Xi Chuan at Almost Island

In their new issue, south-Asian journal Almost Island has published a transcription Xi Chuan gave with Vivek Almost IslandNarayanan in New Delhi in December, 2013 (along with some excerpts read from Notes on the Mosquito), titled “Doubting Yourself and the World at Once.” Here’s a passage:

I think, to be creative you need to at least be symmetrical to the surroundings. You may get your language from others, from previous writers, but maybe there is another possibility–that is, you can get your language from reality itself, from society itself. And I wrote an essay some years ago in which I talked about the Chinese oxymorons, social oxymorons. So, before, when I wanted to be a new poet, I tried to be a surrealist, or a symbolist, or a futurist, and now I don’t care about all these terms, and I feel that I need to be honest to myself, and I need to be honest to my awkwardness in this society, my embarrassment in this society. And once you admit that you are embarrassed, then maybe, maybe you can go on with your writing.

Click the image above for the full article, which can also be downloaded as a .pdf file.

Almost Island Dialogues

Almost Island is a space for literature that threatens, confronts, or bypasses the marketplace. The space began with an online journal, then expanded to an international writers dialogue, held every year. The seventh edition of the Almost Island Dialogues will be held at the India International Centre, New Delhi, from December 19th to 22nd, 2013.
The discussions centre on issues of craft, form, and content as well as the context of writing in different cultures. Unlike a literary festival, Almost Island likes to keep the Dialogues small, rigorous, and intimate. These conversations are concerned with process, with how things are learnt, explored, created, and created again. This year we plan to continue with some singular writers. The mornings and afternoons are kept for intense, extended, freewheeling talks and discussions; the evenings, for readings and performances.
The readings are open to all, but to attend the day discussions pre-registration is needed. For pre-registration and any other queries, please write to Rahul Soni at almostisland.edit@gmail.com.

Evening Readings / Performances on the IIC Annexe Lawns (All Are Welcome.)

Thursday, December 19, 6:30 pm
Baha’ud-din Dagar

Friday, December 20, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5 pm László Krasznahorkai / Xi Chuan

Saturday, December 21, 10.30 am to 1 pm Ashis Nandy / Baha ud-din Dagar

Sunday, December 22, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5 pm Arvind Krishna Mehrotra / Renee Gladman

Panels and Discussion at Conference Room 1, IIC Main Centre (NB: panels are also open to all who wish to come, but

pre-registration is required. Contact Rahul Soni at
almostisland.edit@gmail.com for more details.)

Friday, December 20, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5 pm
László Krasznahorkai / Xi Chuan

Saturday, December 21, 10.30 am to 1 pm
Ashis Nandy / Baha ud-din Dagar

Sunday, December 22, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5pm
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra / Renee Gladman

Download the .pdf for more information.

Review of Words & the World

Kevin Carollo’s review of Words & the World, the publication from the 2011 International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong, has just appeared at Rain Taxi online. Carollo writes:

Enter Words & the World, the material result of 2011’s International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong. A white box roughly 7 x 11 x 2.5 inches in dimension houses a collection of twenty chapbooks, black ink on white paper, with at least two languages guaranteed in each chapbook (Chinese and English). The collection “begins” with the younger generation Mexican poet María Baranda (b. 1962), and “ends” with Chinese writer Yu Xiang (b. 1970), integrating them with better-known or longer-standing international versifiers, including Irish trickster Paul Muldoon, American spiritualist C.D Wright, Japanese lyric master Shuntaro Tanikawa, and Slovenian dynamo Tomaz Salamun. The box-set effect encourages reading at cross-cultural purposes, to be sure, and a nice leveling effect emerges between poets, poems, and languages. The work inside is generally stunning, strange, and vibrant, in no small part due to having crossed so many borders to appear before your very eyes.

Today’s English speaker is more than likely aware of the myriad forms of English informing the polyphonic Anglo poetry world, and the inclusion of such diverse poets as Muldoon, Wright, and Indian Vivek Narayanan intimates as much. Perhaps because the “West” often conveniently forgets that a billion people speak the language, Words & The World importantly underscores the heterogeneous nature of living and writing in Chinese by showcasing writers from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. All of them seem engaged in some form of epic conversation with a “West” that is far from predictable or uniform in its concerns or manifestations. The addition of poets like Brazilian Régis Bonvicino (writing in Portuguese, despite his French-Italian name) and German-born Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko further reinforces the sense of a grandiloquent, irreverent dialogue occurring across the seven seas. Bonvicino’s chapbook includes an untitled poem dedicated to Dragomoshchencko, which begins: “Almost no one sees / what I see in the words / byzantine iconoclasm / the clock reads midnight or mid-day?” (56). Indeed, the byzantine iconoclasm of this box set is what astonishes most of all, the overriding and often overwhelming sense that, night or day, it is high time for all of us to wake up.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Poem Flow: The Other Side of the River

I still want to give updates on my trips to New Zealand and India (including my brief visit in Delhi with Xi Chuan’s friend and mine, poet Vivek Narayanan), but first, there’s this amazing bit of poetic application, from Poem Flow and the American Academy of Poets, my translation of Xi Chuan’s “The Other Side of the River” 在河的那一边 (click the image to see the poem in action):

More on the India-China Writers Dialogues

While I expect it will be some time until the participants of the India-China Writers Dialogues publish anything about the event–these writers want to be thorough and accurate to both reality and emotion–I did come across another press report, from Express India. It begins discussing the germ of the idea with Sharmistha Mohanty and Bei Dao, and moving on toward the following detail:

Since the beginning of the dialogue two years ago, the participants have been the same group of writers, and Mohanty believes this has been a very important aspect. “With the same group of writers meeting each time, we have become good friends and learnt a lot from each other,” she says. Besides the speakers for the panel discussion, the participants include Allan Sealy, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Adil Jussawalla, Vivek Narayanan and K Satchidanandan from India and Ge Fei, Xi Chuan, Zhai Yongming and Ouyang Jianghe from China.

These discussions are not limited to analysing writing styles and such. In the course of these two years, the participants have exchanged a great deal about their histories and cultures, too. “We talk about a variety of things,” says Mohanty. “For instance, what does tradition mean to us? How is it represented in our lives and works? Or how a writer wrestles with his past when he is writing. We discuss whether he rejects that long past or embraces it, and so on.”

Almost Island

In honor of the upcoming China – India Writers Dialogues, I wanted to point out the journal Almost Island, whose editors Sharmistha Mohanty and Vivek Narayanan have been organizing the Dialogues.

See also the Almost Island publication of Mohanty’s essay on her experiences in China, “Mountains and Rivers“; Xi Chuan only gets the briefest of mentions (Bei Dao 北岛, Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, and Li Tuo 李陀 get fuller discussions), but it’s a grand take on one writer’s considerations of China and its contrasts with India. Also the prose poem “Editorial Sutras,” which offers Mohanty’s impressions of the first Chinese – Indian Writers’ Dialogue, in 2009.

India-China Writers Dialogues

Xi Chuan will be traveling to Mumbai soon for the India-China Writers Dialogues. Here is a press release along with a schedule of speakers:

The online literature journal Almost Island, founded and edited by novelist Sharmistha Mohanty along with poet Vivek Narayanan, has begun a dialogue with mainland Chinese writers. The first such dialogue, led on the Chinese side by the great contemporary poet Bei Dao and the seminal journal Jintian (Today), was held in 2009 in New Delhi. This was possibly the first unofficial dialogue between Indian and Chinese writers in recent times. The second was held in China, in Beijing and Shanghai. This Mumbai meet is the third chapter of the dialogues. It brings together some of China’s and India’s leading writers. Ashis Nandy who has been part of these dialogues, has called it “historical”. He has said, “This is not a meeting between two countries, but an encounter between two civilisations.” The two evenings of readings will be rich with poets and novelists from both countries reading from their exceptional works.

Dec 19:
Zhai Yongming 翟永明
Allan Sealy
Xi Chuan 西川
Rukmini Bhaya Nair
Ge Fei 格非

Dec 20:
Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河
Sharmistha Mohanty
Adil Jussawalla
Han Shanogong 韩少功
Vivek Narayanan
Bei Dao 北岛

Words & the World in the stores

Words & the World, the multilingual anthology and twenty-volume box-set of the International Poetry Nights, is now in stores, as I noticed when in a bookstore in Tsim Sha Tsui 尖沙咀. Right before snapping this picture, I saw a browser stop by the display, read a few lines, and head off to buy one of the pocket editions. No joke!

If you’re not in the Hongkong area or can’t find these books in a shop near you, click on the image to get to the ordering page.

Writing Across Languages debrief

The “Writing Across Languages” panel yesterday was, I thought, a grand success. As I mentioned in introducing the panel yesterday, the title itself was an act of what it describes, since the Chinese title of “Writing Across Languages” is 跨語際寫作 (“Translingual Writing”), which is the Chinese title of the monograph by Lydia Liu 劉禾 on how early 20th century Chinese literature crafted a new language out of the translations of other concepts and literatures; the title of her book in English–the language it was first written in–is Translingual Practice, a fine example of which is the transformation of the term “Translingual Practice” to 跨語際寫作 to “Writing Across Languages.” Our panel was also interesting in part because our panelists did not share a common language, and so we embodied not only writing across languages, but speaking across languages as well. Many thanks to our tireless simultaneous interpreters, Pan Jun 潘珺 and Wu Hui 吳惠!

All four participants–Bejan Matur (Turkey), Tomaž Šalamun (Slovenia), Tian Yuan 田原(China / Japan), and Yao Feng 姚風 (China / Macau)–had fascinating stories to tell and analyses to provide about their relationships with several languages, and how these languages and relationships helped create their poetry. Amidst Matur’s and Šalamun’s speeches about politically-motivated silencing–of Kurdish in Matur’s Turkey, and of Serbian in the Trieste of Šalamun’smother’s youth–I couldn’t help but think of Paul Celan, and how his writing in German worked to dismantle the language, and thereby cleanse it of its recent historical associations (some have said something similar about Bei Dao‘s search for a clean Chinese).

I think the role of the moderator is to speak little, a difficult task for me since my inclination is also to be a decidedly immoderate moderator. Nevertheless, I will add here a point I raised in response to Xu Xi‘s mention of the imperialism of English: it’s irresponsible–if not impossible–to talk about the spread of English without talking about the spread of American imperialism and all the changes, for the better and for the worse, that that has brought to the world; but the logic of empire is not to admit translations: much was translated out of Sanskrit, but Sanskrit evidently didn’t have a word for translation; Greek was translated into the “barbarian” languages, but what was kept in those languages was not transmitted into Greek; and Latin was translated into the other languages of Europe and North Africa, not the other way around. This model is mirrored in the obvious imbalance of translations into and out of English–much of translation around the world is from English into other languages, whereas translations only account for a notorious 3% of the American book market. To that end, the more we translate into English, the more we we allow English to be one language amongst others, instead of a hegemonic language imposing its logic and worldview on the rest of the world; in short, the more we translate into English, the more we are working against the imperialism of English and American economic and cultural domination.

Two more readings today for the International Poetry Nights, both at the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity (Multi-Media Theatre, 135 Junction Road, Kowloon): at 3:30 with Vivek Narayanan (India), Silke Scheuermann (Germany), Wong Leung Wo 王良和 (Hong Kong), and Yao Feng (Macau), and then at 7:00 with María Baranda (Mexico), Chen Ko Hua 陳克華 (Taiwan), Tomaž Šalamun (Slovenia), Yu Jian 于堅 (China).

International Poetry Nights

The “Masters & (M)other Tongues” discussion at CUHK yesterday was fascinating, though not in the ways I had expected. I had thought that it would be a discussion about the tension between the two sides of the parenthesis around “(m)other tongues,” and about the models the poets use for their own work from traditions either native or foreign to them. But now that I look at the schedule online again I see that it’s simply “Masters & Mother Tongues,” which creates a different kind of tension; perhaps this accounts for the difference, since all the participants—Liu Wenfei 劉文飛 (the Chinese translator of Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, unable to attend due to  illness), Silke Scheuermann, Vivek Narayanan, and Xi Chuan—ended up discussing “mother tongues” amidst the troubling connotations of the word “master.” And they all ended up talking about their own sense of awkwardness and embarrassment. Xi Chuan, for instance, said that while people from other parts of China used to have to apologize for not speaking Mandarin well, he feels embarrassed about only speaking Mandarin, and only rarely speaking the related, but distinct, Beijing dialect.

The evening’s reading was excellent. Liu Wenfei read Dragomoschenko’s poems in Russian, followed by Ling Yu 零雨 (some of whose pieces I also translated), then C. D. Wright, and then Xi Chuan—with excellent zither 古琴 performances by Yao Gongbai 姚公白 interspersed. During Ling Yu’s reading she was mysteriously moved to tears by the memories her poems called up, which was stunning to witness, not least because my experience translating her work was to be filled with a very different sense of mystery. And Xi Chuan, always gracious, was the only of the poets reading to thank his translator—to which I can only say, my pleasure!

Above and below are two shots I took of Xi Chuan’s reading.

This afternoon at 3:30 at City University (Connie Fan Multi-media Conference Room, 4/F Cheng Yick Chi Building) I’ll be leading a discussion on “Writing Across Languages” with Bejan Matur (Turkey), Tomaž Šalamun (Slovenia), Tian Yuan 田原(China / Japan), and Yao Feng 姚風 (China / Macau). The readers this evening at 7:00 at the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity (Multi-Media Theatre, 135 Junction Road, Kowloon) are Régis Bonvicino (Brazil), Lo Chih Cheng 羅智成 (Taiwan), Bejan Matur, and Yu Xiang 宇向 (China).