Stern and Ming Di’s Liu Xia on Poetry Northwest

Poetry Northwest has published Jennifer Stern’s and Ming Di’s translations of poems by Liu Xia 刘霞, the missing widow of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波. Stern writes in her introduction:

Many of us here read and write poems to know that we exist, and that we are entwined with others through an art form that exists all over the world. Liu Xia is one of us, a poet. I wish there was one way to stop the erasure of a human, but I don’t think there is. Yet we can do this: read Liu Xia’s poems. They exist. We can enjoy them, or not. We can argue with them. We can pass them on to a friend and say, “Read this, this poet exists.” We can teach her poems or keep them for ourselves. We exist. And because of that, Liu Xia’s poems can speak even when her voice can’t be heard. I want to believe that it’s harder to erase this person, specific in her words and life, when we’re in the middle of a conversation.

Follow the link above for the full suite.

Admussen on Liu Xiaobo’s Love Poetry

Awkward, Diligent: Liu Xiaobo's Love PoetryIn honor of the recent passing of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, here is a link to an old piece, which had slipped by without my noticing it when it was first published: Nick Admussen’s “Awkward, Diligent: Liu Xiaobo’s Love Poetry” for his wife, Liu Xia 刘霞. Admussen writes:

In addition to the essays that have made him famous, Xiaobo generally writes two kinds of poems. One, best represented in translation by Jeffrey Yang, is a series of poems written for the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, often on the anniversaries of the event. The other is a series of poems addressed to Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia—a number of these appear in English at the end of Yang’s translation, as well as in the collection No Enemies, No Hatred, which I helped translate. The elegies for Tiananmen are persistent, ritual, endlessly harsh: they display not only the cruelty and excess of the government reaction to peaceful protest, but Liu’s own sense of responsibility, loss, and helplessness. He writes, “Even if I have the courage / to be jailed again / it isn’t courage enough / to dig up corpses from memory.”

Xiaobo’s poems to his wife, though, are the most illuminating to me. During some of his stays in prison, he was able to write and send hundreds of poems and letters to Xia. These poems waver between public documents and interpersonal contact. They wheedle playfully: “. . . think of me as a cigarette / now to light, now to rub out / go ahead, smoke!” They reach out: “One letter is enough / for me to transcend everything and face / you to speak.” They often seem, implicitly or explicitly, to apologize: “Beloved / my wife / in this dust-weary world of / so much depravity / why do you / choose me alone to endure.” But they remonstrate and mock, too: a poem on Kant is dedicated to “Xia, who has never read Kant.” Taken together, the poetry enacts a love in progress, a need, a selfless drive to care for and support the beloved that is deeply tied to a simultaneous, frightening urge to manipulate and transform him or her for self-serving purposes.

Click on the image for the article in full.

Graywolf Press on the Death of Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, human rights activist, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and poet, died on July 13, 2017–less than a month after he was granted medical parole for a terminal liver cancer diagnosis.

Graywolf Press, which published his poetry and that of his wife Liu Xia 刘霞 in English translation, now has a page in commemoration of Liu. It links to a piece by Jeffrey Yang, translator of June Fourth Elegies 念念六四, and it quotes executive editor Jeff Shots saying, “we stand in sadness and in solidarity with poet and artist Liu Xia and their families, and those many still wrongfully imprisoned for exercising freedom of speech.”

The page also includes a statement by Jennifer Kronovet, co-translator of Liu Xia’s Empty Chairs 空椅子:

Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia have been powerful symbols in the fight for democracy in China. But reading their poetry, one is reminded that in addition to being symbols, they are also real people, full of humor and insight and love for each other. I hope that Liu Xiaobo continues to be a powerful symbol in China and across the world, but I also hope that Liu Xia will have the chance someday to just be a person, free.

Click on the image above for the page in full.

Chinese Poetry in End-of-Year Lists

If the end of the year is a time for lists, the beginning of a year is the time for taking stock of the Chinese poetry titles that appeared in last year’s “best of” lists. Here are three:

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation is a $3,000 prize for a book-length translation of poetry into English. The 2015 includes David Hinton’s translation of The Late Poems of Wang An-Shih 王安石 (New Directions). Wang was an economist, statesman, chancellor and poet of the Song Dynasty; he became prime minister, the publisher writes, “and in this position he instituted a controversial system of radically egalitarian social reforms to improve the lives of China’s peasants … It was after his retirement, practicing Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and wandering the mountains around his home, that Wang An-shih wrote the poems that made his reputation. Short and plainspoken, these late poems contain profound multitudes the passing of time, rivers and mountains, silence and Buddhist emptiness.”

Not a prize-granting organization, The Washington Post nevertheless also came up with a list of “The best poetry books for December.” Included was Empty Chairs: Selected Poems by Liu Xia 刘霞, (Graywolf),translated by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern. The collection draws from thirty years of Liu’s poetry, including what she’s written after she was placed under house following the imprisonment of her husband, Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, who was sentenced for eleven years in 2009 (he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010). “In several of her chiseled poems,” the Post writes, “Liu uses dolls to convey what she cannot—and yet her voice still asserts itself, coming through bold and vital.” Empty Chairs is also the only translation from Chinese to make it onto World Literature Today‘s list of “75 Notable Translations of 2015.”

Finally, at Three Percent non-poetry reader Chad Post has come up with his list of “poetry collections I would’ve read and loved, if I read poetry. Based on my general knowledge of publishers, translators, and titles, I’m pretty much positivie that these are the best collections I should’ve read this year.” In this list he includes my translation October Dedications by Mang Ke 芒克 (Zephyr / Chinese University Press). The book isn’t actually out yet, but I can’t resist including it here because Chad writes, “Lucas Klein is a really stand-up guy who does a lot to promote Chinese poetry. He’s also been a judge for the PEN Translation Prize, and been mistaken for me at several ALTA conferences … He also likes to get all up in my shit about mis-alphabetizing Chinese authors in my various lists and posts. This is totally my fault, although it’s not always that easy to figure out …The beauty of this list that I’ve put together though is that, even if “Ke” is his surname, this book is STILL properly alphabetized. I CAN NOT BE BEATEN TODAY.” Congratulations, Chad. Mang Ke is a pseudonym, but yes, it should be alphabetized under M. And since the book won’t be out until sometime later in 2016, you still have time to read it and put it on this year’s list again.

Even more Mo Yan

Translators need to strike a balance“An Epic Tale of Comic Realism”: a reader’s words on Life & Death are Wearing Me Out.

Peter Tieryas Liu on Sandalwood Death:
The best of Chinese literature doesn’t just give insight into the Chinese condition, but that of all humanity. Mo Yan’s specialty is the uniquely local spectrum through which he plays out the tragicomedy of life as in this case with a rebellion in a small town and its cast of eclectic characters.

And Mo Yan on translation in conversation with Adonis:

“From the perspective of literature and art, it’s undoubtedly a huge loss. My attitude is, forget the translators when you write. Care not about whether they feel happy to translate. The real talented translators aren’t afraid of difficulties,” he says.

[not that I know who translated that passage]

In “White Happy Doves,” Nikil Saval reviews Change, Pow, and Sandalwood Death for the London Review of Books:

When the English translation of Mo Yan’s novel Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996) was published in 2004, it was seen by some critics as his bid for global literary prestige. It hit all the right notes: it was a historical saga of modern China featuring a proliferation of stories, it was unceasingly violent and nasty, and it came near to puncturing Party myths … the Washington Post praised Mo Yan for having ‘spoken out courageously for freedom and individualism’. Here was a liberal voice in repressive China. ‘The Swedish Academy, which leaps at any chance to mix literature with politics,’ he concluded, ‘might well find in Mo Yan just the right writer through whom to send a message to the Chinese Communist leadership.’

Last year the Academy did indeed give Mo Yan the prize. But this time the Nobel’s literature-politics mix came out all wrong. Rather than taking it as a targeted affront, as it had with the Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo two years earlier, the Chinese Communist Party was ecstatic. Li Changchun, minister of propaganda, wrote to congratulate Mo Yan on a victory that ‘reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing national strength and influence of China’. Mo Yan’s dissident reputation in the West, it turned out, was false. He was an established figure in Chinese literary officialdom. He had been a member of the Communist Party since 1979. He was vice chairman of the China Writers’ Association. He had participated in a public ceremony in which he copied out several Chinese characters from Mao’s Zhdanovite ‘Talk at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art’, a text which declared the subservience of literature to the class struggle. And in Stockholm before receiving the prize, Mo Yan spoke up in favour of censorship: it was, he said, a bit like airport security. The cadres were already moving swiftly to turn his ancestral village into a literary theme park.

Brendan O’Kane, interviewed by Jeffrey Wasserstrom for LA Review of Books:

Mo Yan didn’t send Liu Xiaobo to jail, and there is absolutely nothing he could say or do, up to and including getting the words “FREE LIU XIAOBO” tattooed on his bald pate, that would do one bit of good for Liu Xiaobo or anyone else in China. (This is especially clear given the Chinese government’s continued persecution of Liu’s brother in law Liu Hui, and the ongoing extrajudicial house arrest of Liu’s wife Liu Xia: the authorities are impervious to moral argument, and they have no shame.) Mo is a deputy chairman of the China Writers’ Association, which is to say that he has slightly less power, in actual terms, than your average deputy chairman at the National Endowment for the Arts in the US. Meanwhile, as much as we might wish otherwise, moral/political courage and literary merit are not the same thing — if writing bad poetry were a criminal offense, Liu Xiaobo would never see daylight again. So I wrote that post on Rectified.name in hopes of getting people to disentangle the two. Once you do that, and once you actually read Mo Yan’s books, I think you find that he’s a much sharper writer than he’s been given credit for. His books don’t make any kind of overt criticisms of the system — perhaps because he’s overly cautious; perhaps because he’s just not much interested in lifting his gaze from the village level — but they are all, in one way or another, about the human suffering created, perpetuated, and intensified by that system.

Julia Lovell on Liu Xiaobo’s No Enemies, No Hatred

200Julia Lovell’s review of No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems of Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, edited by Perry Link, Tienchi Martin-Liao, and Liu Xia, is now up on Modern Chinese Literature & Culture. Here’s an excerpt:

Reflecting Liu’s own political turn after 1989, the editors of No Enemies, No Hatred have focused on his more engaged writings–those that led to his most recent prison sentence and that played a significant part in his winning the Nobel Prize–rather than on his literary criticism. Unsurprisingly, the events of spring 1989 loom large throughout the collection, for these protests and their aftermath would prove to be a turning point in Liu’s career and personal life. In the years preceding 1989, he had won notoriety in China primarily for his contrarian literary and cultural views: for excoriating Chinese creative writing of both the Maoist and post-Mao eras. “Shit, the Chinese are just hopeless,” he impishly declared, condemning the new avant-garde writing of the 1980s as stagnant, repetitive, and imitative. In America when the Tiananmen protests broke out, he vowed to “do” rather than “just talk,” and flew back to Beijing to become one of the movement’s leaders. His involvement in the demonstrations led to the loss of his Beijing teaching post, two jail sentences before his 2009 trial, and a publication ban in mainland China.

Despite being a translator herself, Lovell does not mention translation in her review. Nor does she discuss the poetry included in the volume, though she does mention, parenthetically, that “(Those interested primarily in Liu’s poetry can refer to a new parallel-text edition translated by Jeffrey Yang, entitled June Fourth Elegies.)” I would have been interested in seeing a review that could look at both books together, or at least describe the role of the poetry in assessing Liu’s writing–why, for instance, is it included in No Enemies, No Hatred at all?