Walsh on Iron Moon Anthology of Workers’ Poetry

In an article titled “The Chinese Factory Workers Who Write Poems on Their Phones” on Literary Hub, Megan Walsh reviews Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman. She writes:

Similar to the way the industrial revolution in England enforced a whole new concept of time as it severed workers from seasonal rhythms, so these poets speak of disrupted menstrual cycles, the blurring of night and day and the sense of unbelonging, where both countryside and city are rendered uninhabitable (several refer to themselves as “lame ducks,” maimed and unable to complete their journey back home). Of course, they are not the only ones concerned with the spiritual vacuum of China’s brutish capitalist economy or the devastating destruction of the environment, but what makes their eco-poetry so vital is that they are not writing from a distance, but at the coalface.

They work hellish hours without job security, drink water from rivers they see dumped with pollutants and chemicals, inhale air fouled by poisonous gases. They risk injury from merciless, vampiric machines that consume not only their youth, but their body parts (in 2005 there were an estimated 40,000 incidents of severed fingers each year alone in China’s southern economic zones). And they find the time outside of the 14-hour shifts and the space in their crowded dorm rooms to engage, to write about their lives and publish it online using a basic cell phone… This confluence of China’s industrialization with easy internet access has created an unprecedented opportunity in the history of working class literature.

Click the image for the full review.

Matt Turner on Qin & Goodman’s Iron Moon Anthology

In a piece titled “A Poem of Shame: In the Words of China’s Workers” published at Hyperallergic, Matt Turner gives his take on Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and translated by Eleanor Goodman. He explains,

In 1923, not long after returning from working as a correspondent in Moscow, becoming the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and translating “The Internationale” for the first time into Chinese, Qu Qiubai wrote the poem “Iron Flower” (which I’ve translated below). It was written at an odd moment in CCP history: a literati like Qu could accomplish all he did politically and write modernist poetry, as much about the revolution as about signifying a new kind of beauty.

I’m not of a soft and smooth nature,
I’m not in the midst of glam and grace;
inside this smoke-filled factory,
forging my iron flower, fire surges.
Iron flower not receiving the warmth of sunlight,

iron flower not getting the solace of moonlight;
the unifying gale of fire in the furnace,
it cracks to burst the pistils into flame.
That place’s sound of hammers is dull,
that place’s sound of metal is staccato;
like a copper pine whipping the hard wind,
I’ve fallen in love, and can’t bear desertion.

This isn’t a fan dance, lightly circling across the floor —
but wherever you look are callouses — strong hands.
The inextinguishable flame burns in the factory,
and shines on my resolute and bold chest.

I billow labor’s rage in the iron furnace,
I envision, envision the Great Community,
and drunkenly belt out a song… the masses!
Forging my iron flower, fire surges.

… A volume of similar indictments, Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, edited by Qin Xiaoyu and translated by Eleanor Goodman, collects work by Xu Lizhi and 30 other worker poets. Their poetry ranges from lyrical, like the above piece, to experimental (exemplified by another of Xu’s poems, a verbatim listing of a peanut butter production slip).

Poems are in verse, prose, and combinations thereof. Some tell stories, some list facts, some offer only fragments. The formal variety is on par with what you would get from any major anthology in the US (excepting spoken-word poetry).

The authors are not members of literary coteries, either. Aside from being poets, all they have in common is that they are migrant laborers.

Click the image for the full review.

van Crevel on Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry

At Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Maghiel van Crevel reviews Iron Moon the film (directed by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and Wu Feiyue 吴飞跃) and the anthology (edited by Qin Xiaoyu, translated by Eleanor Goodman).

The review begins:

Poetry is the most ubiquitous of literary genres. It is written and recited and read and heard for families and festivals, in love and on stage, in prayers and protests, at imperial courts and in factories. In China, associations of poetry and factories, and of poetry and manual labor at large, are anything but far-fetched. One recalls the story of poetry production, which is really the only right word here, being whipped up to keep up with steel production during the Great Leap Forward (quite aside from the results in terms of quality, for poetry or for steel). And less frenetic, more sustainable instances of the linkage of poetry and labor throughout the Mao era, with factories – and drilling rigs, construction sites, and so on – generally depicted as good places. But today, poetry + factories + China conjure up a different picture. One thinks not of the proletariat but of the precariat, and not of glory but of misery.

And on the translation and the poetry, he writes:

Goodman is to be commended for the many places in which she handles the particulars of migrant worker poetry astutely in terms of style. If we allow for some generalization, this poetry tends to be less polished – to cite a cliché that may fit the present context better than most – than professional writing. It is, for instance, often unsteady or unbalanced in terms of register and tone, line length, rhythm, and so on. This raises the old question of whether the translator is at liberty to “improve the original,” and of what determines whether the changes they make are improvements. Beyond textual and linguistic issues, this question often involves reflection on cultural difference and, sometimes, more directly political considerations of what one wants the translation to be and do – with migrant worker poetry, prison writing, and so on as cases in point. On the whole, in this respect, Goodman’s engagement with the texts is highly effective, especially because she knows when to honor the literal, and when to shun it. For the great majority of the poems, she treads a fine line between respecting the original and ensuring that the translations read well, maximizing the chance that the reader will stay tuned and get the message. In all, the poetry in Iron Moon remains true to life in translation, so to speak.

For the full write-up, click the image.

NYTimes Reviews Iron Moon Chinese Worker Poetry Documentary

New York Times has published a brief review of Iron Moon 我的诗篇, a documentary on poetry-writing industrial workers in southern China, directed by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and Wu Feiyue 吴飞跃.

Webster writes:

With arresting images, “Iron Moon” powerfully addresses China’s moral crisis in the wake of economic prosperity. Today, “if you don’t have money or power, it’s really hard,” says Xu Lizhi’s father. Especially if you’re working the line.

Click here for a preview of the movie.

Bai Meigui Chinese Poetry Translation Competition

eleanor goodmanThe University of Leeds is hosting its third Bai Meigui Translation Competition, with poems–by Chi Lingyun 池凌云, Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇, and Xu Xiangchou 徐乡愁–chosen by judges Eleanor Goodman, Heather Inwood, and Canaan Morse.

HeatherInwoodThe winner will receive a £490 bursary to the ‘Translate in the City‘ summer school at City University, London, in July 2017, and will have her or his winning translation published in Stand magazine in 2017.

canaan morseClick here for the poems, and here for the overview and judges’ bios.

The deadline is 20 August, 2016.

TIME on the Poet who Died for your Phone

Time Magazine has a feature on Xu Lizhi 许立志, the former poet and Foxconn employee who committed suicide last September, whom they call “The Poet who Died for your Phone.”

In his 3½ years in Shenzhen, Xu captured life there in brutal, beautiful detail. In the city, the country kid found a voice that roared, publishing poems in company newspaper Foxconn People and sharing his work online. Factory workers are often treated as interchangeable, anonymous. To readers, his words were a reminder that every laborer has a mind and heart; for him, writing was a way out. “Writing poems gives me another way of life,” he told a Chinese journalist in an unpublished interview that TIME has seen. “When you’re writing poems, you’re not confined to the real world.”

As sidebars to their article, Time runs and links to translations of Xu’s poems by The Nao Project as published at libcom.org. In the body of the article, however, they quote (and alter, incorrectly: mala tang is not soup) my translation of “I Speak of Blood” 我谈到血, published by China Labour Bulletin–though without crediting me:

In the 2013 “I Speak of Blood,” Xu Lizhi captured the teeming cosmopolitanism of his adopted home, observing from his “matchbox” room a mix of: “Stray women in long-distance marriages/ Sichuan chaps selling mala soup/ Old ladies from Henan running stands/ And me with my eyes open all night to write a poem/ After running about all day to make a living.”

Translators, too, are often treated as interchangeable, anonymous. (Nao had their own problems with their translations being run, uncredited, by Bloomberg).

Time also notes that “Chinese poet Qin Xiaoyu [秦晓宇] is making a documentary film about Xu’s life and work.”

Xu Lizhi

China Labour Bulletin reports on a forthcoming collection of poems by Xu Lizhi 许立志, the migrant laborer who committed suicide on September 30, 2014:

A New Day is now the title of a forthcoming anthology of Xu’s work that contains nearly 200 poems dating back to 2010. Most of the poems were written while Xu was employed as a production line worker at Foxconn’s massive Longhua factory complex in Shenzhen.

The poetry critic Qin Xiaoyu who edits the new anthology describes Xu as both the voice and the chronicler of China’s millions of dispossessed migrant workers. Xu’s poetry, he said, was “simple yet powerful, both lyrical and critical, often using absurd or shocking images to reveal the tragedy of life on the lowest rungs of society.”

Additionally, New Books in Poetry has run a roundtable on Xu’s life and work with Jen Fitzgerald, Mark Nowak, Shengqing Wu, and Rodrigo Toscano. Listen at the page, or here:

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New Books in Poetry links to many other sites featuring or discussing Xu’s work in English, but they did not link to my translations, which China Labour Bulletin published in November.

MCLC Review of Jade Ladder

200Modern Chinese Literature & Culture has published Meng Liansu’s review of Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, edited by Yang Lian 杨炼 and W. N. Herbert, with Brian Holton and Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇. Here’s how she begins her piece:

Jade Ladder is a welcome addition to the handful of anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry in English, and the most comprehensive one to date. Featuring fifty-three poets born in mainland China and nearly 200 poems written between the 1970s and 2010, this anthology introduces the reader to a significantly larger number of excellent poets and poems than its peers and presents a fascinating overview of contemporary Chinese poetry in the past three decades. It is an important resource for general English-language readers interested in poetry and China, as well as for students, teachers and scholars of Chinese literature and culture.

Click the image above for the full review.

The International PoetrySync Festival

from Canaan Morse at Paper Republic:

Chuothe international poets sat down one by one with Yang Lian, or Liao Weitang, or Qin Xiaoyu in front of a Skype-connected computer to read their poetry and the Chinese poets’ poetry, and to interact with a faceless, presumably multitudinous online audience. Interpreters and questioners were everywhere; back in a half-lit meeting room in the top floor of a building on the Third Ring Road, a team of ants, armed with laptops, scrambled to turn Chinese into English, English into Chinese, send all of it over QQ to everybody else, then post it to a Tencent microblog stream on which audience members could pose questions to the poets.
Who came? Kwame Dawes, from the Caribbean; James Byrne, British poet and editor of The Wolf; Canadian poet Ken Babstock; Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky; Syrian poet Adonis; and several others whom I would name in full, but the site’s server has stopped responding. They were all well-known, well-published poets and editors, and if the medium of their correspondence, which required stop-and-start maintenance along with as many as three translators (in the case of Adonis, who spoke in French, and therefore had to be translated from French to Dutch, to English, to Chinese), hadn’t been such an obstacle, they might have been able to engage in some truly meaningful discussion. Tang Xiaodu moderated the event on the Beijing side, while Yang Lian moderated most of the event on theirs — and “moderate” may itself be too moderate a description, as a lack of audience questions early on prompted YL to take on the interpreter’s and moderator’s mantles himself, which resulted both in interesting leads and a lot of distracting hand-waving.

for the whole piece, click here.

Chinese Poetry Events at Rotterdam

Chinese poetry events at Poetry International Rotterdam:

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2013
 14:00 – 15:00  CHINESE DICHTERS IN LEESZAAL WEST
Leeszaal Rotterdam West : reading
Liu Waitong, Qin Xiaoyu, Yang Lian
 18:30 – 19:30  POETRY READING
Small Auditorium : reading
Ester Naomi Perquin, Ilya Kaminsky, Liu Waitong, Michèle Métail
FRIDAY 14 JUNE 2013
 18:30 – 19:30  MASTER CLASS: ‘HOW TO READ CHINESE POETRY’
Small Auditorium : active poetry
 20:00 – 21:00  CURRENT CHINESE POETRY: ‘I HOPE THE UNIVERSE…
Small Auditorium : special event
 21:30 – 23:00  POETRY READING AND DISCUSSIONS
Small Auditorium : reading  LIVE STREAM
Liu Waitong, Qin Xiaoyu, Yang Lian
SATURDAY 15 JUNE 2013
 14:00 – 16:30  LANGUAGE & ART GALLERY TOUR 2013 – GUIDED TOURS
Foyer : crossovers
Daniel Bănulescu, Ester Naomi Perquin, Qin Xiaoyu
 15:00 – 16:00  TRANSLATION WORKSHOP RESULTS: QIN XIAOYU
Garden Café Floor : translation
 18:30 – 19:30  POETRY READING
Small Auditorium : reading
Daniel Bănulescu, Ken Babstock, Mustafa Stitou, Qin Xiaoyu
 21:30 – 23:00  GATEWAY: FINAL PROGRAM
Main Auditorium : special event  LIVE STREAM
Ilya Kaminsky, James Byrne, Jan Glas, Karinna Alves Gulias, Liu Waitong, Michèle Métail, Qin Xiaoyu, Roland Jooris