Denis Mair on Meng Lang

Three poets come to Bumbershoot

In honor of the passing of Meng Lang 孟浪 (1961 – 2018) on December 12 in Hong Kong, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal has published a commemorative piece by Denis Mair, his friend and translator:

All these details are just the outer lineaments of Meng Lang’s life, but his true story—his true biography–lies in the trajectory of his poems. He was a poet who found his own unique path to write about the social, political realities of his country in the language of modern, avant-garde thought. As a poet he always faced political realities, never going down a rabbit hole of metaphysics or aestheticism, yet each poem demonstrates his powerful artistic sensibility. I reaped tremendous reward by translating over a hundred of his poems, and I am proud that he trusted me with his beautiful creations.

Later this month Cha will publish a feature on Meng Lang and his place in poetry, with poems by Meng translated by Mair, as well as poems by Hong Kong writers Tang Siu Wa 鄧小樺, Jacky Yuen 熒惑, Kwan Tin-Lam 關天林, and Liu Waitong 廖偉棠 remembering Meng–as translated by Jennifer Feeley, Nick Admussen, Eleanor Goodman, and Lucas Klein.

Click here for Mair’s commemoration.

Alexander Dickow on Li Shangyin and Mang Ke

The new issue of Plume is here, and with it Alexander Dickow’s “Mystery and Surprise: Two Chinese Poets,” reviewing two quite different books of Chinese poetry in translation: Li Shangyin 李商隱, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts, Lucas Klein, and A.C. Graham (NYRB), and October Dedications, the selected poetry of Mang Ke 芒克, translated by Lucas Klein with Yibing Huang and Jonathan Stalling (Zephyr / Chinese UP).

The review begins:

The contemporary Chinese poet Mang Ke and the Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin (9th century) could hardly be more different. The former, particularly in the later poems of the chronologically arranged collection, seems fresh and spontaneous, capricious; the latter hermetic and mysterious. The contrast lends itself to an examination of what makes both poets’ work alluring. Li Shangyin seems to offer the mystique of an authentically coded poetic language. While both Mang Ke and Li Shangyin are highly allusive, Mang Ke feels bright and sensuous, Li Shangyin dark and richly layered.

It’s rare enough for translated poetry to be reviewed at all, but when it is reviewed it tends to be reviewed by other experts in the field. I think it’s wonderful that these books are reviewed by a translator of French poetry with no expertise in China or Chinese literature. If our readers are only those who can check our work, what’s the point of translating in the first place? The whole purpose of translation is bringing work from one language to new audiences, so it’s wonderful that Plume went with a reviewer who doesn’t need to know Chinese, but clearly understands poetry and translation.

Click here to read the review in full.

Klein’s Duo Duo Receives 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants

My translation of the New and Selected poems of Duo Duo 多多, forthcoming from Yale University Press’s Margellos World Republic of Letters series, the working title of which is Words as Grains, has received a 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant!

Now in its sixteenth year, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund awards grants to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English. It was established in the summer of 2003 by a gift from Priscilla and Michael Henry Heim in response to the dismayingly low number of literary translations appearing in English.

Each project will receive a grant of $3,500 to assist in its completion

This year, the fund’s advisory board consists of John Balcom, Peter Constantine, Katie Dublinski, Ben Moser, Mary Ann Newman, Alta Price, Jenny Wang Medina, Max Weiss, Natasha Wimmer, and Board Chair Samantha Schnee. They have funded 10 projects, spanning 8 different languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Indonesian, Chinese, Danish, and Hungarian.

About my project, they write:

Duo Duo is one of China’s most important, influential, and interesting contemporary poets. He began writing in the early ’70s and came to prominence in the ’80s, winning the Jintian Poetry Prize in 1988. His early work, like that of other cutting-edge poets who emerged after the Cultural Revolution, was labeled as obscure. He went into exile in 1989 and returned to China in 2004. His work has continued to evolve over the years, “remaking language with remade tools.” Lucas Klein has made a new selection from Duo Duo’s oeuvre, covering the years 1972-2017. Fidelity to the original goes hand-in-hand with an unwavering poetic sensibility in these fine translations.

In their announcement they feature this translation:

“Delusion is the Master of Reality”

and we, we are birds touching lip to lip
in the story of time
undertaking our final division
from man

the key turns in the ear
the shadows have left us
the key keeps turning
birds are reduced to people
people unacquainted with birds

 

妄想是真实的主人

而我们,是嘴唇贴着嘴唇的鸟儿
在时间的故事中
与人
进行最后一次划分

钥匙在耳朵里扭了一下
影子已脱离我们
钥匙不停地扭下去
鸟儿已降低为人
鸟儿一无相识的人

(1982)

Click the banner above for the full list of grantees this year.

Lucas Klein Talking Translation with Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

As a follow-up to Xi Chuan’s being October 2018 author-of-the-month at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, the Centre is now hosting a Talking Translation interview with me!

They ask, and I answer:

Do you have any advice for readers new to Xi Chuan about where best to begin or how to approach his poetry?

My advice to new readers of Xi Chuan would be different depending on what those readers are used to reading, because he made a pretty big stylistic change in the early nineties. If you like well-crafted lyrical poems, calm and deep, then start with his earliest publications at the beginning of Notes on the Mosquito and work your way through the whole book. If you like more expansive prose poems, long sequences, and the poetics of knowledge with a good sense of humor, then maybe skip Xi Chuan’s earliest work and start with his prose poetry—or what he calls “poessays”—coming back to his earlier lyrics later.

Click the link above for the full interview.

Xi Chuan October 2018 Featured Writer for Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

Xi Chuan has been the featured writer for October 2018 at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. Xi Chuan gave a reading and discussion on Chinese poetry and translation at Leeds on October 12, and was at the Manchester Literature Festival on the 13th, reading with Mary Jean Chan and Jennifer Tsai, then took kpart in an afternoon of writing workshops, networking, and dinner, at an event organised by Bi’an – the UK Chinese Writers’ Network – called ‘Both Sides Now: Writing from East and West‘.

The Leeds page also posts:

Xi Chuan and his translator Lucas Klein have kindly given us permission to feature three poems – ‘Eight Fragments’ 八段; ‘Abstruse Thoughts at the Panjiayuan Antiques Market’ 潘家园旧货市场玄思录, (first published in English in Pathlight, 2015) and ‘Travels in Xichuan Province’ 西川省纪行 – which you can read in Chinese and in English translation here.

Click here, or the image above (with a very old photo of me), to download the poems.

Xi Xi Wins 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

Image may contain: 3 people, including Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, people smiling, people sitting and indoorNewman Prize winner Xi Xi with her nominator Tammy Ho and translator Jennifer Feeley (photo by Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁)

NORMAN, OK—An international jury has selected the Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西 (born 1937) as the winner of the sixth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the third female Newman laureate, and the first from Hong Kong.

Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of seven distinguished literary experts nominated seven poets this spring, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on October 9, 2018.

Winner Xi Xi 西西 (the pen name of Zhang Yan 張彥) will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, on March 7–8, 2019. In addition to this year’s nominating juror, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong Baptist University), other nominees and jurors include Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, nominated by Nick Admussen (Cornell University); Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, nominated by Eleanor Goodman (Fairbank Center, Harvard University); Xi Chuan 西川, nominated by Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong); Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, nominated by Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta); Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, nominated by Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University); and Bei Dao 北岛, nominated by Wang Guangming (Capital Normal University).

“This year’s nominees represent an extraordinarily wide variety of Sinophone poetry,” said this year’s Newman Prize Coordinator, Jonathan Stalling. “The jurors spent over an hour in vigorous deliberation before they finally emerged with one poet out of the many. It is genuinely exciting to see Xi Xi’s poetry and her lifelong contributions to world letters recognized by this year’s prize.”

According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,

Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.

Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan 莫言, Han Shaogong 韩少功, and Wang Anyi 王安忆, who won the 2009, 2011, and 2017 Newman Prizes, respectively. Mo Yan went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poets Yang Mu 楊牧 and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen 朱天文 won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2013 and 2015.

The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues over a decade ago, in 2006. The University of Oklahoma is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

 

美國中部時間2018年10月8日,中國香港作家和詩人西西獲得第六屆紐曼華語文學獎(詩歌獎)。她是紐曼華語文學獎的第三位女性獲獎者,也是第一位來自香港的獲獎者。

紐曼華語文學獎是由美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2008年設立的獎項,是美國第一個為華語文學或詩歌設立的獎項,每兩年頒獎一次。評委們完全基於文學價值選出為最能表現人類生存狀況作品。所有在世的用中文寫作的作家都有機會入選。諾貝爾文學獎得主莫言是2009年年首位紐曼文學獎得獎者,中國大陸作家韓少功和王安憶分別於2011年和2017年折桂,台灣詩人楊牧和台灣作家朱天文分別在2013和2015年領此殊榮榮。

紐曼華語文學獎的七位專家評審早在今年年初提名了七位詩人。今天,他們經過六輪投票,決定出最終得獎者。獲獎者西西(原名張彥)可獲得一萬美元的獎金,紀念獎牌一塊,銅質獎章一枚,並將受邀於2019年三月7日至8日參加在俄克拉荷馬大學舉辦的紐曼學術研討會和晚宴。西西的提名者是香港浸會大學的何麗明教授(Tammy Lai-Ming Ho)。另外六位評委和被提名的詩人信息如下:康奈爾大學的安敏軒(Nick Admussen)提名了詩人於秀華,哈佛大學費正清中心的學者顧愛玲(Eleanor Goodman)提名了詩人王小妮,香港大學的柯夏智(Lucas Klein)教授提名了詩人西川,阿爾伯塔大學的陸敬思(Christopher Lupke)教授提名了詩人蕭開愚,萊頓大學的柯雷(Maghiel van Crevel)教授提名了詩人鄭小瓊,以及北京首都大學的王光明教授提名了詩人北島。

今年紐曼華語詩歌獎評委團的組織者石江山(Jonathan Stalling)說,“本次被提名的詩人們代表了華語詩歌極度豐富的多樣性。”“評委們經過一個多小時的熱烈的評議和投票才選出了最後的勝者。西西的詩歌和她畢生對文學的貢獻在今年的紐曼文學獎上得到了肯定,這是一件真正激動人心的事“。

何麗明博士在提名詞中寫道:“很長一段時間以來香港文學都被視為是次要的,甚至有人認為這個城市不能出產重要的文學作品或著名的作家。香港詩歌或許在很多人眼中是個更抽象和虛妄的概念。西西或諧或莊的詩歌道出了這個城市及其居民的品格。她的詩歌也證明了一個城市的故事不必是宏大的敘述,而可以是表面瑣碎的絮語,寓言或者童話。西西的詩歌陰柔,纖細,機智,敏銳,動人心弦,無可辯駁地宣示著香港詩歌的存在感“。

紐曼華語文學獎的主辦方美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2006年成立。該學院的成立與Harold J. Newman和Ruth Newman夫婦的慷慨捐贈密不可分。俄克拉荷馬大學還設有中國文學翻譯檔案館,“今日中國文學”雜誌,“今日世界文學”雜誌,並定期主辦紐斯塔特(Neustadt)國際文學獎。

Todorova reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications

Writing for Hong Kong Review of Books, Marija Todorova reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications (Zephyr Press, 2018), translated by Lucas Klein, Huang Yibing, and Jonathan Stalling. October Dedications “is arguably one of the most important titles published so far in the Zephyr Press Jintian series of Chinese poetry,” she writes!

Todorova, a translation studies scholar, looks at the book primarily for what it does to highlight translation. She notes the Foreword as a “visible sign of the translators’ contribution to the translated work”:

Klein writes extensively about the poet Mang Ke, his style and importance, helping the reader situate his poetry historically and culturally. His impressionistic poems were among some of the first in China to break free of the imposed didacticism of the Cultural Revolution … Klein dedicates two full pages of the Foreword to explaining his translation decisions and methods. Setting a goal to “respect and recreate [Mang Ke’s] economy”, and preserve his simple vocabulary and repetitive imagery, Klein skilfully manages to achieve this:

pallbearers drift by like a cloud
the river slowly carries the sun
dying the water’s long surface golden yellow
such stillness
such vastness
such sadness
a meadow of wilted flowers (“Frozen Land”, 11)

The translation is a masterful recreation of Chinese punctuation and line length in English translation, omitting the use of any punctuation and capital letters, except in the titles. This “foreignisation” strategy adds to the experience of Mang Ke’s poetry by an English language reader without “compromising” the understanding of the poetic imagery by a reader otherwise unfamiliar with the Chinese language and poetry.

Todorova ends the review saying that October Dedications “is important not only for being the first to make available the experimental poetry of Mang Ke to wider international audiences by rendering it in English, but also because it raises highly important issues in the art of poetry translation.”

Click the image above for the review in full.

Li Shangyin Book Launch at Greenlight, Brooklyn

An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin

Fort Greene store:
Wednesday, August 1, 7:30 PM
An Evening Celebrating Li Shangyin
With Chloe Garcia Roberts and Lucas Klein
Wine reception to follow

Greenlight is thrilled to present an evening celebrating Li Shangyin, foremost poet of the late Tang dynasty, on the occasion of a new translation of his work published by the New York Review of Books. This new collection presents Chloe Garcia Roberts’s translations of a wide selection of Li’s verse in the company of other versions by the prominent sinologist A. C. Graham and the scholar-poet Lucas Klein. Combining hedonistic aestheticism with stark fatalism, Li’s poetry is an intoxicating mixture of pleasure and grief, desire and loss, everywhere imbued with a singular nostalgia for the present moment. Rarely translated into English, Li’s work has an esotericism and sensuality that sets him apart from the austere masters of the Chinese literary canon. Garcia Roberts and Klein read and discuss Li’s work during this event, followed by a signing, Q&A, and a wine reception to follow.

Event date: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 – 7:30pm

Event address: 686 Fulton street, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Click here for the Facebook event page.

By Li Shangyin, Chloe Garcia Roberts (Translator), A. C. Graham (Translator), Lucas Klein (Translator)
$16.00
ISBN: 9781681372242
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: New York Review of Books – July 31st, 2018

Li Shangyin reviewed in the new Asymptote

Li Shangyin, from New York Review Books, edited by Chloe Garcia Roberts with translations by with translations by Roberts, A. C. Graham, and Lucas Klein, won’t be available until July 31, but it’s already gotten reviewed in the new issue of Asymptote. Theophilus Kwek writes:

Reading sense in tandem with—and sometimes as secondary to—sound and sight can be slow and even frustrating for those of us accustomed to more expository translations. With this sensory emphasis Garcia Roberts holds the reader at a careful distance from conventional ideas of authorial “intention,” providing a space in which meaning can shimmer into view. Not unlike the equally allusive poems of John Ashbery or Geoffrey Hill that may be more familiar to Anglophone readers, Garcia Roberts’s translations force us to accept a necessary, unbridgeable gulf between what we know and what Li knew, the specificity of his experiences forever locked away in his language. And yet, as we pore over a translated text that is brimming with suggestion, we marvel nonetheless at the beauty and complexity of Li’s worlds.

It’s not a bad review, over all, but it still operates according to the same, lame untranslatability bias that’s familiar from most takes on premodern Chinese poetry put into English: Roberts, Kwek writes,

aims to reconcile Li’s bookish manner with naturalistic modern phrasing, but English, which affords few visual and tonal possibilities compared to Chinese characters, proves unable to handle both.

With that as your starting point, there’s not much of a chance you could be satisfied with any translation, is there?

Click the image for the full review.