribune. For the Pratik blog, click the image.

Klein’s Duo Duo in Asian Cha

No automatic alt text available.

The new issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now live, and with it my translations of two new poems by Duo Duo 多多, “A Fine Breeze Comes” 好风来 and “Light Coming from Before, Sing: Leave” 从前来的光,唱:离去.

tomorrow’s already past
already offered
the past is still unknown
already spokenthe limit belongs to you
nobody can have that name

明天已经过去
已经给予
过去仍是未知的
已经说出 止境属于你
无人能有那名

Also in the issue are Bonnie McDougall’s translations of poems by Ng Mei-kwan 吳美筠, Jennifer Feeley’s translation of fiction by Xi Xi 西西, fiction by Eileen Chang 張愛玲 translated by Jane Weizhen Pan & Martin Merz, and Matt Turner reviewing Paul French and Kaitlin Solimine and Eleanor Goodman reviewing Richard Berengarten.
Click the image above to get to the issue.