What aspects of the lives and works of Chinese poets and writers are under-reported or under-acknowledged in English-language writing on China? In other words, what types of question should we be asking that we aren’t currently thinking about?
This is a wonderful question because it assumes that there are aspects that are widely reported and acknowledged. I would say the American reading public lacks virtually any exposure to or understanding of the contemporary poetry scene in China. Part of this is the paucity of translations (let alone of quality translations), and part of this is a lack of interest. Compared to Chinese readers, American readers tend to be incredibly narrow in their choices. We don’t like to read literature in translation, we aren’t curious about other literary scenes, and we’d rather just be fed something sweet and simple than work to extract something from a foreign text. This is all a vast over-generalization, but I think it holds true writ large. If you go into a Chinese bookstore, perhaps a quarter of the shelf space will be taken up by translated books, many if not most of them recently translated into Chinese and prominently displayed. If you walk into an American bookstore (does anyone still do that?), you’re unlikely to find anything similar.
Goodman offers a fascinating introduction to the work of this “poet of place.” Wang’s poetry evokes a sense of dislocation and distances traveled, a sense of isolation while being embedded in a community of everyday material and nonhuman beings – corn and pigs, peanuts and windows, potatoes and blades, dust and mountains, farmers and colors. In the course of our conversation we talked about the challenges and opportunities of the translator’s practice, and Goodman was exceptionally generous in reading several of her beautiful translations and guiding us through some of the most powerful and evocative moments therein.
Click the image above or listen here.
Eleanor Goodman’s new translations of the work of Xu Lizhi 许立志 have now been published onChina Labour Bulletin. She writes:
As I translated the poetry … I was immediately attracted to Xu’s straightforwardness, honesty, and darkness. Although his life was clearly unhappy–indeed, he committed suicide a little over a year ago at the age of 24 by jumping from the 17th floor of a building in Shenzhen not far from the Foxconn factory where he worked–there is very little self-pity evident in his poetry. Rather, he casts a cold eye on the larger society, on the conditions in which he worked, and on himself … He keeps the reader (and translator) on her toes, and given his rhetorical skill and highly topical subjects, he has become an important voice in Chinese poetry, one that was silenced much too soon.
Here’s an excerpt of the poetry.
I Swallowed an Iron Moon
I swallowed an iron moon
they called it a screw
I swallowed industrial wastewater and unemployment forms
bent over machines, our youth died young
I swallowed labor, I swallowed poverty
swallowed pedestrian bridges, swallowed this rusted-out life
I can’t swallow any more
everything I’ve swallowed roils up in my throat
I spread across my country
a poem of shame
Click the image above for more. For my translations on China Labour Bulletin from November, 2014, click here.
At their annual convention in Tucson, ALTA announced that Eleanor Goodman has won the 2015 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize for Something Crosses My Mind, by Wang Xiaoni 王小妮 (Zephyr / Chinese University Press, 2014).
“‘I rush down the stairs,/ pull open the door,/ dash about in the spring sunlight…’ So begins this exquisite collection of translations by Eleanor Goodman of poems composed over the past several decades by Wang Xiaoni. In what follows we are taken out into the streets and on cross-country trains, into villages, cities and markets; we peep out through the windows of the poet’s home and sense the nostalgia invoked by a simple potato. Here is a poetry of the everyday, written in delicate yet deceptively simple language, and translated beautifully into its like in this first collection of Wang’s work to appear in English. Something Crosses My Mind offers up the refreshing voice of a poet forging her own path, neither shunning the political nor dwelling in the lyrical but gently and resolutely exploring her world in her writing,” write the judges of the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, Lucas Klein, Janet Poole, and Stephen Snyder.
Click on the image of Goodman reading for further details.
The new issue of Asymptote is out, with translations of Ya Shi 哑石 by Nick Admussen, plus a special feature on Hong Kong poetry: Tang Siu Wa 鄧小樺, translated by Canaan Morse; Lok Fung 洛楓, translated by Eleanor Goodman; Yau Ching 游靜, with translations by Steve Bradbury and Chenxin Jiang; Eric Lui 呂永佳, translated by Nicholas Wong; Lau Yee-ching 飲江, translated from the Chinese by Emily Jones and Sophie Smith; and Chung Kwok Keung 鍾國強, translated by Emily Jones and Sophie Smith.
From Chenxin Jiang’s translation of Yau Ching’s “Island Country” 島國:
There’s this island
that used to have many languages now they’ve become
one called English
another called Chinese
you’re not allowed to ever use
your own language
if your name is not an English name
the island will give you one
The ALTA blog is featuring the shortlisted titles for the Lucien Stryk Prize, and they’ve uploaded the blurb for Eleanor Goodman’s translation of Something Crosses My Mind 有什么在我心里一过 by Wang Xiaoni 王小妮.
“I rush down the stairs,/ pull open the door,/ dash about in the spring sunlight…” So begins this exquisite collection of translations by Eleanor Goodman of poems composed over the past several decades by Wang Xiaoni. In what follows we are taken out into the streets and on cross-country trains, into villages, cities and markets; we peep out through the windows of the poet’s home and sense the nostalgia invoked by a simple potato. Here is a poetry of the everyday, written in delicate yet deceptively simple language, and translated beautifully into its like in this first collection of Wang’s work to appear in English. Something Crosses My Mind offers up the refreshing voice of a poet forging her own path, neither shunning the political nor dwelling in the lyrical but gently and resolutely exploring her world in her writing.
The new issue of Pathlight is available, featuring translations of poetry by Hai Zi 海子 (translated by Eleanor Goodman), Cai Shiping 蔡世平 (translated by Canaan Morse), and Luo Yihe 骆一禾 (translated by Karmia Olutade), plus an interview with Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 by Shu Jinyu 舒晋瑜 (translated by Eleanor Goodman).
Click the image for the full table of contents and free download link.
At ChaHuiwen Shi reviews Eleanor Goodman’s translation of Something Crosses My Mind 有什么在我心里一过 by Wang Xiaoni 王小妮.
The collection provides both the Chinese and English versions of the works, allowing the reader to compare Goodman’s translations with the originals. Her translation doesn’t always provide a literal rendition of the Chinese, but it has full awareness of Wang’s poetic nuance, carries through the works’ humour and sentiments and keeps the essentials of the music. For example, there is the line “夜空背後黑汪汪的深,” which Goodman translates as “the boundless black depths behind the night sky.” Unable to reproduce the sound of the doubling “汪汪” (“wangwang”) in Chinese, Goodman cleverly uses the alliterative “boundless black” as an attempt to recreate the effect … There are many similar moments to these when the translation yields alternative imagery and themes that complicate any singular understanding of the original.
ALTA has posted the shortlist for this year’s Lucien Stryk Award, which honors book-length translations into English of poetry or Zen Buddhist texts from Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean into English.
The shortlisted titles are:
Cat Townby Sakutarō Hagiwara 萩原朔太郎, translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato (New York Review Books)