The new issue of Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) is hitting the shelves (or stacks), along with it my article “Indic Echoes: Form, Content, and World Literature in Tang Dynasty Regulated Verse,” Charles Laughlin’s “New Translators & Contemporary Chinese Literature in English,” my review of Jonathan Stalling’s Shi Zhi 食指 translation, and Nick Admussen’s review of Notes on the Mosquito. Here’s an excerpt from his review:
Biography is a crucial dimension of contemporary poetry: the drive to make biography meaningful, to use it as a means of self-expression, is shared by poets not just in China, but all over the world. Klein notes that Xi Chuan read every draft of every translation, and was important to the processes of selection and organization (xii-xiii). Xi Chuan is a scholar and translator of English and American literature. His ability and willingness to be involved in this translation from start to finish makes it valuable and rare in the world of translated literature; in addition to being the transformation of original work by a translator, Notes on the Mosquito is a direct product of the artist himself. For this reason, readers get much more from the book than they might otherwise. Concretely, the narrative of Xi Chuan’s art undergoing transformations in 1989 is one that the poet himself wants to share.
This is, however, still a translated volume, and the hand of the translator is also visible in the English versions of the poems. Perhaps because of his ability to get Xi Chuan’s opinion on his final drafts, Lucas Klein’s translations are unafraid of taking significant risks with the original texts. This feels like the correct — perhaps the only correct — strategy in dealing with these poems. Because his lyric poetry is so syntactically complex, and because his prose work moves between intricate intertextuality and tonally layered vernacular, a bold attempt to render the feeling of a poem into English is almost always preferable to the uninterpretability of a literal translation.
For more information, click the image above.
Jonathan Stalling speaks with Qiu Xiaolong at TheConversant.org.
Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龙 ) began writing poems in Chinese in 1978, when he studied under the well-known Chinese poet, Bian Zhilin (卞之琳). After moving to the U.S., Qiu shifted to writing in English, and while he has continued to write and publish poetry, he has become a popular novelist, with eight novels in the internationally best-selling “Inspector Chen” series, whose protagonist is a poet. Qiu has a collection of short stories, and several collections of classic Chinese poetry in translation as well. In this conversation, we talk about his background in modern Chinese poetry, his own ongoing dialog with Classical Chinese and his relationship to his poet-protagonist Inspector Chen. Qiu’s poetry is featured in the current issue of Chinese Literature Today magazine. This recording took place at the Montford Inn in Norman, Oklahoma in 2012.
To hear the discussion, click on the image above.
Announcing the Ancient Asia Issue of Cha (December 2013), featuring new translations of Chinese poetry by Xi Chuan, Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, Du Fu 杜甫, He Qifang 何其芳, Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚, Liu Yong 柳永, the Shijing 詩經, Laozi 老子, Du Mu 杜牧, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, and new work by Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, Eleanor Goodman, Sharmistha Mohanty, and Jonathan Stalling. The full list of contributors:
Translation: Lucas Klein, A.K. Ramanjuan, Reid Mitchell, George Life, Canaan Morse, Michael Gray, Christopher Lupke, Dulal Al Monsur, Nicholas Francis, Michael Farman, Michael O’Hara, Eleanor Goodman, Chloe Garcia Roberts
Poetry: Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, W.F. Lantry, Aditi Rao, Stuart Christie, Luca L., Xiao Pinpin, Kate Rogers, Pey Pey Oh, DeWitt Clinton, Elizabeth Schultz, Stephanie V Sears, Joshua Burns, James Shea, Sean Prentiss, Steven Schroeder, Marjorie Evasco, Arjun Rajendran, Pui Ying Wong, Julia Gordon-Bramer, June Nandy, Janice Ko Luo, Stuart Greenhouse, Barbara Boches, Cathy Bryant, Justin Hill, Eleanor Goodman
Fiction: John Givens, Xie Shi Min, Sharmistha Mohanty, Zhou Tingfeng, Khanh Ha
Articles: Jonathan Stalling, Michael Tsang
Creative non-fiction: Pavle Radonic
Photography & art: Alvin Pang (cover artist), Adam Aitken
Click the image above to access the full issue.
The most up-to-date anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, translated by American poets and edited by the executive editor of the bilingual literary journal Poetry East West. Showcasing the achievement of Chinese poetry in the last twenty years, a time of tremendous literary ferment, this collection focuses on a diversity of exciting poets from the mainland, highlighting Duo Duo (laureate of the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature) and Liao Yiwu (recipient of 2012 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade organization) along with not yet well-known but brilliant poets such as Zang Di and Xiao Kaiyu and younger poets Jiang Tao and Lü Yue. The anthology includes interviews with the poets and a fascinating survey of their opinions on “Ten Favorite Chinese poets” and “Ten Best-Known Western poets in China.”
Featured poets: Duo Duo, Wang Xiaoni, Bai Hua, Zhang Shuguang, Sun Wenbo, Wang Jiaxin, Liao Yiwu, Song Lin, Xiao Kaiyu, Lü De’an, Feng Yan, Yang Xiaobin, Zang Di, Ya Shi, Mai Mang, Lan Lan, Jiang Tao, Jiang Hao, Lü Yue, Hu Xudong, Yi Lai, Jiang Li, Zheng Xiaoqiong, Qiu Qixuan, and Li Shumin.
With translations by Neil Aitken, Katie Farris, Ming Di, Christopher Lupke, Tony Barnstone, Afaa Weaver, Jonathan Stalling, Nick Admussen, Eleanor Goodman, Ao Wang, Dian Li, Kerry Shawn Keys, Jennifer Kronovet, Elizabeth Reitzell, and Cody Reese.
Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy!
Spotlight on Literary Translator Lucas Klein
LC: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
LK: The languages I translate from are classical and modern Chinese. By classical I mean wenyanwen, or what’s sometimes called “literary Chinese,” and which was the written language of all formal and literary writing from the bronze age to the early twentieth century; despite the fact that it’s the same language and the grammar stayed the same for thousands of years, vocabulary and especially linguistic conventions did change, which means someone might be more familiar with some periods than others, and I’m most comfortable with writing from the Tang (618 – 907).
By modern I mean standard written Chinese, which is closest to Mandarin or Putonghua when spoken, but which is also what Cantonese looks like when it’s written formally (that is, I can translate from formal written Cantonese, even though I can’t speak it very well; I suppose I could translate from colloquial Cantonese if it were written down, but it would take a very long time, and there’s not much literature written in the Cantonese vernacular. I notice I’m going into this much detail only because I’ve been living in Hong Kong for two and a half years).
My main interest as far as genre goes is poetry, both medieval and modern / contemporary. Modern poetry is usually written in modern Chinese, though poetry in classical Chinese still gets written today. I’ve also published translations of short stories, essays, non-fiction, and academic prose from modern Chinese, and prose from classical Chinese.
After I lived in Paris a decade ago a non-literary translation I did from French was published, and I think I had a couple poems translated from French published as well, but I couldn’t really do that again.
LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?
When I was an undergrad, double-majoring in Literary Studies and Chinese, and taking creative writing classes here and there on the side, I decided that literary translation must be the hardest kind of writing there was, and therefore the most interesting. My logic was that you had to produce something that was almost as good as the original, but not so good that it would take the place of the original and keep people from learning that language so they could read it as it was originally written. I’m not sure what I think about that anymore, but I remember it being a revelation.
From there I read Eliot Weinberger’s Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, which showed me how translations were such an intricate process of reading, and only became more convinced of my earlier decision. I also think this had to do with being a bit disaffected and dissatisfied with the courses I just mentioned I’d been taking: caught between literature classes that were on the one hand very intellectually stimulating but at the same time rather alienated from the emotional connection I thought should be inherent to the reading experience, and then creative writing courses that were energizing and inspiring but a bit allergic to considering meaning, I turned to literary translation as a way for me to reconcile both experiences without sacrificing my antagonistic attitude, since I could still be opposed to how both programs overlooked translation. Anyway, one of my senior theses both included and was about translation, and from there it only deepened. A couple years later, starting to work for a literary journal while living in Paris, I told the editor I was interested in translation; “You’re a translator!” he asked, and, instantaneously crossing the bridge to being from being interested in, I said, “Well, yes!”
LC: What do you love most and least about this work?
LK: What I love least about the work is how roundly and thoroughly it’s ignored. We have been pretty successful at making sure that translators are at least mentioned by name when our books are reviewed, but we’re still in the one- or two-word evaluation ghetto (i.e., “faithfully translated by,” or “superbly translated by,” or “perfunctorily translated by”).
But let me give a more immediate example: I teach in the Translation program of the department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics at City University of Hong Kong, where each year our raise is calculated based in part on our research output (teaching and service also count). And yet when we publish translations—whether it’s a poem, an article, a book, or whatever—it is not considered part of our output. Let me go over that one more time: I teach translation in a translation program in a department whose name contains the word translation, and yet when I translate, it’s not considered part of my work. I’m hired to teach students about translation, but they learn from people who have no incentive to publish or even perform translation. This is an insult to me and to people like me, and I think it should be an embarrassment to the managerial staff of my university.
And it’s an extension of how often translators go unpaid or underpaid, unacknowledged and overlooked. The idea, of course, is that anyone who is bilingual can do it, though if this were the case I can’t imagine why there would be a need for translation programs in the first place. So what I hate best about translation has little to do with translation itself, but rather with how the act of translation is perceived (I mean, I hate translating when the piece I’m working on is boring, but that’s not really particular to translation; I hate conversations with people I find boring, too).
What I love most about the work is how all knowledge seems to be able to be organized according to instances of translation, and when you’re working on something, any moment could be a revelation of access towards such organization of knowledge. That sounds pretty abstract, so let me see if I can break it down a bit.
The word “cipher” is an instance of many translations: it came to Latin from Arabic şifr صفر, which means “empty, zero,” which was itself a translation of Sanskrit śūnya शून्य, meaning “empty”; but it also describes translation in more ways than one: it’s both a code, or something that needs to be deciphered or translated, but it also refers to a person who is a non-entity, both there and not there at the same time—like a translator. These are the reasons I named the translation-focused literary journal I founded “CipherJournal.”
In a less philosophical way, we come across examples like this all the time when we deal with common expressions. I was telling my class last semester how it’s natural to think that expressions have always been in our language just because we heard them first in our language. For instance, they assumed that “double-edged sword” had always been a Chinese expression, and that the English version must have been someone’s translation of the Chinese. My assumption was the opposite, and I had a lot of circumstantial historical evidence on my side (there are many English expressions that have found their way into Chinese in the last hundred years, but I can only think of “saving face” as a Chinese expression that’s gained currency in English, and words like ketchup from Cantonese): I explained that in classical Chinese, a sword, jiàn 劍, needed two blades, whereas dāo 刀, which today means “knife,” would have one. Digging a bit deeper, though, I found that the expression probably originated in Persian or Arabic. And it makes sense, too: in Europe, swords were also always double-edged; only in the middle east, where swords could be curved, single-edged sabers, would remarking on the double-edginess of a sword make any sense.
LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
LK: I have a number of projects going on right now. A long-term project to translate late Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin (ca. 813 – 858), a nearer-term project translating seminal contemporary poet Mang Ke (b. 1951) for Zephyr Press, and an academic book on how translation theory can be used to elucidate the relationship between Chinese poetry and shifting concepts of “world literature,” as well as a few recent ones, including Endure (Black Widow Press, 2011), a collection of Bei Dao translations I did with the poet Clayton Eshleman. But what still excites me most for the purposes of this spotlight is my translation of Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems of contemporary Chinese poet Xi Chuan (New Directions, 2012).
Notes on the Mosquito covers Xi Chuan’s career as a poet from when he began writing lyrical poetry in the mid-eighties to the expansive prose poems he writes today, and in translating it I had to get in touch with all sorts of matters of cultural and literary history involving China and the rest of the world, which offered me all kinds of revelations along the lines I was discussing above.
Xi Chuan is a very allusive poet, though he’s also very accessible (think Ezra Pound meets Jorge Luis Borges), drawing on a wealth of cultural knowledge for his poetry; this meant that I got to trace his references as he wrote about finding a brick engraved with Sanskrit in southwest China, or pearl falcons in the Liao dynasty (907 – 1125), or transcription on wood in the iron age.
He’s also a very internationally-minded poet, and so his allusions are not only to Chinese history, but to the interactions between China and the rest of the world (in fact, I’d say that his interest in ancient China follows his interest in Borges and Pound), which I also got to trace as he wrote about his travels to Xinjiang, or the Sand Sea Scrolls, or Paradise Lost in the Dictionary of Modern Chinese.
There are also moments where, as a translator, I had to challenge received notions of fidelity: at one point he compares something to the emerald green of bok choy; this is a nice image, but the problem is that bok choy in Chinese means “white cabbage,” so I had to find a way to bring out the play of colors unmatched by the nomenclature. I went with “as purple as red cabbage.”
I have a blog to promote Xi Chuan and Notes on the Mosquito, called “Notes on the Mosquito” and online at http://xichuanpoetry.com. You can find links there to reviews of the book, as well as to ordering information and earlier versions published in lit. mags. online; you’ll also find links to other goings-on in translation and Chinese poetry, as well as many other of my writings on translation (I write a lot of book reviews; it’s one way I try to give back to the community of writers and translators—and I got the opportunity to translate Xi Chuan because of a book review I wrote). I expect it will go on for a while; there’s a surprisingly large amount of material online about translation and Chinese poetry available for sharing. And as my new projects come out, I imagine I’ll be making announcements there as well.
Finally, and without a doubt my most important project, I have a young son (born January 12). He’s a translation, too, since we plan to raise him (at least) bilingually!
LC: Lucas, what a pleasure it was to interview you and to ponder all you have to say on this topic! And congratulations on what will undoubtedly be your greatest translation: your son.
Dear readers: Please leave any questions or comments for Lucas Klein in a comment!
Lucas Klein—a former radio DJ and union organizer—is a writer, translator, and editor. His translations, essays, and poems have appeared at Two Lines, Jacket, and Drunken Boat, and he has regularly reviewed books for Rain Taxi and other venues. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and Yale University (PhD), he is Assistant Professor in the dept. of Chinese, Translation & Linguistics at City University of Hong Kong. With Haun Saussy and Jonathan Stalling he edited The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition, by Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound (Fordham University Press, 2008), and he co-translated a collection of Bei Dao 北島 poems with Clayton Eshleman, published as Endure (Black Widow Press, 2011). His translations of Xi Chuan 西川 appeared from New Directions in April, 2012, as Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems, and he is also at work translating Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin 李商隱 and seminal contemporary poet Mang Ke 芒克.
MCLC has published Jonathan Stalling’s review of Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature. Here’s how it begins:
To begin with, Jacob Edmond’s new book, A Common Strangeness, is anything but common and signals what I hope will be a new trend toward more ambitious studies of late-modernist to contemporary poetics on a global scale. While it might be premature to announce the arrival of a “global poetics,” there is a pressing need for a space to explore this genre specific cognate of World Literature, a space to reimagine what in China operates under the title: comparative poetics (比较诗学). This is a robust area of academic research in China, yet it tends to reduce poetry and poetics to the pre WWII traditional canon: Plato, Aristotle, and Longinus; Sidney, Pope, and Johnson; Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Emerson; Poe, Arnold, and Eliot; and perhaps Frost, Williams, Hughes, and, because it is China, Pound. In English literary criticism today, however, the term “poetics” often demarks poetry discourses consciously connected to avant-garde practice along the vectors of a more radical canon: Blake, Whitman, Stein, Pound, Zukofsky, Olson, Mac Low/John Cage to Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian and others associated with the so-called LANGUAGE poets from the 1970s forward through neo-conceptual poetry, etc … One should also mention that scholars tracking trends in contemporary poetics in the West have remained problematically Anglophonocentric and have largely failed to attend to poetic shifts on a global scale unless such shifts are explicitly conversant in the idioms of innovative English-based poetics (including those within the Sinophone sphere). So while no single volume could ever hope to connect the multitudinous and heterogeneous threads of a “global poetics,” A Common Strangeness succeeds in moving in this direction in part by offering a critical lens (strangeness) through which to view poetry on a global scale.
Click the image above for the full review.
Modern Chinese Literature & Culture has published Birgit Linder’s review of Winter Sun: Poems, translated by Jonathan Stalling. Here’s how Linder begins her review:
Winter Sun is a bilingual collection of poetry by one of China’s most widely known contemporary poets. Translated by Jonathan Stalling, it marks the first collection of Shi Zhi’s 食指 poetry in English, and it is an important addition to Chinese literary history and the study of contemporary Chinese poetry in translation. The roughly eighty poems in the book span the years from 1965 to 2005 and give a comprehensive overview of the work and life of a Shi Zhi, who first came to fame as an underground poet during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and has continued with his work until now. In addition, the chronologically arranged collection offers a twleve-page introduction by literary scholar Zhang Qinghua 张清华, a “Letter to My American Friends” by the poet, and a “Translator’s Afterword” by Jonathan Stalling that explains his choice of free verse translation over a more formal approach.
Shi Zhi (Index finger), whose real name is Guo Lusheng 郭路生, was born in 1948 in Shandong province. During the Cultural Revolution, Shi Zhi was widely admired for his daring and persistent poetry that, with a few exceptions, circumvented prescribed ideological content and conventional revolutionary imagery. Following his premature retirement from the army in 1971, he experienced a prolonged period of silence and suicidal depression and was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1973. He spent many years in a mental hospital, until he was released in 2005. Shi Zhi lives with his second wife in Beijing and continues to write poetry.
Hua Li reviews Winter Sun by Shi Zhi 食指, translated by Jonathan Stalling. Here’s how it concludes:
Winter Sun is a long-overdue collection of one of the leading figures in contemporary Chinese poetry. I will close with an excerpt from one of Shi Zhi’s notable poems, “Oh, Nietzsche”: “Through so many sleepless nights he endured the torture of disease / Yet nurtured the poetic longing of solitude and indifference / An infant thought undergoes the trauma of birth / To finally cry out in an earth-shattering voice.”
R267. Contemporary Chinese Literature in Translation. (Lucas Klein, Xi Chuan, Jonathan Stalling, Eric Abrahamsen, Eleanor Goodman) Panelists will discuss the pleasures and frustrations they encounter translating contemporary Chinese literature, including issues of linguistic differences between Chinese and English, problems of copyright, the rise of web-based literature, and how to identify appropriate projects. Each panelist will read a short excerpt of recent work to illustrate. Xi Chuan will speak as a poet whose work has been translated into English and who has also translated literature into Chinese. (Room 305, Level 3)