My review of Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼 and translated by Brian Holton (Bloodaxe, 2017), is out in the new issue of Translation and Literature (Vol. 27, issue 2).
It’s paywalled but for subscribers and certain academic institutions, but here’s a paragraph free:
That so much of Yang Lian’s poetics – indeed, his mythopoetics – centres on the Chinese past is a particular challenge for Holton as translator. Of course, some critics from China and elsewhere have accused Yang of writing a China of and for western understanding – but why not? In any event, that it is for westerners to understand does not make it easier to translate. Holton has not shied away from providing notes to mark moments where Yang makes allusions to people and places that fall outside the expected anglophone frame of reference. Mostly, however, it is in the strength of his diction that the power of his verse lies, just as the force of Yang Lian’s word choice is what makes his poetry most compelling in Chinese. The thought and emotion of Yang Lian’s writing are immanent in the words he uses – and the same is true of Holton’s translations.
Issue 1 of the new journal Seedingsis 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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 Mosquitois published in April.