Holton & Herbert do Mang Ke’s “The Moon on the Road”

The Scottish Poetry Library has published the Mang Ke 芒克 poem “The Moon on the Road” 路上的月亮, from Jade Ladder, as translated into English by Brian Holton & W N Herbert.

Certainly,

There’s nothing better to take pride in than being human.

But you?

You’re a cat.

And a mouser may look at a Mao.

To read the poem in full, click the image above.

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).

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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.

Inferno Tango on Dissertation Reviews

Dissertation Reviews has posted Dun Wang’s review of Meng Liansu‘s The Inferno Tango: Gender Politics and Modern Chinese Poetry, 1917-1980. Here’s how it begins:

The Inferno Tango analyzes the gender politics of modern Chinese intellectuals through examining modern Chinese poetry from the 1910s to the 1980s. The author focuses on selected poets and closely examines their figurations of gender that refract the construction of modern subjectivity in phases of China’s modernization. To this end, the author combines close readings of poetry with detailed analyses of the larger historical contexts, which include the poets’ biographical narratives and archival and first-hand materials that are excavated by other scholars and the author. Meng’s research focuses mainly on Guo Moruo, Wen Yiduo, and Chen Jingrong among the earlier generations, and more recent poets such as Bei Dao, Mang Ke, and Shu Ting who emerged from the literary activism of Today! in the late 1970s. The title’s central phrase, “the inferno tango,” is taken from female Chinese poet Chen Jingrong’s 1946 poem “Diyu de tangewu” (“The Inferno Tango”), vividly capturing the discursive tension between love and violence. Through sensitive and close readings, Meng fruitfully delineates manifold factors that have contributed to the Chinese poets’ construction of their gendered subjectivities in times of profound national crisis. Meng argues that the masculinity of the poetic canon in modern China was “naturalized and perpetuated by the discourses of love, marriage, nationalism, revolution and industrial progress as well as by the indigenous literati tradition” (p. ix).

Click here for the whole review.

Jade Ladder’s Poets

I’ve compiled a list of the poets whose work appears in English translation in Jade Ladder, the new anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry edited by Yang Lian 杨炼, W N Herbert, Brian Holton, and Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇. The anthology presents the work of poets by birth year, but the work is separated into sections–lyric poems, narrative poems, neo-classical poems, sequences, experimental poems, and long poems–so I’ve put together this alphabetical list of the poets represented. Poets in bold (23, by my count) are those not included in the recent Copper Canyon anthology, Push Open the Window (of whom 19 of the 49 are not included in JL; click here for that anthology’s table of contents). Also, since Jade Ladder is English-only, I’m not sure of every poet’s name in Chinese, and consequently have left some blank. If you know, or spot any other errors, let me know.

  1. Bai Hua 柏桦
  2. Bei Dao 北岛
  3. Chen Dongdong 陈东东
  4. Chen Xianfa 陈先发
  5. Duo Duo 多多
  6. Ge Mai 戈麦
  7. Gu Cheng 顾城
  8. Hai Zi 海子
  9. Han Bo韩博
  10. Hu Dong
  11. Hu Xudong 胡续冬
  12. Huang Canran 黄灿然
  13. Jiang Hao 蒋浩
  14. Jiang He 江河
  15. Jiang Tao 姜涛
  16. Liao Yiwu 廖亦
  17. Lü De’an 吕德安
  18. Ma Hua 马骅
  19. Mai Cheng
  20. Mang Ke 芒克
  21. Meng Lang 孟浪
  22. Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河
  23. Pan Wei
  24. Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇
  25. Qing Ping 清平
  26. Senzi 森子
  27. Shui Yin
  28. Song Lin 宋琳
  29. Song Wei
  30. Sun Lei
  31. Sun Wenbo 孙文波
  32. Wang Ao 王敖
  33. Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
  34. Xi Chuan 西川
  35. Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚
  36. Ya Shi
  37. Yan Li
  38. Yang Lian 杨炼
  39. Yang Xiaobin 杨小
  40. Yang Zheng
  41. Yi Sha 伊沙
  42. Yu Jian 于坚
  43. Yu Nu 余怒
  44. Zang Di 臧棣
  45. Zhai Yongming 翟永明
  46. Zhang Danyi
  47. Zhang Dian
  48. Zhang Shuguang 张曙光
  49. Zhang Zao 张枣
  50. Zhong Ming
  51. Zhou Lunyou
  52. Zhu Zhu 朱朱
  53. Zou Jingzhi

Chinese Names in Push Open the Window

When I first wrote about the Copper Canyon anthology Push Open the Window, I said, “My only quibble with the book so far is that, while everything is printed with Chinese and English en face, for some reason the Chinese characters of none of the poets’ names made it into the book.” Co-translation editor Sylvia Lin has worked to address this, writing in a recent post to the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture email list:

List members may be interested in a new bilingual anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, Push Open the Window, the third volume in a larger project of bilingual anthologies of contemporary poetry funded by the NEA. The poems were selected by the Chinese editor, Qingping Wang, with Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt as translation editors.

Despite our objections, the publisher, Copper Canyon Press, chose not to include the poets’ names in Chinese. We are making them available here; feel free to share the list with other users of the anthology.

Shi Zhi 食指
Mang Ke 芒克
Shu Ting 舒婷
Yu Jian 于坚
Zhai Yongming 翟永明
Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
Sun Wenbo 孙文波
Gu Cheng 顾城
Bai Hua 柏桦
Zhang Shuguang 张曙光
Wang Jiaxin 王家新
Song Lin 宋琳
Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚
Han Dong 韩东
Chen Dongdong 陈东东
Zhang Zao 张枣
Qing Ping 清平
Sen Zi 森子
Huang Canran 黄灿然
Xi Chuan 西川
Huang Fan 黄梵
Cai Tianxin 蔡天新
Zang Di 臧棣
Hai Zi 海子
Ye Hui 叶辉
Ma Yongbo 马永波
Shu Cai 树才
Yi Sha 伊沙
Yu Nu 余怒
Ge Mai 戈麦
Lan Lan 蓝蓝
Xi Du 西渡
Yang Jian 杨键
Sang Ke 桑克
Chen Xianfa 陈先发
Lin Mu 林木
Zhou Zan 周瓒
Zhu Zhu 朱朱
Jiang Tao 姜涛
Yan Wo 燕窝
Jiang Hao 蒋浩
Ma Hua 马骅
Han Bo 韩博
Leng Shuang 冷霜
Duo Yu 朵渔
Hu Xudong 胡续冬
Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇
Shen Muqin 沈木槿*
Wang Ao 王敖

* The book prints this name as Shen Mujin; the character can be pronounced either jǐn or qín.