My review of Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼 and translated by Brian Holton (Bloodaxe, 2017), is out in the new issue of Translation and Literature (Vol. 27, issue 2).
It’s paywalled but for subscribers and certain academic institutions, but here’s a paragraph free:
That so much of Yang Lian’s poetics – indeed, his mythopoetics – centres on the Chinese past is a particular challenge for Holton as translator. Of course, some critics from China and elsewhere have accused Yang of writing a China of and for western understanding – but why not? In any event, that it is for westerners to understand does not make it easier to translate. Holton has not shied away from providing notes to mark moments where Yang makes allusions to people and places that fall outside the expected anglophone frame of reference. Mostly, however, it is in the strength of his diction that the power of his verse lies, just as the force of Yang Lian’s word choice is what makes his poetry most compelling in Chinese. The thought and emotion of Yang Lian’s writing are immanent in the words he uses – and the same is true of Holton’s translations.
The Inferno Tango analyzes the gender politics of modern Chinese intellectuals through examining modern Chinese poetry from the 1910s to the 1980s. The author focuses on selected poets and closely examines their figurations of gender that refract the construction of modern subjectivity in phases of China’s modernization. To this end, the author combines close readings of poetry with detailed analyses of the larger historical contexts, which include the poets’ biographical narratives and archival and first-hand materials that are excavated by other scholars and the author. Meng’s research focuses mainly on Guo Moruo, Wen Yiduo, and Chen Jingrong among the earlier generations, and more recent poets such as Bei Dao, Mang Ke, and Shu Ting who emerged from the literary activism of Today! in the late 1970s. The title’s central phrase, “the inferno tango,” is taken from female Chinese poet Chen Jingrong’s 1946 poem “Diyu de tangewu” (“The Inferno Tango”), vividly capturing the discursive tension between love and violence. Through sensitive and close readings, Meng fruitfully delineates manifold factors that have contributed to the Chinese poets’ construction of their gendered subjectivities in times of profound national crisis. Meng argues that the masculinity of the poetic canon in modern China was “naturalized and perpetuated by the discourses of love, marriage, nationalism, revolution and industrial progress as well as by the indigenous literati tradition” (p. ix).