Tracy Smith on Chinese poetry and China

At SupChina Anthony Tao interviews US poet laureate Tracy Smith on her recent visit to Beijing, where she traveled to translate Yi Lei 伊蕾 with Changtai Bi.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

AT: And what is your relationship with Chinese poetry?

TKS: I know a little bit about the history, but it’s very patchy. I’ve read some poems of [ancient poets] Li Po (李白) and Du Fu (杜甫), and then leap forward to [the 1970s/1980s “Misty Poet”] Bei Dao (北岛)… and now, some of the more recent translations [of Chinese poets] that have come out in the States. So it’s a really incomplete body of knowledge so far. But it’s still growing, a growing region of my consciousness.

And

AT: You recently took part in a translation workshop as part of your trip [organized by Ming Di (明迪), along with renowned poets such as John Yau, Kevin Young, Mario Bojórquez, Xi Chuan (西川), Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河), etc.]. What was it like to see your poems in Chinese?

TKS: I wish I could speak the language so I could really hear what it became in this other language, which I can’t. I love the sound. I’m mystified, I’m fascinated by the characters. Even though I know what the poem said, I don’t know what they say. But I think it’s exciting to know that there’s a version of my poems now that can be touched on for readers in a different language, and I’m curious to know how the references live on the other side. I know there’s a lot of choices. Ming Di translated a poem [of mine] called “Ash,” and she said, “Okay, is it this kind of ash, is it this kind of ash?”

So just thinking about the possibilities. And then having to make that affirm certain meanings or implications also makes me have to listen to my poems differently. And some of the things that happened unconsciously, I’m urged to reflect upon them more consciously now because I have to say, “Is it that or that? Well, actually, it’s more this thing than the other, and this is why.”

For the full interview, along with a clip of Smith’s reading, click the image above.

 

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.

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.

New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry

New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry Edited by Ming Di

 

New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry

The most up-to-date anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, translated by American poets and edited by the executive editor of the bilingual literary journal Poetry East West. Showcasing the achievement of Chinese poetry in the last twenty years, a time of tremendous literary ferment, this collection focuses on a diversity of exciting poets from the mainland, highlighting Duo Duo (laureate of the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature) and Liao Yiwu (recipient of 2012 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade organization) along with not yet well-known but brilliant poets such as Zang Di and Xiao Kaiyu and younger poets Jiang Tao and Lü Yue. The anthology includes interviews with the poets and a fascinating survey of their opinions on “Ten Favorite Chinese poets” and “Ten Best-Known Western poets in China.”

Featured poets: Duo Duo, Wang Xiaoni, Bai Hua, Zhang Shuguang, Sun Wenbo, Wang Jiaxin, Liao Yiwu, Song Lin, Xiao Kaiyu, Lü De’an, Feng Yan, Yang Xiaobin, Zang Di, Ya Shi, Mai Mang, Lan Lan, Jiang Tao, Jiang Hao, Lü Yue, Hu Xudong, Yi Lai, Jiang Li, Zheng Xiaoqiong, Qiu Qixuan, and Li Shumin.

With translations by Neil Aitken, Katie Farris, Ming Di, Christopher Lupke, Tony Barnstone, Afaa Weaver, Jonathan Stalling, Nick Admussen, Eleanor Goodman, Ao Wang, Dian Li, Kerry Shawn Keys, Jennifer Kronovet, Elizabeth Reitzell, and Cody Reese.