Her answer is clearly yes. She asks, “why would I want to read a translation that has departed from the original? Wouldn’t I be better off reading original poetry in the target language, instead of a half-baked translation?”
She looks at Han as presented in two translations, one the recent Phone Call from Dalian with translations by Nicky Harman and Maghiel van Crevel, and the other the anthology Another Kind of Nation. Eberlein writes:
Why do we read translated poetry after all? If specific manners of expression and thinking, different uses of words and images, serve as the carrier of a different culture and reality, the stuff that draws in the translator and reader alike, what can translation accomplish? For poetry, language—the nuance of language—is paramount. We care not only about a poem’s meaning; we care equally, if not more, about how thoughts and observations are expressed in unfamiliar, refreshing ways. Form is part of content in poetry translation.
China Daily Europe has a feature on literary translation from Chinese to English, focusing in particular on Nicky Harman, translator of poet Han Dong 韩东 and others.
Harman, who specializes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, began learning Chinese in 1968 and previously taught translation at Imperial College London.
“At the start, my reasons for learning Chinese were superficial. I was fascinated with the culture and the great geographical region, as well as the people and the language,” she says. “Everything was different from the West.”
Equally challenging are Han’s novels and poetry, she says, as he uses beautiful words so they needed to be translated beautifully.
“As a translator I need to be a chameleon,” she tells Chinese students at the London workshop.
Translators need to be paid, and because the job often requires lots of time, especially turning Chinese works into English, Harman says many have to do part-time jobs.
“They need money to buy food, to pay rent and bring up their children,” she says, explaining that few people can afford to work as translators full time.
The journal Epiphany, with Nick Admussen as poetry editor, has published a suite of contemporary Chinese pieces, including the following:
Chun Sue 春树 (translated by Martin Winter)
Mu Cao 墓草 (translated by Scott E. Myers)
Liu Waitong 廖偉棠 (translated by Audrey Heijins)
Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚 (translated by Christopher Lupke)
Haizi 海子 (translated by Nick Kaldis)
Sai Sai (Xi Xi) 西西 (translated by Jennifer Feeley)
Hsia Yü 夏宇 (translated by Steve Bradbury)
Yao Feng 姚风 (translated by Tam Hio Man and Kit Kelen)
Han Dong 韩东 (translated by Nicky Harman)
Huang Lihai 黄礼孩 (translated by Song Zijiang)
Click the image above for an online sample, including pieces by Mu Cao and Hsia Yü:
He says the world is very big
We should go outside and look around
That’s how one wards off sadness
We should go to a gay bathhouse in Beijing
And experience group sex with a hundred people
Or go to Dongdan Park, or Sanlihe, or Madian
And know a different kind of lust
If I could visit Yellow Crane Tower
I’d have new inspiration for writing poems
He says all the great artists
Were fine comrades like us
Lu Jin at Chareviews A Phone Call from Dalian 来自大连的电话, by Han Dong 韩东 as edited and translated by Nicky Harman, and Canyon in the Body 身体里的峡谷, by Lan Lan 蓝蓝 as translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain.
While Han Dong’s poetry is manly, controlled and ironic, Lan Lan’s work is highly lyrical sensuous, delicate, with a tender sophistication … For both titles, the apt, delicious English translations add new possibilities to the aesthetic life of the poems. Despite a few missteps, imagery and wit continue to surprise, and the original sensibility is eloquently transmitted.
The Modern Chinese Literature & Culture list has posted my review of A Phone Call from Dalian来自大连的电话 (Zephyr Press), by Han Dong 韩东, edited by Nicky Harman. Here’s a passage from the middle where I make a point about how having too many anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry in English has come at the cost of single-author collections, and what that means for how we read and understand the poetry in question:
The situation of Han Dong within a social context is easy enough to assert, but harder to demonstrate in English, which involves an array of political considerations. I count eleven anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry published in English around the world since 1990, for instance, but not one single-author collection published in English outside of Asia by a poet living in the PRC until 2008 (the single-author collections of Chinese poetry that were published in English were either poets dead by 1990, poets from Taiwan or Hong Kong, or exiles). The overabundance of anthologies would seem like sufficient background within which to place Han Dong, but anthologies necessarily focus on breadth rather than depth, and as a result readers may come away with a sense of motifs common to the poetry as a whole, but not of how individual poets respond either to trends or concerns in poetry or to predicaments in society—which is where style finds definition. In other words, the anthology hides what makes an individual poet individual.
Peony Moon has published an interview with Han Dong 韩东 as conducted by his translator Nicky Harman. Here’s a teaser:
NH: You famously said that, “poetry does not go beyond language” (“诗到语言为止“). Do you still believe that? If not, what do you think are the most important principles of poetry?
HD: When I said that, it was to counter the prevailing view (in China) that “the written word must express a moral view”, and to emphasize the importance of language in poetry. But ultimately this was just another creed and, to that extent, one-sided. I understand poetry in a more rounded way now, not just as in opposition to something else. Poetry is an absolute, or at least an indication of an absolute. Analysing poetry is of limited use. Poetry doesn’t exist in the abstract, only in specific poems, in the writings of a particular poet, and we shouldn’t try to over-explain it. I dream of being able to write poems which need little or no explaining, and can be understood intuitively. Readers don’t need training but poets do, and that training ought to include how to stir people’s hearts.
Poems by Adonis (Syria), Aase Berg (Sweden), Conchitina Cruz (The Philippines), Menna Elfyn (Wales), Lee Seong-bok (South Korea), Tim Lilburn (Canada), Zeyar Lynn (Burma), Dunya Mikhail (Iraq), Peter Minter (Australia), Tomasz Różycki (Poland), Olvido García Valdés (Spain), Jeffrey Yang (USA), Raúl Zurita (Chile), Natalia Chan 洛楓 (Hong Kong), Han Dong 韓東 (mainland China), Lan Lan 藍藍 (mainland China), Un Sio San 袁紹珊 (Macau), and Ye Mimi 葉覓覓 (Taiwan), with translations into English and/or Chinese.
Click the image above for ordering and purchase information.
Featuring: Adonis (Syria), Aase Berg (Sweden), Conchitina Cruz (The Philippines), Menna Elfyn (Wales), Lee Seong-bok (South Korea), Tim Lilburn (Canada), Zeyar Lynn (Burma), Dunya Mikhail (Iraq), Peter Minter (Australia), Tomasz Różycki (Poland), Olvido García Valdés (Spain), Jeffrey Yang (USA), Raúl Zurita (Chile), Natalia Chan 洛楓 (Hong Kong), Han Dong 韓東 (mainland China), Lan Lan 藍藍 (mainland China), Un Sio San 袁紹珊 (Macau), and Ye Mimi 葉覓覓 (Taiwan)