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.

 

2013 Princeton Poetry Festival Schedule

Friday, March 15
Saturday, March 16

Morning

10:00 am – 12:30 pm New Jersey State Finals of Poetry Out LoudPoetry Out Loud logo

Afternoon

Afternoon

2:00 pm Gala Opening ReadingIntroduction by Paul MuldoonWinner and Runner-up in Poetry Out Loud
Gabeba Baderoon
Bei Dao
Stephen Dunn
Sheriff Ghale
Jorie Graham
Lizzie Hutton
Amit Majmudar
Bejan Matur
Don Paterson
Gary Whitehead
Xi Chuan
Monica Youn
2:00 pm ReadingIntroduced by Jeff DolvenAmit Majmudar
Gary Whitehead
Monica Youn
3:15 pm Intermission 3:15 pm Intermission
3:30 pm Panel –
Poet and Difficulty (1)
Moderated by Paul Muldoon
Bei Dao
Sheriff Ghale
Jorie Graham
Lizzie Hutton
Amit Majmudar
Gary Whitehead
Monica Youn
3:30 pm Panel –
Poetry and Difficulty (2)
Moderated by Paul Muldoon
Gabeba Baderoon
Stephen Dunn
Bejan Matur
Don Paterson
Xi Chuan
4:45 pm Intermission 4:45 pm Intermission
5:00 – 6:00 pm ReadingIntroduced by James Richardson
Don Paterson on ‘“The tribute of the current to the source’: Frost, Time and Measure”
5:00 – 7:00 pm ReadingIntroduced by Tracy K. Smith
Bei Dao
Sheriff Ghale
Jorie Graham
Don Paterson
6:00 – 7:30 pm Break

Evening

8:00 pm ReadingIntroduced by Michael Dickman
Gabeba Baderoon
Stephen Dunn
Bejan Matur
Xi Chuan