Turner’s Lu Xun in Seedings

seedings1-f-coverIssue 1 of the new journal Seedings is now out, featuring a great collection of work by some of English’s best poets: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Tarn, Rosmarie Waldrop, Will Alexander… and translators: Keith Waldrop (Paul Verlaine), Cole Swensen (Jaime Montestrela), Johannes Göransson (Sara Tuss Efrik)…

Worth mention on this blog are the three new translations by Matt Turner of prose poems by Lu Xun 魯迅. From “Waking” 一覺:

Planes on a mission to drop bombs, like the start of class at school every morning, fly over Beijing. Everytime I hear the sound of their parts pound the air I repeatedly feel a light tension, as though witnessing a “death” raid. But at the same time intensely feeling the “birth” of existence.

飛機負了擲下炸彈的使命,像學校的上課似的,每日上午在北京城上飛行。每聽得機件搏擊空氣的聲音,我常覺到一種輕微的緊張,宛然目睹了「死」的襲來,但同時也深切地感著「生」的存在。隱約聽到一二爆發聲以後,飛機嗡嗡地叫著,冉冉地飛去了。也許有人死傷了罷,然而天下卻似乎更顯得太平。窗外的白楊的嫩葉,在日光下發烏金光。

Click the image above to access the issue.

Lucas Klein at Short Takes on Long Poems

The video of my discussion of Xi Chuan and Yang Lian 楊煉 in terms of Ezra Pound, “Ideogrammic Methods: The Space of Writing and Tradition in Contemporary Chinese Long Poetry,” from the Short Takes on Long Poems conference in honor of Rachel Blau DuPlessis last March in New Zealand, has finally been posted online. Click the image above to link to the video.

Short Takes on Long Poems Website

The website of the Short Takes on Long Poems conference, which I attended at University of Auckland in March, is now live, featuring a video of our “world’s longest poem” and the presentations of Jacob Edmond, Susan Schultz, John Tranter, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, along with others. My presentation on Xi Chuan and Yang Lian 杨炼 is not up [yet], but if / when it appears, I’ll post to it here.

#XiChuan

Scrounging through the series of tubes that make up the internet the other day I came across someone’s Twitter feed from January, posting live updates from my event with Xi Chuan and Chris Lupke at the MLA. After the event I posted Rachel Blau DuPlessis‘s excellent response to “Hearing Xi Chuan for the First Time,” but these tweets took me back in a different way. eetempleton seemed particularly impressed with Xi Chuan’s aversion to “good poems”–something I explained in my Poetry Society of America write-up as poems “both acceptable to more conservative aesthetic standards as well as simply poems that are too ‘well-behaved.'” Ultimately, however, I think these tweets capture something important about Xi Chuan as a writer, quoting: “I’m not trying to be a poet. I’m trying to be a person writing texts.”

Short Takes on Long Poems

The Short Takes on Long Poems conference, from which I just returned on Monday, was one of the better short academic conferences I’ve attended–in part because it wasn’t entirely academic, but a mixture of explications of long poems and recitations or performances of long poetry as well. I showed up late, so unfortunately had to miss seeing my friend Jacob Edmond‘s presentation (which was very funny, according to all reports), but I met his father Murray Edmond, as well as Hilary Chung, and had great run-ins with John Tranter, Pam Brown, Robert Sullivan, Susan Schultz, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, all of whom, I’m happy to say, were not only enthusiastic about my presentation on Yang Lian 杨炼 and Xi Chuan, but also looking forward to the release of Notes on the Mosquito. In the afternoon of the second day, we spent the afternoon on Waiheke island–a forty-minute ferry ride from Auckland–writing a physically long poem on the beach. Given that Chinese poet Gu Cheng 顾城 had lived and committed suicide on the island, I commemorated him in my section of the poem with his most famous lines, 黑夜给了我黑色的眼睛 / 我却用它寻找光明.

Also at the conference the new issue of  k a   m a t e   k a   o r a  was released, with a slew of discussions and commentaries on poetry and translation. Hilary Chung’s “Ghosts in the City: The Auckland Exile of Yang Lian and Gu Cheng” I found particularly helpful.

Crossing Paths

Talk about “world” poetry. Xi Chuan arrives in Hongkong tomorrow morning to take part of this spring’s International Poets in Hong Kong event at Chinese University, leading workshops on American poetry and introducing his translations of Gary Snyder (Snyder will be here at the end of April; I’ll be moderating a couple of his programs). Given inopportune scheduling, though, I’m flying to New Zealand tomorrow evening to attend the Short Takes on Long Poems conference with Rachel Blau DuPlessis (and Jacob Edmond, Susan Schultz, and others), where I’ll be presenting on Xi Chuan and contemporary Chinese poetry. Unfortunately, Xi Chuan leaves Hongkong the day I get back from Auckland! At least I’ll be able to have a quick lunch with him tomorrow before I leave.

Short Takes on Long Poems

At the end of the month I’ll be traveling to New Zealand for a conference, where I’ll be presenting on what happens to Ezra Pound’s notion of the “ideogrammic method” when it shows up in Chinese “epic” poetry, specifically the works of Yang Lian 楊煉 and Xi Chuan. Jacob Edmond has written up some of the details and participants on his Common Strangeness blog:

Michele Leggott, Lisa Samuels, and Robert Sullivan have put together a really exciting lineup for the “Short Takes on Long Poems” symposium to be held in Auckland from 28 to 30 March. Organized around Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s visit to New Zealand, the “Short Takes on Long Poems” symposium brings together poets and scholars from various corners of the Pacific rim, including Hawaii (Susan Schultz), Hong Kong (Lucas Klein), Australia (Hazel Smith, John Tranter, Kate Lilley, Philip Mead, Ann Vickery, and others), and of course from New Zealand (Cilla McQueen, Bernadette Hall, David Howard, Jack Ross, et al).

New Alligatorzine

Kurt Devrese‘s Alligatorzine is newly updated, featuring a bilingual recording by Sandra Moussempès & Kristin Prevallet, as well as new work by American greats Heller Levinson (poetry), Will Alexander (prose poetry), and Rachel Blau DuPlessis (collages) (and for Rachel’s take on Xi Chuan at the MLA, click here).

Click these links for Alligator‘s earlier publication of my Xi Chuan translations, “A Personal Paradise” 个人的天堂, “Friends” 熟人, “Companion” 伴侣, “Drizzle” 连阴雨, and selections from “Answering Venus (45 Fragments)” 回答启明星(45断章).

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture on Xi Chuan

A couple months ago I linked to the Xi Chuan Wikipedia page in German, and mentioned that no one had written a Wikipedia entry for him in English. I also linked to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture entry on him, written by poet / translator / scholar Huang Yibing 黃亦兵 (a/k/a Mai Mang 麦芒), but I’ll take the opportunity now to quote it: mentioning the difference between Xi Chuan’s styles before and after 1989, Huang writes that since the ’90s he has

experiment[ed] with various hybrid forms of prose and poetry to convey what he now calls a ‘pseudo-philosophy’ (wei zhexue), inquiring into the absurdities and previously overlooked dark shadows of history, human consciousness and reason.

This is right, but the passage also stands as a testament to how quickly things change in the life of a living poet. Huang’s entry was only written a few years ago, but since I’ve known Xi Chuan (we first met in the spring of 2006), I can’t think of a single time he’s mentioned the phrase “pseudo-philosophy” 为哲学. At the public discussion at the MLA (see Rachel Blau DuPlessis‘s great write-up here) he mentioned that he was no longer interested in writing normatively “good” poems, and I’ve often heard him speak about the oxymoron and its potential and importance for Chinese poetry today (see versions of this discussion in English here and here), but “pseudo-philosophy” is a trope I think he’s left behind. Actually, looking at his most recent work, I get the sense that he’s more interested in producing texts with real, not pseudo-, philosophical value. I hope you see what I mean when Notes on the Mosquito is published in April.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis on Hearing Xi Chuan for the First Time

 

American poet Rachel Blau DuPlessis attended last week’s discussion at the MLA between Xi Chuan and Chris Lupke. The following excellent essay is her take on the event:

A Note on hearing Xi Chuan for the First Time

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

The poet Xi Chuan appeared at the annual conference of the Modern Language Association in Seattle in January 2012, in a question and answer session curated by Professor Christopher Lupke of Washington State University, interspersed with a reading by the poet (in Chinese) and by his translator Lucas Klein (in English). The event was very striking to me. There are various “paths” one can pick at this bazaar-like humanities conference, but as part of the “county fair” or “state fair” array, the path that leads the attendee to new information certainly counts for something. The session on Xi Chuan, in a solemn hall, was attended by a number of scholars and teachers with an interest in Asian literature, and of these, there were many Chinese speakers. There were also a few spare poets and folks committed to poetic culture. Among those, me.

The most interesting phenomenon of the occasion, at least to this particular “spare poet,” was the very polite and quiet resistance of some members of the audience to what they saw in Xi Chuan’s work as—here’s what I would call it—non-poetic (or anti-poetic, or un-poetic). That is, people challenged his lexicon (range of words, some quite colloquial) as brought forward by the translator; they challenged why this material is classified as poetry; they wanted (politely, etc.) to suggest that perhaps the poet had missed that he was writing in prose, or making short fiction, or working in a hybrid genre, but that he wasn’t really writing what they would call (in somewhat hushed tones), “poetry.” Or perhaps with a capital “P”: “Poetry.”  “Why,” one person asked, “is poetry the most appropriate mode in which to articulate your cultural critique?”

This was (and remains) a very good question, but I suspected it was motivated by the questioner’s resistance to the fusion of poetry and critique rather than, as I’d think, an interest in how one can, may, and even should be able to propose and carry out this goal for poetry as a mode of practice. (By the way, I’d define poetry as a mode of writing in chosen rhythmic segments that are culturally read as poetry. Clearly, the issue of “cultural reading” was precisely at stake for some of the people hearing Xi Chuan.) Such a question also shows that a whole range of world poetries and poetics of the 20th and early 21st century were not being credited. In short, some of the members of the audience had a strong case of what I’d call “poetry ideology.” They not only preferred the focused lyric, the misty, “pure poetry,” and the “poetic” on principle, but they seemed to find this the only kind of writing worthy of the honorific “poetry.”  Some silvery aura of specialness shimmered around “poetry”; some sense that it should stay untainted by… well, by what? by words like “shithole” (country colloquialism for latrine) or by noticing some kids (“delinquents”) in a country town, acting up by dying their black hair yellow. Or by the general air of realist disjunction so well-honed that it passes into almost-surrealism. Or by a meta-commentary or sense of allegory that infuses some of the work. Or by the desire to record everyday life seen in such a light as it is both comic, observationally accurate, and endowed with a humane generosity and ethical melancholy within that notional intensity. “Dignity and shithole together” is how Xi Chuan characterized this move.

In short, the reading offered evidence of a cultural clash around issues fundamental to modern and contemporary poetry. Xi Chuan fed this clash and teased about it, stating that he did know how to write “good poems”—I assume this means poems conventional in this milieu, using or alluding to the appropriate formal and imagistic conventions of Chinese poetry, including stanza and rhyme. He said that he even had written such “good poems,” and that every once in a while he still did. He has loved the work of both Yeats and Valéry.  But generally, “I am trying to be a person writing texts.” That is, he has been touched by certain rhetorics and forms with which I am familiar from Western cultural traditions and would refer to via these names and practices—by the term “writing” for William Carlos Williams (see Spring and All), by the urban, suspicious and sometimes “crashed out” sensibility of Charles Baudelaire, by the prose poem tradition of, say, Robert Bly (whose work he read in his student days courtesy of a Peking University professor of English named Herbert Stone).

Xi Chuan’s personal/social history as it bears on his poems was quickly sketched in. The years around Tiannamen Square (when he was in his mid-twenties) were exciting and difficult; a friend died, another committed suicide; he was “lonely” and felt “crashed out.” (Xi Chuan’s English is excellent, and this verb—slightly unidiomatic—is notably expressive. All apparent citations here are what I heard.)  He could not write poetry for a couple of years; he wrote notes only, and then discovered that these fragments were the germ for a new kind of text. “History and reality gave me the way of writing.” The fusion of aesthetic and ethical concerns in his work is serious and generative.

Xi Chuan’s work in the English translation of Lucas Klein will be published by New Directions in April 2012 under the title Notes on the Mosquito.