Matt Turner Introduces Asia’s Proletarian Lit

In a piece titled “We Are Revolution” for Bookforum, Matt Turner introduces Asia’s Proletarian Literature. He writes:

During the last election cycle, the American working class got a lot of airplay. Donald Trump’s rhetoric was a throwback to a different era of politics and a different economy. Talk of American workers often included overt and coded criticism of China, which was portrayed as a villainous and devious nation that had stolen jobs from deserving Americans. Of course, the Asian workers (many of whom are not Chinese) who were supposedly responsible for America’s declining fortunes were never mentioned.

In the past, American labor movements produced literature that was both popular and politically effective. Books like The Jungle exposed working conditions and pressed for egalitarian politics. It may feel dated today, but it raises an interesting question: What would popular working class literature look like in another context? What if The Jungle were written in an iPhone factory?

Covering poetry and fiction from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines, for Chinese poetry he highlights the anthology of workers’ poetry, Iron Moon, translated by Eleanor Goodman. He says:

Considering that these worker-poets often have very little formal education (and not a lot of time on their hands), the high quality of the work here points to one obvious conclusion: There are a lot of good poets in China. More notable, however, is that they exist outside of China’s professional system of writers, just as their jobs put them outside of the usual trajectories of professional advancement. A lot of us could learn something from these individuals about solidarity—as well as about writing.

Click on the image for his full list.

 

Goodman on “Great Romantic” of Chinese poetry, Xu Zhimo

https://i1.wp.com/supchina.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Xu-Zhimo.jpg?resize=508%2C259Is Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 (1897 – 1931) unknown outside China? In advance of an event at New York’s Renwen Society at the China Institute (now passed) in honor of Xu’s 120th birthday–which was “conducted in Chinese, with no interpretation“–Eleanor Goodman considered for SupChina whether that should be the case.

She writes:

His most famous poem, “Another Farewell to Cambridge” (再别康桥 Zàibié Kāngqiáo, commonly translated as “Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again,” though there are many translations for this title) is a paean to the River Cam in Cambridge, where he spent a year at King’s College. It begins (translation mine):

Quietly I go,
As quietly as I came;
Quietly I wave
farewell to the western clouds.

The golden willow by the banks
is the bride of the setting sun.
Reflections shimmer on the water
and ripple through my mind.

and continues,

In the poem “By Chance” (偶然 Ǒurán) he writes (my translation again):

I am a cloud in the sky,
that shadows your stirred heart by chance.
No need for you to feel surprise,
still less to be delighted,
in a flash, every trace of me will be gone.

So it seems. Xu wrote what he lived, and lived what he wrote. To be reminded by these poems of Keats or of Shelley (“I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers, / From the seas and the streams; / I bear light shade for the leaves when laid / In their noonday dreams”) is right on target. These Western poets were a direct influence on the Crescent Moon Society, and their Romanticism — a reliance on natural images, gestures toward the sublime, an emphasis on individual sensual experience — became the main model for this innovative group of Chinese poets, Xu primary among them.

Goodman is right, of course, about Xu’s significance to modern Chinese literary history, but I admit I’ve never grieved over his being unknown in English–until now, that is. Reading these fragments of Goodman’s translations, I’m almost ready to change my mind.

Click on the image above to read the piece in full.

ALTA’s Statement on Feeley’s Stryk Prize

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has published the judges’ statement for their selection of Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字 by Xi Xi 西西 for the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize.

The judges were Eleanor Goodman, Kendall Heitzman, and Aditi Machado. They write:

Jennifer Feeley’s superb translation captures all of the creativity, intellect, and playfulness in the verse of premier Hong Kong poet Xi Xi. In these skillfully wrought and daring poems, Feeley employs all the tools of the English language, including unforced end and internal rhyme, alliteration, wordplay, and references that run the gamut from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to fine art to contemporary politicsThis translation is essential reading, providing a window into the rich literature of Hong Kong and the larger Sinophone world.

Click the image above for the full text.

Goodman on Wang’s New Literary History of Modern China

The new “China Channel” of the LA Review of Books has published Eleanor Goodman’s review of A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang 王德威. An enthusiastic review, Goodman writes:

one theme of the book is the importance of inclusivity, exchange, and communication to understanding trends not just in literature, but in global affairs. Many of the writers under discussion here spent time outside of China, particularly in Japan, Europe, and the United States, or are impressively well read in foreign literatures. These essays address works that have been translated from Chinese into other languages, or works in other languages that have been translated into Chinese. Implicit in their juxtaposition, then, is also a picture of geopolitics and global history. These lines of communication were largely severed during the years of the Cultural Revolution; the essays from this period turn inward and are necessarily more political. In contrast, the essays engaging with the outward-looking years around the turns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries demonstrate just how fundamental literature and art are to a mutually intelligible and diverse world culture. It becomes clear reading this book that one can trace the larger history of China itself across the twentieth century by looking at its literature and its writers.

And for mentions of specific entries:

Carlos Rojas writes engagingly of the “issues of gender and gender inversion” at stake in the power dynamics displayed in a novel of the early 1800s. Amy Dooling describes the “publishing sensation that unequivocally established the commercial potential of ‘the woman writer’,” a phenomenon that is a close cousin to – if not a progenitor of – the contemporary “beautiful woman writers” who today proliferate on the shelves of Chinese bookstores with their airbrushed large-eyed portraits. Maghiel van Crevel presents a powerful examination of a “‘cult’ of poetry” that romanticizes suicide among its members, the effects of which can still be seen in more recent examples like the tragic suicide of the Foxconn factory worker and poet Xu Lizhi.

and

Enjoy science fiction? Mingwei Song’s terrific piece on a “posthuman future” and contemporary Chinese sci-fi will fascinate. You want rock and roll? Read Ao Wang’s rollicking insider’s take on the “Godfather of Chinese rock ‘n roll,” the irreverent and fascinating Cui Jian. In this meticulously edited and selected anthology, there really is something for everyone. All you have to do is look.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Foster on Qin & Goodman’s Iron Moon

Kate Hanson Foster reviews Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman, for The Somerville Times. Foster writes:

The translations by Eleanor Goodman are an impeccable achievement of negotiating two linguistic landscapes. Multiple layers of artistry are at play here, integrating the raw spirit of the original poems while also strategically fitting language into larger aesthetic dimensions. This collection reminds us of the many human complexities of industrial life, and the exceptional literary value in working class poetry. This book should be a staple in every poet’s respected collection.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Chinese Poetry on the Lucien Stryk Shortlist

notwritten_wALTA (the American Literary Translators Association) has announced the shortlist for the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, recognizing the importance of Asian translation for international literature and promoting the translation of Asian works into English.

This year’s judges are Eleanor Goodman, Kendall Heitzman, and Aditi Machado, and they’ve selected Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字, by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西 for the shortlist. The judges write:

Jennifer Feeley’s superb translation captures all of the creativity, intellect, and playfulness in the verse of premier Hong Kong poet Xi Xi. In these skillfully wrought and daring poems, Feeley employs all the tools of the English language, including unforced end and internal rhyme, alliteration, wordplay, and references that run the gamut from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to fine art to contemporary politics. In deceptively lighthearted poems such as “Excerpt from a Feminist Dictionary,” the verse rings as powerfully in the English as it does in the original Chinese. This translation is essential reading, providing a window into the rich literature of Hong Kong and the larger Sinophone world.

Also shortlisted are two works of Korean poetry, Brother Anthony of Taizé’s translation of Night-Sky Checkerboard by Oh Sae-young, and Kim Yideum’s Cheer Up: Femme Fatale, translated by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson.

Click on the image above for the shortlist in full.

Lingnan Symposium on Translation & Modern Chinese Poetry

Moving the Goalposts:
Symposium on Translation and Modern Chinese Poetry

龍門陣:翻譯與現代中文詩歌研討會

16 June 2017
LBYG06, Lingnan University
9:30–18:30

Stand interview with Chinese Poetry Translators

Stand Issue 213, Volume 15 Number 1The current issue of Stand magazine features an interview with Chinese poetry translators Eleanor Goodman, Canaan Morse, and Heather Inwood–and the translations they’ve curated for the issue. In answer to the question “What kind of poetry translates best and is any simply ‘untranslatable’?” Morse writes:

CM: Let’s not wrongly ascribe agency here. Poetry doesn’t translate; translators translate. Inspired, dedicated translators translate best. No poetry is untranslatable as such, except for the mountain of government-sponsored, sycophantic screed that is literally too painful to translate.

Click the link above for the full interview.

Walsh on Iron Moon Anthology of Workers’ Poetry

In an article titled “The Chinese Factory Workers Who Write Poems on Their Phones” on Literary Hub, Megan Walsh reviews Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman. She writes:

Similar to the way the industrial revolution in England enforced a whole new concept of time as it severed workers from seasonal rhythms, so these poets speak of disrupted menstrual cycles, the blurring of night and day and the sense of unbelonging, where both countryside and city are rendered uninhabitable (several refer to themselves as “lame ducks,” maimed and unable to complete their journey back home). Of course, they are not the only ones concerned with the spiritual vacuum of China’s brutish capitalist economy or the devastating destruction of the environment, but what makes their eco-poetry so vital is that they are not writing from a distance, but at the coalface.

They work hellish hours without job security, drink water from rivers they see dumped with pollutants and chemicals, inhale air fouled by poisonous gases. They risk injury from merciless, vampiric machines that consume not only their youth, but their body parts (in 2005 there were an estimated 40,000 incidents of severed fingers each year alone in China’s southern economic zones). And they find the time outside of the 14-hour shifts and the space in their crowded dorm rooms to engage, to write about their lives and publish it online using a basic cell phone… This confluence of China’s industrialization with easy internet access has created an unprecedented opportunity in the history of working class literature.

Click the image for the full review.

Matt Turner on Qin & Goodman’s Iron Moon Anthology

In a piece titled “A Poem of Shame: In the Words of China’s Workers” published at Hyperallergic, Matt Turner gives his take on Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman. He explains,

In 1923, not long after returning from working as a correspondent in Moscow, becoming the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and translating “The Internationale” for the first time into Chinese, Qu Qiubai wrote the poem “Iron Flower” (which I’ve translated below). It was written at an odd moment in CCP history: a literati like Qu could accomplish all he did politically and write modernist poetry, as much about the revolution as about signifying a new kind of beauty.

I’m not of a soft and smooth nature,
I’m not in the midst of glam and grace;
inside this smoke-filled factory,
forging my iron flower, fire surges.
Iron flower not receiving the warmth of sunlight,

iron flower not getting the solace of moonlight;
the unifying gale of fire in the furnace,
it cracks to burst the pistils into flame.
That place’s sound of hammers is dull,
that place’s sound of metal is staccato;
like a copper pine whipping the hard wind,
I’ve fallen in love, and can’t bear desertion.

This isn’t a fan dance, lightly circling across the floor —
but wherever you look are callouses — strong hands.
The inextinguishable flame burns in the factory,
and shines on my resolute and bold chest.

I billow labor’s rage in the iron furnace,
I envision, envision the Great Community,
and drunkenly belt out a song… the masses!
Forging my iron flower, fire surges.

… A volume of similar indictments, Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu and translated by Eleanor Goodman, collects work by Xu Lizhi and 30 other worker poets. Their poetry ranges from lyrical, like the above piece, to experimental (exemplified by another of Xu’s poems, a verbatim listing of a peanut butter production slip).

Poems are in verse, prose, and combinations thereof. Some tell stories, some list facts, some offer only fragments. The formal variety is on par with what you would get from any major anthology in the US (excepting spoken-word poetry).

The authors are not members of literary coteries, either. Aside from being poets, all they have in common is that they are migrant laborers.

Click the image for the full review.