At Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Maghiel van Crevel reviews Iron Moon the film (directed by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and Wu Feiyue 吴飞跃) and the anthology (edited by Qin Xiaoyu, translated by Eleanor Goodman).
The review begins:
Poetry is the most ubiquitous of literary genres. It is written and recited and read and heard for families and festivals, in love and on stage, in prayers and protests, at imperial courts and in factories. In China, associations of poetry and factories, and of poetry and manual labor at large, are anything but far-fetched. One recalls the story of poetry production, which is really the only right word here, being whipped up to keep up with steel production during the Great Leap Forward (quite aside from the results in terms of quality, for poetry or for steel). And less frenetic, more sustainable instances of the linkage of poetry and labor throughout the Mao era, with factories – and drilling rigs, construction sites, and so on – generally depicted as good places. But today, poetry + factories + China conjure up a different picture. One thinks not of the proletariat but of the precariat, and not of glory but of misery.
And on the translation and the poetry, he writes:
Goodman is to be commended for the many places in which she handles the particulars of migrant worker poetry astutely in terms of style. If we allow for some generalization, this poetry tends to be less polished – to cite a cliché that may fit the present context better than most – than professional writing. It is, for instance, often unsteady or unbalanced in terms of register and tone, line length, rhythm, and so on. This raises the old question of whether the translator is at liberty to “improve the original,” and of what determines whether the changes they make are improvements. Beyond textual and linguistic issues, this question often involves reflection on cultural difference and, sometimes, more directly political considerations of what one wants the translation to be and do – with migrant worker poetry, prison writing, and so on as cases in point. On the whole, in this respect, Goodman’s engagement with the texts is highly effective, especially because she knows when to honor the literal, and when to shun it. For the great majority of the poems, she treads a fine line between respecting the original and ensuring that the translations read well, maximizing the chance that the reader will stay tuned and get the message. In all, the poetry in Iron Moon remains true to life in translation, so to speak.
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