Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson

Edited by Jesse Glass and Philip Williams, this collection of essays, articles, and poems about Chinese and Japanese literature and culture celebrates the illustrious scholarly career of Burton Watson, whose range of excellent literary translations into English from Japanese and classical Chinese is second to none. Over half of the book’s seventeen chapters are articles about Chinese or Japanese literature and culture with full scholarly apparatus; the remainder are tributes to Watson in the form of poetry or informal essays.

Topics include analysis of Watson’s skills as a translator and practical critic; a cultural history of Chinese literati; masterpieces of the Ming essayist Zhang Dai; revisiting David Hawkes’ interpretations of Du Fu’s poetry; China’s earliest science fiction from the late Qing; reflections on cultural change by the early Yuan Confucianist Hao Jing; the multi-dimensional symbolism in Hagiwara Sakutarô’s poetry; the fictional portrayal of a self-sacrificing female Chinese Buddhist saint; key patterns of arboreal imagery in the 300 Tang Poems anthology; and Japanese linked verse across the centuries.

Featuring contributions by Victor Mair, Robert Hegel, Hiroaki Sato, William Nienhauser, Jonathan Chaves, Lucas Klein, Hoyt Tillman, Yenna Wu, Yoko Danno, Hua Li, Duncan Campbell, Stephen Addiss, Robert Epp, Timothy Clifford, Philip Rowland, Sam Hamill, and Gary Snyder.

Click on the image for ordering information.

Han-shan and the Cult of Translation

The Poetry Matters blog has run an article titled “Han-shan and the Cult of Translation,” reading the various translations by Red Pine (Bill Porter), J P Seaton, Gary Snyder, Arthur Waley, and Burton Watson of a poem by medieval recluse poet(s) Cold Mountain / Han-shan 寒山. The poem in question is, in Chinese,

人問寒山道  寒山路不通
夏天冰未釋  日出霧朦朧
似我何由屆  與君心不同
君心若似我  還得到其中

and the article concludes,

This poem, as succinctly as few others, provides the link between these two distinct threads of Han-shan’s journey. It can also be said that, so attractive as a man apart from the world of men, this poem gives voice to Han-shan’s own personal contemplations on the matter, naming, as it were, what he himself felt about his social standing. This insight provides a toehold for those attempting to summit Cold Mountain and commune with its lone inhabitant.

Click the image above for the full piece.

Lucien Stryk Prize Acceptance Speech

Someone was impressed enough by my acceptance speech for the Lucien Stryk prize to suggest I share it here. So I am!

It’s a wonderful honor, both for me and for Xi Chuan, to be awarded the Lucien Stryk Prize for Asian poetry in translation. Any prize awarded by ALTA would be an honor, because ALTA is one of my favorite organizations to belong to—I’ve often said that literary translators are by definition interesting people, because by definition we’re interested in more than one thing. ALTA as a group and many of its members as individuals were very helpful in offering their time, patience, insight, and scolds as I worked on translating Xi Chuan, and much of my success as a translator is owed to the wisdom I gained from them.

The Lucien Stryk prize, in particular, is also a special one for me and for Xi Chuan, because of its dedication to honoring Asian poetry in translation, and the tradition of Asian poetry in translation—in addition to Asian poetry in general—was very much in my mind when translating the pieces in Notes on the Mosquito, as it was in Xi Chuan’s over the three decades in which he wrote the poems. As an undergrad English major, Xi Chuan wrote his senior thesis on Ezra Pound’s translations from Chinese, he recently published a translation of Gary Snyder’s poetry, and in many ways Xi Chuan was reintroduced to the literary history of his own culture from the attention and presentation he encountered in Pound, Snyder, and others, including Jorge Luis Borges.

I’m also especially honored to be part of the group of previous Lucien Stryk honorees—a group that already features some of my favorite translators! I find inclusion in such a group both humbling and inspiring, as the best Asian poetry in translation has always been.

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to New Directions, to my editor Jeffrey Yang, and most of all to Xi Chuan, whose cooperation and friendship were essential to the success of this book. Until three years ago there were no single-author collections of poetry by Chinese-language poets currently living in mainland China published in the US, but now we are living in what appears to be a golden age of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation, to match what may be a golden age of poetry in China itself. Thanks to New Directions for contributing to that golden age, and thanks to Xi Chuan for helping make that golden age in the first place!

Thank you very, very much!

Call for Submissions–The Ancient Asia Issue of CHA

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now accepting submissions for “The Ancient Asia Issue,” an edition of the journal devoted exclusively to work from and about Asia before the mid-nineteenth century.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, ancient Asia has contributed to the rebirth and re-imaginations of modern literatures, not only in English (from Ezra Pound to Gary Snyder) but in other western languages as well (Victor Segalen, Octavio Paz, Bertolt Brecht…). “The Ancient Asia Issue” of Cha seeks to revivify this tradition, featuring translations and original works of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and visual art from and about Ancient Asia, to be published in September 2013. If you have something interesting, opinionated, or fresh to say about the Asian past, we would like to hear from you. Please note that we can only accept submissions in English.
We are pleased to announce that Cha former contributor, translator and scholar Lucas Klein will be joining Cha as guest editor for the issue and read the submissions with co-editors Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback.
The Reviews section will be devoted exclusively to books related to the theme of the issue. If you have a recent book that you think would be right for review in “The Ancient Asia Issue”, we encourage you to contact our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay at eddie@asiancha.com. Books should be sent to Eddie before the end of May 2013.
If you would like to have work considered for “The Ancient Asia Issue”, please submit by email to submissions@asiancha.com by 20th June, 2013. Please include “The Ancient Asia Issue” in the subject line of the email. Submissions to the issue should conform to our guidelines.

Xi Chuan at Middlebury College

Poetry Reading by Xi Chuan

Monday, March 11, 7:00-8:00 PM

Axinn Center 229, Middlebury College

“Xi Chuan’s surprising poems reach into tight corners of mind and matter, impersonal but intimate, new to be heard but also oddly familiar. An impressive voice—bold and calm”— Gary Snyder.

Xi Chuan, one of the most influential of contemporary Chinese poets, will read in Chinese; Lucas Klein (Middlebury class of 2000) of the City University of Hong Kong will read his English translations from Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems (New Directions, 2012). The reading will be followed by discussion and question and answer in English with the poet and his translator. Open to the public.

Sponsored by the Department of Chinese, Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs, Program in East Asian Studies, and the John D. Berninghuasen Professorship in Chinese.

Chris Lupke on Xi Chuan

Today’s Book Review Seminar with Xi Chuan features Chris Lupke’s review of my translations, Notes on the Mosquito. Because it’s still forthcoming in print, I can’t reproduce the entire review, but here’s an excerpt of Lupke’s intricate and sensitive take on Xi Chuan’s poetry and its importance in China and the world:

The density of his poetry aside, the other trial facing me and any reader at this time is that we have no serviceable nomenclature for what Xi Chuan is doing, particularly his work of the past ten years or so. He is engaged in an unprecedented project to recast literary expression in contemporary China. And we do not know, cannot now know, whether the results of his project eventually will be the idiosyncratic work of one man, or whether he is setting a path, one possible path, for other poets to follow. Xi Chuan exists at a special time in Chinese literary history when form has finally matured in modern Chinese poetry, when the anxiety of influence can be tempered by several generations of earlier modern poets who bore the major brunt of being compared with the illustrious tradition of classical Chinese poetry and when experiments with Western poetic structures have by and large been cast aside. The successes of free verse poets from Taiwan such as Yang Mu, Yu Guangzhong, Wai-lim Yip (Cantonese, but educated in Taiwan), and others have established a solid corpus in the vernacular mode. Obscure poets from China have safely neutralized the once suffocating omnipresence of Maospeak. Through the use of internal rhymes, rhythmic repetition, alliteration and assonance, Xi Chuan is able to forge his work in an environment in which the so-called avant-garde (which to date has not been adequately defined in China) is the norm. Liberated from the twin strictures of classical Chinese and Western prosody, Xi Chuan has become a successful bricoleur, a world poet who interacts with the tradition, engages literary giants of China’s past within his work, and also establishes a dialogue with Western greats such as Homer, Petrarch, Baudelaire, Rilke, Pound, Gary Snyder, and others. His work is the product of a creative dialectics that violates Hu Shi’s admonition to eschew literary allusion while embracing his demand to articulate things in the vernacular. The conflicts that Xi Chuan bespeaks in his poetry are not those of a clash of civilizations, of traditional and modernity or East and West. Rather, they are internal conflicts, conflicts of the soul. His work is completely personal and untranslatable to others, not just linguistically but emotionally. But at the same time, his problems are genuine and are no different than those that give pain to each of us: the death of friends and family, frustration over failure, difficulty communicating to others, weakness and ineffectuality, humiliation, fear, lust, and limitation. “The one with the greatest vision is blind” 最具视觉功夫的人竟然是个瞎子, he flatly observers, “if Homer wasn’t blind, then whoever created Homer must have been” 如果荷马不是瞎子,那创作了荷马的人必是瞎子. And he concludes at the end of the same poem: “Nietzsche the last son of Dionysus, never touching a drop, still went crazy in Weimar” 尼采酒神的最后一个儿子,滴酒不沾,却也在魏玛疯疯癫癫 (109). Genius has its consequences. It’s not a game.

Hope you can attend!

Date: 1 November, 2012 (Thursday)
Time: 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Venue: G4302, Green Zone, 4/F, Academic 1, City University of Hong Kong.

Gary Snyder in Hong Kong

Tomorrow afternoon and Monday evening I’ll be moderating events for Gary Snyder‘s visit to Hong Kong as part of the International Poets in Hong Kong 2012 events. Click the image above for the full schedule.

Snyder’s visit corresponds with the release from Oxford University Press Hong Kong of Ripples on the Surface 水面波紋, a collection of Snyder’s work translated into Chinese by Xi Chuan.

And for Susan Schultz’s take on Snyder visiting her classroom in Hawaii, click here.

Crossing Paths

Talk about “world” poetry. Xi Chuan arrives in Hongkong tomorrow morning to take part of this spring’s International Poets in Hong Kong event at Chinese University, leading workshops on American poetry and introducing his translations of Gary Snyder (Snyder will be here at the end of April; I’ll be moderating a couple of his programs). Given inopportune scheduling, though, I’m flying to New Zealand tomorrow evening to attend the Short Takes on Long Poems conference with Rachel Blau DuPlessis (and Jacob Edmond, Susan Schultz, and others), where I’ll be presenting on Xi Chuan and contemporary Chinese poetry. Unfortunately, Xi Chuan leaves Hongkong the day I get back from Auckland! At least I’ll be able to have a quick lunch with him tomorrow before I leave.