Ndesandjo’s Li Shangyin at A Tang Poet from Nairobi

no-21A Tang Poet from Nairobi is a new website featuring the collected poems of Li Shangyin 李商隱 as translated by Mark O. Ndesandjo, with his calligraphy and often contextualized with anecdotes or fictions of his own. Such as:

I once visited a city in a strange land called America. The people there were stoic and violent. They also were so alone, as though they had never had a father or a mother, and were always flying in the cold air without roots to tether them to the earth. The path of solitude, their president had declared, is the only one worth valuing. It was winter in Boston. As was my wont, I spent the evening looking for sordid pleasures, or love for sale. The alley was narrow, surrounded by brick walls far larger and higher than anything in Chang’An. In the darkness I saw the figure of a woman. Her body was lithe, and the shadows slashed her face. With a little hesitation I passed her and then, a few yards away, turned back. She was waiting for me by some large refuse bins …

The story continues, and is followed by his translation:

Princess Shou Yang’s marriage makeup is bold,
Noble slanted eyebrows touch a forehead sparkling with gold,
Seeing me, she pretends to blush, as usual just for show!
Regarding this whoring rascal, how little does she know!

寿阳公主嫁时妆,
八字宫眉捧额黄。
见我佯羞频照影,
不知身属冶游郎。

Ndesandjo writes:

I want the general public to know the Chinese wrote great poetry, and help avoid searching for this great poet’s works in bits and pieces. Furthermore, not being a professional translator, I wanted to post my interpretations as a work in progress that will benefit from other’s input and ideas, including academics. Finally, I think it is important to express personally how Li Shangyin’s insights can inspire across three cultures: America, Kenya, and China.

Click the image above for all the poems.

 

Klein on New Premodern Chinese Poetry Translations in LARB

2016-07-15_1030The Los Angeles Review of Books @lareviewofbooks has published “Tribunals of Erudition and Taste: or, Why Translations of Premodern Chinese Poetry Are Having a Moment Right Now,” my take on what looks like something of a resurgence in translation into English.

I use a nineteenth-century debate between Matthew Arnold and Francis Newman to frame a review of Chloe Garcia Roberts’s translation of Li Shangyin 李商隱, David Hinton’s translation of Wang An-shih 王安石, an anthology / travelogue by Red Pine (Bill Porter), and Stephen Owen’s translation of the complete Du Fu 杜甫, alongside Ira Nadel on Ezra Pound and the New Directions re-release of Ezra Pound’s Cathay (and mention of Gary Snyder, Bob Perelman, Paul Kroll, Eliot Weinberger, and more). Here’s how it ends:

The stakes of poetry translation from Chinese are indeed the stakes both of how we understand translation and how we in the English-speaking world understand China. Translation is neither simply a matter for scholars to judge, nor is it something that can be left to the unaccountable imaginings of revelers in poetry — any more than China should be something only specialists or tourists alone can pronounce upon. Rather, bringing expertise and excitement together, translation can help expand our conceptions of poetry and of China, demanding more from ourselves, and more from it. The contentiousness may remain, but it can motivate us to create new and better representations.

So will American poetry turn outward again, and in the process help redefine China as more than a strategic competitor, accused of currency manipulation by presidential candidates, or more than a polluted manufacturer to which we outsource abuses of human rights and labor? Will Chinese literature prove an old repository of poetic presentation from which the United States can both learn and create new beauty? Certainly larger historical and socioeconomic forces will determine the directions our poetry turns, but insofar as what we publish has any role, I see reasons for optimism — and in that optimism, a readiness to engage in the tensions of global and local that inhere in translation.

The recent poetry collections covered in this essay demonstrate a hunger for new ways of understanding and appreciating China, and more are coming soon … With these additions reaching new audiences, we may see premodern Chinese poetry making it new once again.

Click the image for the full article.

Roberts & Chen on Li Shangyin

Li_Chao-tao_001Chloe Garcia Roberts and Guangchen Chen 陳廣琛 talk about Li Shangyin 李商隱 at The Critical Flame. Roberts says:

The poem opens with the sounds of imminence, the Eastern Wind, and with these rustlings of the approaching rain the rain arrives. Where? To the subject. Who is not there, to the reader who is not named, to the I. Here. By not giving you a subject, the I is fractured, you are there, he is there, the I is there. In the next line the focus moves back out, beyond () to another sound which calls our/the I’s attention, out on the horizon, the edge of hearing/awareness, the thunder, and just like that in the first pair of couplets, Li Shangyin has succeeded in pulling us forcefully into this poem along the path of sound and then repelled us back out also following sound at an incredible, almost breakneck speed. We are stunned, disoriented, and thus in the perfect state to descend further into his world.

She’s talking about this poem, and her translation:

Untitled

Rush, rustling of the East Wind, a fine rain arrives
Beyond the Lotus Pool, is a delicate thunder

Golden Toad bites the lock, burning perfume enters
Jade Tiger weights the cord above the water well, circling

Young Secretary Han: glimpsed by Lady Jia though curtains, briefly
Talented King Wei: bequeathed Princess Fu’s pillow, only afterward

Spring Heart, refrain from competing with flowers in effusion
One measure of longing, one measure of ash

無題
颯颯東風細雨來,芙蓉塘外有輕雷。
金蟾嚙鎖燒香入,玉虎牽絲汲井回。
賈氏窺簾韓掾少,宓妃留枕魏王才。
春心莫共花爭發,一寸相思一寸灰。

Click the image above for the dialogue in full.

Li Shangyin & Chloe Garcia Roberts in the Harvard Gazette

Chloe Garcia Roberts605The Harvard Gazette has a feature on Chloe Garcia Roberts and her translation of Derangements of My Contemporaries 義山雜纂 by Li Shangyin 李商隱, forthcoming from New Directions.

For a poet writing in late Tang-era China, Li Shangyin sure was cheeky.

“The list-poems document one person’s reactions to and interactions with the mundane aspects of his life, and there isn’t anyone alive who can’t relate to that,” said Garcia Roberts.

She calls the list-poems funny and bitter.

“They read like a notebook that you keep in your pocket to write down things that irritate you. One of the poems I really love I’ve translated as ‘Scenery Killers,’ but the basic idea is chronicling things that spoil your enjoyment of your surroundings.”

For the full article, click the image above.

Announcing the Ancient Asia issue of Cha

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.

PEN Translation Grants for Chinese Poetry

The PEN/Heim Translation Fund has announced its 2013 winners.

The Fund’s Advisory Board are: Susan Bernofsky, Barbara Epler, Richard Sieburth, Lauren Wein, Eliot Weinberger, Natasha Wimmer, Matvei Yankelevich, and chair Michael F. Moore.
Special congrats to:

Chloe Garcia Roberts for her translation of Escalating Derangements of My Contemporaries by the 9th century Classical Chinese poet Li Shangyin. Garcia Roberts’ translation of these spare, immediate poem-lists is lyrical and intuitive. (To be published by New Directions)

Not Poor: Indications

Thoroughbreds sighing.
Wax tears on candles.
Chestnut shells.
Lychee husks.
Stacks and heaps of money, rice.
Mother of pearl hairpins, abandoned.
Jargon of orioles, swallows.
Eddies of fallen blossoms.
Songs sung atop a tall building.
Books read aloud.
Sounds of grinding medicine, rolling tea.

Eleanor Goodman for Something Crosses My Mind, selected poems of Wang Xiaoni. Xiaoni’s sharp apprehensions of daily life have made her, since the 1970s, one of China’s most influential poets. Goodman’s pitch-perfect translation makes Xiaoni’s work available for the first time in book form in English. (To be published by Zephyr Press)

Typhoon, No. 1

The night of the typhoon, the sky was full, the world destroyed.

From west to east, herds of black cattle rolled on their heads
the wind’s hoofs beat at the windows
everything on the ground rose to the sky.

The people were packed into the night
the night was packed into an exploding drum.
The wildly arrogant air
presented rolling tanks from another world.
There was no sign of resistance
that’s just the way the extraordinary happens.

And also:

Jeremy Tiang for Nine Buildings by Chinese playwright Zou Jingzhi. These blunt, tamped-down translations of tales of youth during cultural revolution in Beijing address the grim cruelty of that time. Tiang’s language has a tang and matter-of-factness that effectively communicates the harshness of this text. (Available for publication)

Li Shangyin’s Random Lists

from The Za Zuan 雜纂 by Li Shangyin 李商隱, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts:

Li ShangyinINTOLERABLE

A fat man in summer months.
Entering the dwelling of a hateful wife.
An impoverished scholar taking an examination.
Maliciously scolding other people’s servants, slave girls.
Discovering repellant behaviors in colleagues.

for more, click here.

Chinese Literature Dissertation Reviews: Foreign Echoes & Discerning the Soil

Dual Translation, World Literature, Chinese Poetry  Dissertation Reviews has posted Brian Skerratt‘s review of my dissertation, Foreign Echoes and Discerning the Soil: Dual Translation, Historiography, and World Literature in Chinese Poetry. Here’s how it begins:

Lucas Klein’s dissertation, Foreign Echoes and Discerning the Soil: Dual Translation, Historiography, and World Literature in Chinese Poetry, is notable both for its ambition and its erudition. In seeking to answer how the “Chineseness” of Chinese poetry, its quality of being or seeming natively Chinese, is produced in and through acts of translation, Klein not only tackles Modernist-inspired poetry from the twentieth century, where “Chineseness” is a salient issue, but also the monolith of the Chinese literary tradition itself, including such ultra-canonical figures as Wang Wei 王維 (692-761) and Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770). In practical terms, this impressive breadth of scope results in a dissertation in two parts: the first featuring studies of modern poet Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 (1910-2000) and contemporary poet Yang Lian 楊煉 (b. 1955), and the second reaching back to Tang Dynasty masters Wang Wei, Du Fu, and Li Shangyin 李商隱 (813-858). By avoiding the urge to arrange his chapters chronologically ― or, at least, by putting the modern before the pre-modern ― Klein refuses to allow “traditional China” or its poetic stand-in, Tang regulated verse, their place as the seat of pure Chineseness, untarnished by contact with the modern West; in fact, one of his goals is to situate the Tang Dynasty back into a global network of cultural interaction and exchange. The arrangement of chapters further serves to illustrate Klein’s methodology, which is to allow the insights of deconstruction, Marxist thought, translation studies, and contemporary avant-garde poetics to illuminate the distant past ― and vice-versa. Klein’s dissertation serves the larger goal of deconstructing the binaries tradition/modernity, native/foreign, textual analysis/high theory, and, most centrally, original/translation.

Spotlight on Literary Translator Lucas Klein

from Intralingo:

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).

Pic1

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?

Pic2LK: 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!

klein-lucas-2007Lucas 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.

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and Beyond

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and BeyondThe new issue of Mānoa is available, edited by Frank Stewart with Fiona Sze-Lorrain:

Sky Lanterns brings together innovative work by authors—primarily poets—in mainland China, Taiwan, the United States, and beyond who are engaged in truth-seeking, resistance, and renewal. Appearing in new translations, many of the works are published alongside the original Chinese text. A number of the poets are women, whose work is relatively unknown to English-language readers. Contributors include Amang, Bai Hua, Bei Dao, Chen Yuhong, Duo Yu, Hai Zi, Lan Lan, Karen An-hwei Lee, Li Shangyin, Ling Yu, Pang Pei, Sun Lei, Arthur Sze, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Wei An, Woeser, Yang Lian, Yang Zi, Yi Lu, Barbara Yien, Yinni, Yu Xiang, and Zhang Zao.
Sky Lanterns also features images from the Simple Song series by photographer Luo Dan. Traveling with a portable darkroom in remote, mountainous regions of southern China’s Yunnan Province, Luo Dan uses the laborious nineteenth-century, wet plate collodion process of exposure and development. In exquisite detail, he captures a rural life that has remained intact for centuries.

Click the image for ordering information.