Narayanan on Bei Dao at Poetry Daily

Poetry Daily has published Vivek Narayanan on “a Poem’s Re-Entering History,” looking at Bei Dao’s 北岛 famous poem from the seventies, “The Reply” 回答 (elsewhere “The Answer”).

“I personally like to read multiple translations against each other,” he writes:

both as a way to see and triangulate what the translator is doing and to think/feel my way into what the source poem could be like. Read the translation on our site, by Clayton Eshleman and Lucas Klein, with its clear lyrical growl, to my ear more explicit in its political echoes, against this one by Bonnie S. McDougall, a little stilted in its language but also perhaps more indirect. If you can, read the version co-authored by Donald Finkel, a seemingly “free”-er version with surprising results. And do read this fourth—unattributed—translation on a “Learn Chinese” site, also very useful, despite what will feel to some like a mildly alienated idiom. Finally, listen to the dramatic recitation of the original Chinese linked on the “Learn Chinese” site above and consider to the extent possible, without fear, the transliterated Chinese. (Tip: also try hovering your mouse over the original Chinese characters!) 

If we look at just the first two lines—

bēibǐ shì bēibǐ zhě de tōngxíngzhèng 
gāoshàng shì gāoshàng zhě de mù zhì míng

—we see that the key lies in repetition—bēibǐ (“contempt,” “debasement,” “shabbiness”) in the first line and gāoshàng (“gravitas,” “nobility,” “refined,” “lofty”, etc.) in the second. This is no simple repetition, however. The translators show us how the word in each case is being turned against itself, in a visceral struggle for personal existence and for language to have any meaning or purpose at all. From this point, the poem should start to emerge. The line “I-do-not-believe”—four stark characters isolated by dashes, like cries from deep within—continues to resonate even in the moment from which I write, thinking of the protestors in Hong Kong, the silencing of Kashmir, or the current American era, with a head of state whose every utterance stokes disbelief. 

(links to the translations and the “Learn Chinese” site in the article).

“But it would be glib to stop there, because we have not yet grappled with the poem’s final paradox: between internal and external, public and private,” Narayanan continues. Click here to read more.

The 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize Shortlist

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October Dedications, shortlisted for the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize

October Dedications, the selected poetry of Mang Ke 芒克 (Zephyr Press), translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein with Jonathan Stalling and Huang Yibing, has been shortlisted for the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, administered by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)!

Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box, poems by Lok Fung 洛楓 (Zephyr) translated by Eleanor Goodman, is the other book of poems translated from Chinese to make the shortlist.

Books by Kim Hyesoon translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi, by Shrinivas Vaidya translated from the Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, and by Jin Eun-young translated from the Korean by Daniel T. Parker and YoungShil Ji, have also made the shortlist. This year’s judges are Chenxin Jiang, Vivek Narayanan, and Hai-Dang Phan.

Click here for the full descriptions of the shortlisted books.

Chinese Literature Today free for Women in Translation Month

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Chinese Literature Today, free for Women in Translation month

The current issue of Chinese Literature Today is free throughout August for Women in Translation month.

The main feature of the issue is of Newman Prize Laureate, the Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西, with introductions, appreciations, interviews, and new translations by Jennifer Feeley, Tammy Ho, Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁, Steve Bradbury, Wei Yang Menkus, and others.

The issue also features an appreciation of scholar Maghiel van Crevel, of Leiden University, with an interview with Jonathan Stalling and an appreciation by Nick Admussen, as well as an article by van Crevel about migrant worker poetry in China.

There is also a suite of contemporary Chinese poetry, by Wang Jiaxin 王家新 (translated by Diana Shi & George O’Connell), Che Qianzi 车前子 (translated by Yang Liping & Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas), Li Dewu 李德武 (translated by Jenny Chen & Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas), Hu Jiujiu 胡赳赳 (translated by Matt Turner & Haiying Weng), Mi Jialu 米家路 (with translations by Lucas Klein, Michael Day, and Matt Turner & Haiying Weng), Huang Chunming 黃春明 (translated by Tze-lan Sang), and Chen Li 陳黎(translated by Elaine Wong).

Click here to read for free!

“Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature at Cha

Announcing the June/July issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, the “Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature, edited by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Lucas Klein, along with a special feature of poems by and in mourning of Meng Lang 孟浪.

The following CONTRIBUTORS have generously allowed us to showcase their work:

❀ REMEMBRANCES
Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, Gregory Lee, Ding Zilin (translated by Kevin Carrico), Andréa Worden, Shuyu Kong (with translations of poems by Colin Hawes), Ai Li Ke, Anna Wang, and Sara Tung

❀ POETRY
Bei Dao (translated by Eliot Weinberger), Duo Duo (translated by Lucas Klein), Liu Xiaobo (translated by Ming Di), Xi Chuan (translated by Lucas Klein), Yang Lian (translated by Brian Holton), Xi Xi (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Meng Lang (translated by Anne Henochowicz), Lin Zhao (translated by Chris Song), Liu Waitong (translated by Lucas Klein), Chan Lai Kuen (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Mei Kwan Ng (translated by the author), Yibing Huang (translated by the author), Ming Di (translated by the author), Anthony Tao, Aiden Heung, Kate Rogers, Ken Chau, Ilaria Maria Sala, Ian Heffernan, Reid Mitchell, Lorenzo Andolfatto, Joseph T. Salazar

❀ ESSAYS
Scott Savitt, Wang Dan (translated by Karl Lund), Hoi Leung, Louisa Lim, Jeff Wasserstrom, Lian-Hee Wee, Jed Lea-Henry, Jason G. Coe, and Guo Ting

❀ INTERVIEW
Han Dongfang and Lucas Klein

❀ FICTION
Boshun Chan (translated by Garfield Chow, Stephanie Leung and Felix Lo) and Christopher New

❀ PHOTOGRAPHY & ART
Daniel Garrett and Anonymous

❀ MENG LANG
Denis Mair, Meng Lang (translated by Denis Mair), Liu Waitong (translated by Lucas Klein), Jacky Yuen (translated by Nick Admussen), Tang Siu Wa (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Kwan Tin Lam (translated by Eleanor Goodman)

Click on the link above to read the issue in full.

India-China Dialogues on Almost Island

The Monsoon 2019 issue of Almost Island is here, and with it a feature of poetry and prose from last October’s India-China dialogues in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Almost Island writes, announcing the feature:

This issue continues our dialogue with leading Chinese poets and novelists, ongoing since 2009. The dialogue was begun by Chinese poet Bei Dao [北岛] and Indian novelist and poet Sharmistha Mohanty. The most recent meeting between Indian and Chinese writers, curated by Almost Island and the Chinese journal Jintian [今天], took place in October 2018 in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Scholar Lydia H. Liu, in her essay The Gift of a Living Past, a tribute to Ashis Nandy, which we publish here, says:

“Confucius traveled from state to state—across many warring states before the unification in BCE 221—offering advice to the heads of states and attempting to counsel them, but everywhere he went, Confucius’s ideas were met with indifference and rejection. With his noble aspirations getting nowhere, Confucius gained the reputation of a homeless dog. The astonishing thing is that not only did the Master not mind being called homeless dog but he found the epithet to be a suitable description of his plight. I suspect that the story tells us something interesting about the defeat and survival of rootless intellectuals, and this story is the polar opposite of what you get from the official discourse of Confucianism in China.

Like Confucius, all rootless intellectuals are, in a sense, homeless dogs. This story lives on in our midst, like a gift to the present. As we share more of each other’s stories, the Chinese and Indian writers are essentially building a transnational literary alliance based on our melancholy knowledge of the living pasts. That our friendship can grow and form a lasting bond is owing to the fact that, in Nandy’s words, ‘India and China are both in some fundamental sense societies which negotiate the past and the future similarly despite all differences. This similarity lies in the fact that in both countries the past is as open as the future.’”

This openness of time speaks through Bei Dao’s new book length poem, from which we have excerpts here, translated by Eliot Weinberger and seen for the first time in English in this issue.

Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] follows Sufis and drifters in his poems in which “A screw and a flower embrace, tightening time.” The luminous translations are by Lucas Klein.

The poems of Xi Chuan are hard, sharp and brilliant, diamond like. Once again Lucas Klein achieves this in English.

Zhai Yongming [翟永明] has, on the surface, a seemingly lighter touch, but underneath she walks the razor’s edge. Andrea Lingenfelter renders this deftly into English.

We have an excerpt from novelist Han Shaogong’s [韩少功] deeply original A Dictionary of Maqiao, written in fact in the form of dictionary entries, each entry looking closely at different aspects of the village of Maqiao during the Cultural Revolution. Translator Julia Lovell catches the extraordinary within the ordinary in Shaogong’s prose.

And Ashis Nandy’s opening talk at the last India-China Dialogues held in Hong Kong and Hangzhou, Oct. 2018, where in his inimitable way he pries open the twentieth century to find that its most lasting legacy is genocide.

Click the highlighted links to download the .pdf files and begin reading!

Cha Journal Call for Submissions for Tiananmen Square Massacre 30th Anniversary Issue

[Call for Submissions] Special Feature on Tiananmen (June 2019)
Deadline Extended!

4 June 2019 will mark thirty years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, when the Chinese government crushed the nascent democracy movement led by students and workers. The ensuing decades have brought tumultuous changes to the culture, politics, economics of China and the whole world. To honour the struggle of the democracy protesters, mourn their defeat, and take stock of the last three decades, Cha: An Asian Literary Journalis convening a special feature of translations and original English works, to be co-edited by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming and Lucas Klein, for publication in the June 2019 issue of the journal.

June 4th.jpeg

We are looking for high-quality and previously unpublished poems, stories, remembrances, essays, and works of creative nonfiction, either originally written in English or translated from any of China’s languages into English, on the topic of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement and its aftermath.

Please email submissions to submissions@asiancha.com. The subject line should read “Tiananmen—[Your name]—Genre”. The extended deadline for submissions is 30 April 2019. Please follow our guidelines closely.

Bei Dao in WLT Hong Kong feature

As part of its feature on Hong Kong writing, guest-edited by Tammy Ho–featuring writing by Xi Xi 西西 as translated by Jennifer Feeley, poetry by Chris Song 宋子江, and more–World Literature Today has published my translation of “Dwelling Poetically in Hong Kong,” by Bei Dao 北島, published originally in 2010.

“Dwelling poetically” comes from Heidegger. “In short,” Bei Dao explains, “to dwell is the state of being of the human, while the poetic is the attainment via poetry of a spiritual liberation or freedom; therefore, to dwell poetically is to search for one’s spiritual home.” Such thinking inspired Bei Dao to launch the Hong Kong International Poetry Nights, which he explains in the piece.

Bei Dao began Poetry Nights to cure an ill he diagnosed in the youths of Hong Kong. He writes:

Because I teach, I have a lot of contact with the youth of Hong Kong. And I worry for their generation. They were born on a production assembly line—their whole lives are determined for them in advance. This assembly line has the look of being safe and reliable, but their creativity and imagination have been hijacked—by capital, by their fathers, by the media, by the internet; they have no curiosity, no vision, no desire to read or to learn, no independence, no ability to express themselves, yes, none whatsoever. I have no doubt that this is a contributing factor to the high suicide rate of youths in Hong Kong, a contributing factor to the pervasiveness of psychological complexes among the youth of Hong Kong.

After this piece circulated online, I noticed that some were not happy with Bei Dao’s characterization of the youth of Hong Kong. I thought his judgment could use some contextualization, so Tammy Ho and I decided that as translator I should append a note, special for the online edition. I wrote:

Bei Dao wrote “Dwelling Poetically in Hong Kong” in 2010, two and a half years after moving to Hong Kong and not long after what would be the first of the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong—a poetry festival that has helped change the cultural reputation of this city. At one point Bei Dao strikes a sour note about the youth of Hong Kong, whom he knew as his students. Much has changed in Hong Kong since he wrote this piece—the activation of the younger generation’s political engagement with Occupy Central (2014), or what was known as the Umbrella Movement, but also Bei Dao’s International Poetry Nights, which have taken place biennially since 2009. If his critique of students now rings false, then, to a certain extent, Bei Dao himself is partially to thank for that.

Click here to read the piece in full.

Cha Journal Call for Submissions for Tiananmen Square Massacre 30th Anniversary Issue

[Call for Submissions] Special Feature on Tiananmen (June 2019)

4 June 2019 will mark thirty years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, when the Chinese government crushed the nascent democracy movement led by students and workers. The ensuing decades have brought tumultuous changes to the culture, politics, economics of China and the whole world. To honour the struggle of the democracy protesters, mourn their defeat, and take stock of the last three decades, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is convening a special feature of translations and original English works, to be co-edited by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming and Lucas Klein, for publication in the June 2019 issue of the journal.

June 4th.jpeg

We are looking for high-quality and previously unpublished poems, stories, remembrances, essays, and works of creative nonfiction, either originally written in English or translated from any of China’s languages into English, on the topic of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement and its aftermath.

Please email submissions to submissions@asiancha.com. The subject line should read “Tiananmen—[Your name]—Genre”. The deadline for submissions is 31 March 2019. Please follow our guidelines closely.

Turner on Poets of the Late Tang Dynasty

The Collected Poems of Li He   trans.  J. D. Frodsham   (NYRB, March 2017)

Matt Turner reviews The Collected Poems of Li He 李賀, translated by J.D. Frodsham, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, edited by Chloe Garcia Roberts with translations by Roberts, Lucas Klein, and A.C. Graham, for Music & Literature. His piece begins:

Most American readers of Chinese poetry come to it through classic translations by Ezra Pound, Gary Snyder, Burton Watson, and a few others. With some notable exceptions, those translations have tended to focus on the poetic triumvirate of the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE): Li Bai (Li Po), Du Fu (Tu Fu), and Wang Wei. The literary context in which those three Tang poets are placed—in China as well as the U.S.—is part of a long, ascendant tradition in Chinese letters, beginning to certain degree with the early anthology that Confucius assembled … The poems of the Shijing, which often seem little more than folk ditties, span seven centuries during the fabled Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BCE)—the time, according to Confucius in his Analects, when politics and society were ordered as they should be. In China, the Zhou and Tang periods are acknowledged as two golden ages, exemplars of what is best in the Chinese tradition. A trajectory of one to the other is easily assumed.

But poetry from the period is as little in imitation of the Shijing as the politics of the Tang were a repetition of Zhou politics.

And,

Enter Li Shangyin and Li He … These later-Tang dynasty poets sit even more uncomfortably within the Confucian tradition than Li Bai. Both flaunted their dissipation, and their work calls to mind Ashbery-like discontinuities of image that seem to utterly lack the edifications of orthodox, Confucian letters. If we consider that one of the key Confucian tenets was zhengming, the fixing of qualities or relationships in language in order to demonstrate the Confucian worldview (i.e., a lord has the “lordly” attribute of benevolence, whereas a lord who is malicious cannot be recognized as one; a poem was a means to education, whereas a poetry that disregarded pedagogy could not be called poetry, but only be regarded as nonsense), then Li He and Li Shangyin were then obviously bad guys who disregarded order, proper behavior, and other concerns of literary orthodoxy. Their nonconformism was strong enough for Li He to be omitted from the classic anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems, and for Li Shangyin, though still anthologized, to be classed as only a distant cousin of the three greats: Li Bai, Wang Wei, and Du Fu. Today, their literary legacies are explored primarily by edgy scholars and poets, so the existence of these recent English-language editions is fairly remarkable.

Li Shangyin   trans.  Chloe Garcia Roberts , with additional translations by  A. C. Graham  and  Lucas Klein   (NYRB, July 2018)

Turner pays particular attention to translation:

This collected edition is a necessary addition to the growing body of Chinese poetry in English translation, as well as a corrective to the Poundian tradition of Chinese poetry as plain-spoken and full of imagistic language and tropes. It’s unfortunate that, although a collected edition, it is not dual-language—especially since Frodsham’s translations sometimes seem a bit musty next to the few pieces done by Graham … Nevertheless, Li He was definitely singing a “weird tune,” one which comes through the static of the English.

And in Li Shangyin,

The NYRB Poets edition lets the reader refer to the Chinese-language original as well as compare different English-language versions. This is especially important for a poet like Li Shangyin, where so much of his writing is in soft-focus, even in the Chinese. Multiple translations offer us differing glimpses of the same poem—not only as translations, but also as parts of the kaleidoscopic world the original alludes to. For example, one poem in versions by all three translators lets the reader consider the poem’s world as it is disclosed upon our own, in a cascade of synesthetic appearances.

He ends:

As readers, whether or not we can read Chinese and regardless of our familiarity with that tradition, we might ask ourselves what worlds we want our poetry to invoke or create for us, and what we want from Chinese poetry in particular. These editions of Li He and Li Shangyin will probably thwart those assumptions, evoking worlds we are not entirely familiar with. One reason for that is not the quality of the translations, but our distance from the world of the later Tang. Another reason is that the poetry was, simply, always a bit off. It’s good to know that, sometimes, things don’t change.

Read the full article here.m