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.

New Directions May 2012 Newsletter

New Directions PublishingThe May 2012 newsletter is out from New Directions, with links and news about events, readings, and new publications, including celebrations of Kenneth Rexroth in Corte Madera and San Francisco, Nathaniel Tarn reading in Chicago and Ann Arbor, and a new book by by Robert Walser translated by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky, and of course Xi Chuan.

Ocean of Poetry

Xi Chuan on Tagore and Modern Chinese Poetry

In honor of the recently-concluded India-China Writers Dialogues, here’s a re-post from October 7, in the earliest days of the Notes on the Mosquito blog:

I just came across the following video, a lecture by Xi Chuan in English from Spring, 2009, to the Columbia University Alumni Association in Beijing. He discusses the relationship between Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 and Rabindranath Tagore in the context of China, India, and the West and their impact on modern Chinese poetry (with honorable mentions of Kenneth Rexroth, Amy Lowell, and Ezra Pound). He ends with a reading of the poem “My Grandma” 我奶奶 in Chinese, with my English translation read by Austin Woerner.

(apologies to readers in the PRC; I was unable to locate the video on Youku)

Ashbery and / or Xi Chuan

I’ve been reading, and reading about, John Ashbery recently, in part because translating Xi Chuan has put me in mind to look at the development of the prose poem in English–and Ashbery’s Three Poems (Viking Compass, 1972), of course, were fundamental in the expansion & popularization of that form–but also because Ashbery’s recently published translation of Arthur Rimbaud‘s Illuminations (Norton, 2011) have just come out, as Steve Bradbury mentioned on this blog in his write-up of the ALTA conference, and I’ve been curious about the relationship between original writing & translation in this writer (also, the model of Ashbery as a writer loved both on the margins and at the peripheries of the literary world seemed appropriate for Xi Chuan, a poet who is at once accessible and experimental, challenging and rewarding).

So I consider it a fine coincidence that I came across the following quote, which struck me as the positive version of Christopher Honey’s question of “who I am reading when I read Rexroth’s beautiful collections of Asian poetry in translation,” in Micah Towery‘s essay at The The on how “Google Translates Poetry“:

why do we want to read Ashbery’s translations of Rimbaud? I see two motivations: the first is to read Rimbaud without learning French; the second is to read Ashbery reading Rimbaud.

The second motivation, accurate as it is, only emerges when we’re dealing with the confluence of two established figures–Rexroth and Du Fu, say, or Ashbery and Rimbaud, or Kenneth Branagh and Hamlet. This does not mean that Google translate is any better for readers who want to read Rimbaud without learning French, but it does mean that, if I think few readers will be interested in reading me reading Xi Chuan, my choices may be different if I’m translating primarily so readers can read Xi Chuan without having to know Chinese.

As Xi Chuan said in an interview with the NEA, “Before I had an ‘I’ in my heart; later I found [that it was multiple] ‘I’s’ and not ‘we.’ I found that all these deceased people live in my heart.” As his translator, my goal has been to express these “I’s” of his–and perhaps find my own amongst them–rather than to subsume any of them into an “I” of my own.

Review of Push Open the Window

Over at The Rumpus, Christopher Honey has a review of Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China. It’s not a perfect review, in my mind–he doesn’t acknowledge the translators by name–but he does raise some interesting issues and questions. Here are a few I found worth considering (which is not to say agreeing with):

From my own personal experience, I always wonder who I am reading when I read Rexroth’s beautiful collections of Asian poetry in translation. Am I reading Tu Fu or am I actually reading Rexroth?

The quality and sophistication of the poets seems to go up as the poets get younger and younger. The earliest poets have a sort of untutored enthusiasm – almost like naïve art – touched by the political.

I do not believe I am going out on a limb by saying that the more recent poets in Push Open the Window are much more fully connected to the larger literary world. As barriers to the rest of the world have dropped, poets have benefitted by cross pollination with other traditions.

The number of translators also led to another potential issue. A single translator would have enabled a more accurate understanding of the development and changes within Chinese poetry over the last fifty years. With so many different translators, how can one be sure that a perceived, new rhetorical addition to the bag of tricks available to Chinese poets isn’t just a tic of one translator as opposed to another?

It is hard to escape seeing it a sort of historical or sociological document on the evolution of literary schema rather than as a work of literature. What is more, with the variations in the quality of the poems, I find it hard to believe that historical thinking was not a factor in the selection process – that this book was intended to document the progress of literary evolution and not just to provide the best literary products.

Xi Chuan on Tagore and Modern Chinese Poetry

I just came across the following video, a lecture by Xi Chuan in English from Spring, 2009, to the Columbia University Alumni Association in Beijing. He discusses the relationship between Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 and Rabindranath Tagore in the context of China, India, and the West and their impact on modern Chinese poetry (with honorable mentions of Kenneth Rexroth, Amy Lowell, and Ezra Pound). He ends with a reading of the poem “My Grandma” 我奶奶 in Chinese, with my English translation read by Austin Woerner.

(apologies to readers in the PRC; I was unable to locate the video on Youku)

Dialog on Poetry and Poetics: Chinese / American Poetry Conference

Writing from Wuhan 武汉, where we’ve just wrapped up the CAAP conference titled and celebration of Marjorie Perloff‘s 80th birthday, with keynote speakers Charles Bernstein, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Chung Ling 鍾玲 (who translated two books of classical Chinese poetry with Kenneth Rexroth in the ’70s).

I spoke on the sociology of Chinese poetry translation in English (here’s the outline of the program from Bernstein’s blog), but amidst all the impressive talks and presentations, the most valuable part of any conference will always the conversations and connections made in lobbies and over meals.