Chinese Translation of 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei in Chinese

Eliot Weinberger’s classic study of “how a Chinese poem is translated,” Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, has just been published in Chinese translation.

Here’s a quick write-up about it, from The World of Chinese:

For American translator and writer Eliot Weinberger, this is all part of the charm of the job. Weinberger has collected different versions of “The Deer Park” from all over the world, and in his book 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, chose a select number to introduce and review, from simple transliterations to Kenneth Rexroth’s highly loose interpretation. As Octavio Paz writes in an afterword to the book: “Eliot Weinberger’s commentary on the successive translations of Wang Wei’s little poem illustrates, with succinct clarity, not only the evolution of the art of translation in the modern period but, at the same time, the changes in poetic sensibility.”

Now, Weinberger’s book has been translated back into Chinese, and published by the Commercial Press. Whether you are interested in Chinese poetry, or simply curious about the vagaries of translation, it comes highly recommended.

Click here for more.

Art Talk with Jennifer Feeley

Headshot of a blonde womanThe National Endowment for the Arts website has published its interview with Jennifer Feeley. “When Jennifer Feeley was in high school,” they introduce her,

one of her creative writing teachers encouraged students to read as many books of poetry as possible. It was during forays to the library in search of poetry volumes that Feeley stumbled upon 100 Poems from the Chinese, translated by Kenneth Rexroth … “I fell in love with them, and wanted to be able to read the originals one day,” she said.

In the interview Feeley discusses how she handles the word play of poetry by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西 —

She’s an author whose work hinges on wordplay that is firmly rooted in the Chinese language, and that she uses as both a rhetorical device and for humorous effect. It seems impossible to translate such wordplay into English.

But I love a good challenge.

— and also offers a great metaphor for understanding the work of translation: knitting.

I think of the original text as the pattern the author has made, let’s say [for a] hat. My translation is looking at the pattern and making my own hat. Of course it’s going to turn out differently depending on different factors. What kind of needles I use—do I use bamboo or metal? What’s the needle size? What kind of yarn do I use? What’s the weight of the yarn? What kind of fibers? What kind of color? I always drop stitches and add stitches—these are the accidental mistakes that happen. Sometimes they make the text better; sometimes they’re just mistakes.

I use that to think about the labor in translation. It’s so easy to say, “You’re not the real author.” But in fact when you’re the translator, that’s 100 percent your labor. If I’m knitting a hat, the hat is 100 percent my labor. Yes, I’m basing it off this pattern that someone else wrote and of course it’s going to look different than the product they originally made. But the hat I’ve made is all my work. I have the sore fingers.

Click the image above for the full interview.

Cohen on WCW’s Chinese Translations

In a piece tiled “Empty Hills—Deep Woods—Green Moss: William Carlos Williams’s Chinese Experiment,” Jonathan Cohen writes for Words Without Borders Daily about Williams’s Chinese translations and the impact Chinese poetics may have had on his poetics: “Williams had thought his invention of the triadic line that he used in The Desert Music (1954) and Journey to Love (1955) was the “solution of the problem of modern verse,” Cohen writes, but afterward, Williams

found himself at an impasse with his poetics, and subsequently set out to translate a group of poems from classical Chinese, with the help of a young poet-translator from China named David Rafael Wang (1931–77; known as David Hsin-fu Wand in academe). Wang claimed to be a direct descendant of the famous Chinese painter-poet, Wang Wei (701–61), and soon after meeting Williams, he proposed their collaboration. Not all that surprisingly, Pound—famously described by T. S. Eliot as “the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time”—brought them together.

So,

Early in 1957 the voices of poets from ancient China called to him, in the form of the free renderings (Pound style) of a small group of poems written during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and Song dynasty (960–1279) that Wang published in the February issue of Noel Stock’s Edge.

Cohen also notes,

Chinese poetry became a refuge for Williams, like the green mountains to where its poets would retreat. In June he published a review in Poetry magazine of Kenneth Rexroth’s recently translated One Hundred Poems from the Chinese. This review further demonstrates the appeal Chinese poetry had for Williams, who claimed that so far as he knew, “nothing comparable and as relaxed is to be found . . . in the whole of English or American verse, and in French or Spanish verse.” He said Rexroth’s collection was “one of the most brilliantly sensitive books of poems in the American idiom it has ever been my good fortune to read.”

“In the end,” Cohen ask, “did William’s brief experiment as a translator of Chinese poetry help him in his quest to find a workable form for his new poems?”

his experimentation with the stop-short poems of Wang Wei and others reaffirmed for him the value of their square-looking poems using the jueju form. This design is seen in his poem “The Chrysanthemum,” first published in 1960 in the New Jersey-based magazine Now and later in his final book Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), for which he posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry:

how shall we tell
the bright petals
from the sun in the
sky concentrically

crowding the branch
save that it yields
in its modesty
to that splendor?

The twenty-seven words of this poem, in which the poet contemplates how to distinguish the petals of a chrysanthemum from the sun’s brightness, seem indebted in their form to the jueju. It’s just one word short of the classic eight-line jueju. Here the flower is transformed by the sunlight, much like the moss in Wang Wei’s closing image of “Deer Park.” Other poems in Pictures from Brueghel show Williams’s use of minimal design in the style of the Chinese, following his turn away from the triadic line.

Click the image above for the article in full.

Complete Review on Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

I missed this when it was published.

M.A. Orthofer at the Complete Review has reviewed the re-release of Eliot Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. Here’s an excerpt:

These more than two-dozen variations on the text — and Weinberger’s brief observations of what they get particularly wrong (and also what they seem to get right) — also serve, in sum, as an excellent gloss on the poem. Of course, part of the exercise is to demonstrate the obvious, that there can be no ‘perfect’ 1:1 mapping of the poem — a useful lesson for those who all too readily rely on single translations of their favorite foreign poems and poets … — but beyond that the different perspectives — which is how the translation-attempts can also be seen –, from the most literal attempts to Kenneth Rexroth’s (“perhaps more ‘imitation’ than translation”), also reveal a great deal more about the original to those for whom the Chinese itself remains inaccessible.
Helpfully, Weinberger does not shy away from judging (harshly, where need be) — while giving his reasons for what went right (or oh so wrong) — a reminder, too, of how the often unknowing reader is at the mercy of what is available at the local bookstore or library, or what happens to fall into their hands.

And

The addition of ‘more ways’ to the original collection is also of interest, as it is not just more of the same: as Weinberger notes: “most or all of the English-language translators were aware of the book”, and presumably were influenced in their own takes at least in part by that, writing (or rather translating) in response to Weinberger as well.

Follow the link for the review in full.

Asian American Writers’ Workshop recommends Asian Literature

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has collected recommendations from noted American writers and publishers for what to read of Asian literature. And unsurprisingly, Chinese poets and poetry are well-represented.

Barbara Epler, president of New Directions publishing, recommends Li Shangyin and Bei Dao, among others. She writes:

I am torn between favorites—Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Tanizaki’s The Maids, Li Shangyin’s Derangement of My Contemporaries, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book—but finally want to choose Bei Dao’s new memoir, City Gate, Open Up. It’s a remarkably moving autobiography of this great poet, beautifully translated by Jeffrey Yang: a testament to stubbornness and endurance, City Gate, Open Up is a love letter to the Beijing of his childhood and to his family.

And Eliot Weinberger gives an even fuller syllabus, explaining, “‘Favorite Asian book’ is as impossible as ‘favorite European book’ or ‘favorite song.’ Sorry not to play by the rules of this game–and instead rattle off a long list of personal faves–but, after all, it’s 3000 years of writing in many languages and over a hundred years of translations that one would still want to read.” His list includes:

The many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy by David Hinton (especially, for me: the poems of Tu Fu, T’ao Ch’ien, and Meng Chiao); Ezra Pound’s Cathay (now in a facsimile edition from New Directions) and his much-maligned masterpiece The Confucian Odes; A.C. Graham, Poems of the Late T’ang; Kenneth Rexroth & Ling Chung’s translation of the Sung Dynasty woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao; Gary Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems (Han Shan); Michèle Métail’s anthology of reversible poems, Wild Geese Returning (tr. Jody Gladding). (For more translations by Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, W.C. Williams, and Hinton, and essays by them on Chinese poetry: my The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.)

As for modern and contemporary Chinese poetry: Bei Dao (various translators); Gu Cheng (tr. Joseph Allen); Xi Chuan (tr. Lucas Klein). Lastly, David Knechtges’s three-volume translation of the Wen xuan, a 6th-century anthology of the usually neglected, often ridiculed documentary poetry fu form (also Watson’s Chinese Rhyme-Prose)

It’s a lot to read!

Click on the image above for the full list.

John Timothy Wixted on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following comment is from John Timothy Wixted, translator and professor emeritus at Arizona State University:

“Remembering Burton Watson”

Tim Wixted

Harbert, Michigan

I first knew Burton Watson in 1965-66, as an M.A. student at Stanford when he was a visiting professor. He taught a Chinese poetry course which started with the “Nineteen Old Poems” of the Han. Another graduate student and I, unbidden, would bring available translations to class and read them aloud at the end of the discussion of each poem. We students would pounce on errors in translation. Watson’s approach was different. He listened intently to the rhythms and turns of phrase that a Kenneth Rexroth or Witter Bynner might use rather than gloat on their mistakes. For him, infelicity of expression was a far greater sin than inaccuracy in translation. Gradually it dawned on me, having a good understanding of a poem is quite a different kettle of fish from re-creating it in another language. Watson took for granted that specialists, including graduate students, understood the texts being studied. That wasn’t the problem, he said: “Lots know Chinese or Japanese well; few know English.”

Once we suggested that the class meet at an inn in the countryside a few miles from Palo Alto. It had a patio, a large tree, and a surprisingly green (for California) rolling lawn that dipped into a hollow. The class (what? maybe six of us) sat on chairs under the tree and discussed the day’s readings. A cat jumped on Watson’s lap, making itself at home. Now, I have seen dozens of people interact with cats, but never someone with such naturalness, such utter quiet; he was at one with the animal.

Watson was the kind of person students felt comfortable inviting to student gatherings. A group came to my place once, where the conversation was relaxed. A few days later, something from the evening came up and he made a comment that struck me by its perceptiveness. I couldn’t help asking myself: “How had I missed that? I’d been there, too, and heard the exact same words. He had no special entrée.” Then it occurred to me. He was a better listener. He was attuned not only to the words, but also especially to tone and gesture; he was more interested in absorbing—while participating and enjoying—than in impressing.As a New Yorker in Palo Alto, Watson got around on a bicycle or walked. Going home from a gathering one night, he was stopped by the police. Clearly, no one should be on the streets of Palo Alto at such an hour. His colleagues at Stanford—the McCulloughs, Ed Seidensticker, Bob Brower, and the department chair Pat Hanan—all wanted him to stay. But he was a New Yorker, one who lived much in Kyoto and Tokyo. While in California, the temporary transplant found respite in San Francisco, where he spent weekends. The mecca was post-Beat, but still thriving, and a wonderful place to walk—also, it was more congenial to his elusive personal lifestyle.

Already when I first knew him, Watson had published much. I commented on the royalties he must be taking in. He patiently explained that the volumes for the “Translations of the Asian Classics” series by Columbia University Press were royalty-free; any profits were plowed back into the series. Of course, he did freelance work for pay. And he was to be reimbursed by Kodansha and the Soka Gakkai for translations. (But his name does not appear on Hisamatsu Sen’ichi, Biographical Dictionary of Japanese Literature, which, he later confirmed for me, he had translated.) He received a subvention for his Yoshikawa Kōjirō book-translation. But as a deshi of the great scholar, whenever English was needed at Kyōdai or the Jinbun in Kyoto, they send him the material, often with a tight deadline: for example, for English-language summaries of Chūgoku bungaku hō articles.

That Watson was so prolific aroused the suspicion, and envy, of colleagues. To translate huge chunks of the Shiji with little or no annotation was unheard of at the time. It was supposed to take decades. Immediately, errors were found. (Surprise! In more than one thousand pages of text there actually were errors.) They would be pointed out, with glee or contempt. And if any alternative rendering was offered (most criticized, but did not expose themselves by offering an alternative rendering), more often than not it galomphed along as prose. I personally heard Achilles Fang exclaim, “There should be an Act of Congress to stop Burton Watson.” Fang was a great scholar; but unfortunately, he published little.

The rap on Watson was that he used Japanese renditions of difficult Chinese texts as a crib, translating from them. This overlooked several things. For one, the Japanese (as I was to learn myself over the years) is often harder to understand than the Chinese. Second, Japanese scholars usually do their homework well, citing and drawing upon vast amounts of earlier schol­arship in Chinese and Japanese that other scholars (not infrequently, the very Chinese or West­erners who criticize them) have not taken into account. Third, Watson engaged with Chinese scholarship, but his use of Japanese provided a convenient stick to beat him with; worse, it pointed up the weakness (and incompetence) of those unable and unwilling to learn from it themselves. Fourth and most revealing, most of Watson’s critics were deaf and blind to the aptness of the English of his renderings. In my experience, the patronizing attitude and backhanded compliments towards him (that one still occasionally encounters, but less frequently than thirty years ago) invariably tell more about those making them than the supposed subject of attention.

One disadvantage of Watson’s skill at writing so well is that his own essays read so smoothly, so naturally, that it is easy to miss how much is being communicated. I came to realize this when assigning students his introductions to texts and his Chinese Lyricism book. Students would sail right through; but they had to be quizzed (and encouraged to reread the material) to realize just how much was embedded there.

Watson avoided conferences. The annual meeting of the American Oriental Society, Western Branch—a small group—was held in Palo Alto the year we were there, but he did not attend. I can only guess why: scholars’ masks, the tone of some exchanges, the careerism of many, the phoney bonhomie of a few.

I visited and stayed briefly at the house Burt rented in Kyoto and the apartment he had in Wakayama for a year. His routine was to work a few hours every day, take walks, and go to a bar at night. Going with him two or three times, I noted he was treated as a regular. His natural disposition to meld into his surroundings worked to his advantage; he was the opposite of the gaijin showing off his/her Japanese. My memorable first ride on a Kyoto trolley was heading back from a bar with him.

Watson helped those who sent him material by reading it and sending along comments. He was surprised to find that, after writing and sending along several pages, some never wrote back even to say thank you. With a translation of mine, he cautioned not to stay too wedded to the original; and one locution I used, he said, made him “cringe.” His comments were invariably helpful, but too pointed for the faint-hearted.

When I last saw Burt in 2009, we met for coffee near the Akamon (Red Gate) in front of Tōdai. First thing he said, he wanted “to hear all the gossip.” I told him I’m poorly connected for that; but we knew enough people in common to make it interesting. As always, he was busy with a book project. By that time, with considerable reluctance he had gotten a computer; there was no place to get his typewriter fixed. He suggested meeting again, so we did, and that too was pleasant. I asked him about Jacques Barzun at Columbia (then already more than a hundred years old), since I was reading his huge history of Western civilization; he told me the good experience he’d had with Barzun as one of the members of his doctoral committee. The few asides he made about other people at Columbia were also interesting and revealing.

Years earlier I had wanted to recommend Burt for an honorary doctorate at my university: a way to honor him and to give our East Asia program some exposure. He would have none of it! But in 2006 I dedicated a book to him. He told me it was the first, but he didn’t recall that Bill Nienhauser had dedicated one to him in 2002. In any case, I had the publisher airmail a copy to him. I didn’t want him, already eighty, to die on me without ever having known about or seen it. It is good to see he was to live another eleven years.

April 19, 2017

www.JohnTimothyWixted.com

Contact me if you would like to add your own remembrance.

Mang Ke in Cha

ImageThe new issue of Cha is here, featuring my translation of three poems by Mang Ke 芒克 from the forthcoming October Dedications (Chinese University & Zephyr)–“Street” 街, “Even After Death We Grow Old” 死后也还会衰老, and “Late Years” 晚年:

we will hope, wishing we could live forever
wishing we were not some animal to be hunted

cooked over open flame, eaten
we will hurt, and oh we won’t be able to bear it

the white hair of the dead grows from the ground
which makes me believe: even after death we grow old

 

也还会希望,愿自己永远地活着
愿自己别是一只被他人猎取的动物

被放进火里烤着,被吞食
也还会痛苦,也还会不堪忍受啊

地里已经长出死者的白发
这使我相信:人死后也还会衰老

The issue also includes poetry by Andrea Lingenfelter, DeWitt Clinton adaptating Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese, Karen An-hwei Lee, and more. Click the image above for the link.

 

Yi-Fen Chou, the Welfare Queen of American Poetry

reganBecause it’s broadly related to Chinese poetry as understood in English, I wrote something about the recent Best American Poetry controversy, published at Drunken Boat, titled “Yi-Fen Chou: Michael Derrick Hudson and/or Ronald Reagan.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Ezra Pound’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” is a translation of a poem by medieval Chinese poet Li Bai 李白, and was part of the redefinition of Chinese poetry and Chinese culture in English in the early twentieth century. The Love Poems of Marichiko, presented as translations of young Japanese woman’s poetry but which Rexroth admitted to writing after he was nominated for a translation prize, were an attempt at an imagined empathy with a cultural other, the poems narrating a passion with an unknown lover that dissolves boundaries as the passion dissolves as well. And the Araki Yasusada phenomenon undermined our prevailing notions of authorship to expose and critique the cultural double standards at work in the American poetry industry. Yi-Fen Chou, on the other hand, looks motivated by a desire to take advantage of the prevailing notions of authorship and our double standards in the American poetry industry. And this is why I’m thinking of Ronald Reagan.

The Reagan era was when American poetry of all stripes turned inward, as if mirroring not only the government’s xenophobia, but its configuring of trade into a neo-liberal assertion of American dominance, now called globalization. Not that American foreign policy before Reagan had been anything to be proud of, but poets had responded to the Vietnam War by translating more (as they would in the Bush II era, reacting against war by increasing their curiosity about the outside world); in the years afterward the Me Decade took over American poetry, as well, and American poets wrote best about their own personal me. Hudson says “he did briefly consider trying to make Yi-Fen into a ‘persona’ or ‘heteronym’ à la Fernando Pessoa, but nothing ever came of it.” That, at least, would have been interesting, and related his pseudonym to his poetry. As is, both his lack of interest in engaging with the culture he names and his use of a minority name to get published make him the poetic equivalent of the domestic and international policies of the Reagan presidency.

Click the image above for the full piece.

Hamill’s Crossing the Yellow River Reviewed

crossingyellowriverJohn Bradley has reviewed Sam Hamill’s Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese (Tiger Bark Press) at Rain Taxi. He writes:

What is about Chinese poetry, especially the poetry of the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 CE), that has drawn so many translators over the years, such as Ezra Pound, Arthur Waley, Kenneth Rexroth, and Bill Porter, to name only a few? … Li Po’s “Questions Answered” offers a good example of that “depth and clarity and delicacy”:

You ask why I live
alone in the mountain forest,

and I smile and am silent
until even my soul grows quiet.

The peach trees blossom.
The water continues to flow.

I live in the other world,
one that lies beyond the human.

Click the image for the full review.

New Directions New Homepage

New Directions has updated their website’s homepage, with my translation of Xi Chuan’s Notes on the Mosquito making the display, right between a new collection of Kenneth Rexroth’s writings, Thomas Merton On Eastern Meditation, and Natasha Wimmer’s translation of Roberto Bolaño‘s first novel.