Cohen on WCW’s Chinese Translations

In a piece tiled “Empty Hills—Deep Woods—Green Moss: William Carlos Williams’s Chinese Experiment,” Jonathan Cohen writes for Words Without Borders Daily about Williams’s Chinese translations and the impact Chinese poetics may have had on his poetics: “Williams had thought his invention of the triadic line that he used in The Desert Music (1954) and Journey to Love (1955) was the “solution of the problem of modern verse,” Cohen writes, but afterward, Williams

found himself at an impasse with his poetics, and subsequently set out to translate a group of poems from classical Chinese, with the help of a young poet-translator from China named David Rafael Wang (1931–77; known as David Hsin-fu Wand in academe). Wang claimed to be a direct descendant of the famous Chinese painter-poet, Wang Wei (701–61), and soon after meeting Williams, he proposed their collaboration. Not all that surprisingly, Pound—famously described by T. S. Eliot as “the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time”—brought them together.

So,

Early in 1957 the voices of poets from ancient China called to him, in the form of the free renderings (Pound style) of a small group of poems written during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and Song dynasty (960–1279) that Wang published in the February issue of Noel Stock’s Edge.

Cohen also notes,

Chinese poetry became a refuge for Williams, like the green mountains to where its poets would retreat. In June he published a review in Poetry magazine of Kenneth Rexroth’s recently translated One Hundred Poems from the Chinese. This review further demonstrates the appeal Chinese poetry had for Williams, who claimed that so far as he knew, “nothing comparable and as relaxed is to be found . . . in the whole of English or American verse, and in French or Spanish verse.” He said Rexroth’s collection was “one of the most brilliantly sensitive books of poems in the American idiom it has ever been my good fortune to read.”

“In the end,” Cohen ask, “did William’s brief experiment as a translator of Chinese poetry help him in his quest to find a workable form for his new poems?”

his experimentation with the stop-short poems of Wang Wei and others reaffirmed for him the value of their square-looking poems using the jueju form. This design is seen in his poem “The Chrysanthemum,” first published in 1960 in the New Jersey-based magazine Now and later in his final book Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), for which he posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry:

how shall we tell
the bright petals
from the sun in the
sky concentrically

crowding the branch
save that it yields
in its modesty
to that splendor?

The twenty-seven words of this poem, in which the poet contemplates how to distinguish the petals of a chrysanthemum from the sun’s brightness, seem indebted in their form to the jueju. It’s just one word short of the classic eight-line jueju. Here the flower is transformed by the sunlight, much like the moss in Wang Wei’s closing image of “Deer Park.” Other poems in Pictures from Brueghel show Williams’s use of minimal design in the style of the Chinese, following his turn away from the triadic line.

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Qiu on the Poems of Inspector Chen

51ogn-PhntL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)LARB has published Qiu Xiaolong’s 裘小龙 Poems of Inspector Chen, the poetry of the fictional hero of Qiu’s Detective Chen novels:

Chen Cao started writing during his college years in the early eighties, a period sometimes described as a “golden” one for modern Chinese poetry.  After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, a considerable number of young people burst confidently onto the literary scene. But Chen is more of an accidental poet. While majoring in English and American literature, he studied with the well-known poet and critic Bian Zhilin (1910-2000), and handed in several pieces written as a sort of homework. With Bian’s encouragement, Chen had them published in Poetry and other magazines. In the meantime, he started translating T. S. Eliot and other Western poets, which added to his visibility in the circle.  While doing research for his thesis on Eliot, he fell in love with a young librarian named Ling in Beijing Library. Some of his early poems turned out to be idealistic in spite of the modernist influence.

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Insistent Voices Modern Chinese Poetry at Asia Literary Review

The new Asia Literary Review is hosting a feature on modern (I think they mean contemporary) Chinese poetry. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction by Zheng Danyi 鄭單衣 (translated with Martin Alexander and Shirley Lee):

For us, poetry wasn’t just a social tool or a political weapon. We worked to create an independent literary movement, inspired by T. S. Eliot and other Modernists, and to form a new sense of beauty from Chinese and Western traditions. We wrote in the music of our own southern languages – and edited with an ear for Mandarin. A vernacular approach was therefore also important – what Coleridge called “the language of ordinary men”. This had been a feature of China’s New Culture Movement, which flourished from 1917 to 1919. It aimed, as we did, to build on the literary traditions of the past and to speak directly to a broad audience in its own language.

The feature includes new translations of old poems by Zheng along with Bei Dao 北島, Duo Duo 多多, Shu Ting 舒婷, Yang Lian 楊煉, Gu Cheng 顧城, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Bai Hua 柏樺, Zhang Zao 張棗, and Chen Dongdong 陳東東.

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Former People Interview with Lucas Klein on China and Literary Modernism

1280px-2004_0928_Nanjing_ZhongHuaGate_HorseRamp2C. Derick Varn of Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers interviewed me with a series of complex questions on modernity and modernism in and about China. And of course, I couldn’t resist talking about Xi Chuan and Chinese and international poetry. Here’s an excerpt:

So that’s the problem. But as I’ve argued in a piece that’s forthcoming, modernism in literature is postmodernist in its philosophical implications … And I don’t think I’ve ever believed in modernism so much as modernisms. An interesting observation is that modernist writers who come from countries that claim an ownership of tradition—modernists from France or Italy or Russia—are often the ones to say, like Marinetti, “Museums, cemeteries!” while the modernists from countries that cannot claim such ownership—Pound and Eliot from the US, Joyce from Ireland—are the ones who want to revivify the ancient amidst the machinations of the modern (this isn’t foolproof, of course: William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein stand against such generalizations). As for whether there’s a Chinese modernism, the interesting thing is that after the Cultural Revolution, you get both: those feeling like their country has too much a claim on tradition, and is overwhelmed and stifled by it, as well as those who feel like their country is too displaced from tradition, and needs to re-own it and re-define it. So at any given moment Bei Dao might read like a shrugging off of tradition, and Yang Lian might read like a refitting of it, and Xi Chuan a refitting of that refitting, but they’re also specific responses to the relationship between tradition and modernity as have played out in China in the past hundred years and more.

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Jonathan Stalling Reviews Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness

200MCLC has published Jonathan Stalling’s review of Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature. Here’s how it begins:

To begin with, Jacob Edmond’s new book, A Common Strangeness, is anything but common and signals what I hope will be a new trend toward more ambitious studies of late-modernist to contemporary poetics on a global scale. While it might be premature to announce the arrival of a “global poetics,” there is a pressing need for a space to explore this genre specific cognate of World Literature, a space to reimagine what in China operates under the title: comparative poetics (比较诗学). This is a robust area of academic research in China, yet it tends to reduce poetry and poetics to the pre WWII traditional canon: Plato, Aristotle, and Longinus; Sidney, Pope, and Johnson; Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Emerson; Poe, Arnold, and Eliot; and perhaps Frost, Williams, Hughes, and, because it is China, Pound. In English literary criticism today, however, the term “poetics” often demarks poetry discourses consciously connected to avant-garde practice along the vectors of a more radical canon: Blake, Whitman, Stein, Pound, Zukofsky, Olson, Mac Low/John Cage to Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian and others associated with the so-called LANGUAGE poets from the 1970s forward through neo-conceptual poetry, etc … One should also mention that scholars tracking trends in contemporary poetics in the West have remained problematically Anglophonocentric and have largely failed to attend to poetic shifts on a global scale unless such shifts are explicitly conversant in the idioms of innovative English-based poetics (including those within the Sinophone sphere). So while no single volume could ever hope to connect the multitudinous and heterogeneous threads of a “global poetics,” A Common Strangeness succeeds in moving in this direction in part by offering a critical lens (strangeness) through which to view poetry on a global scale.

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