Turner on Wai-lim Yip’s Arrivals and Departures

The newest issue of Seedings includes Matt Turner’s review of Arrivals and Departures: Poems, Memoir, and Chronology, the selected English language poetry of Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉.

Turner writes of how Yip’s “aesthetic horizon” draws off, but differs from, Chinese poetics:

But how exactly does this aesthetic horizon represent itself? For Yip, by superimposing an understanding of the Chinese  language over what are considered Western modernist techniques. The Chinese tradition from the early shamanic songs all the way to the present day is framed by poets and the state alike as a tradition of the creation and control of language. In contrast to his contemporary François Cheng, the French structuralist who theorized that Chinese poetry was more or less symbolic of (Daoist) cosmic orders, leaving real-world relations unaffected, Yip sees verbalization as a decisive factor in poetry. Language performs actions in the world; it is decisive in shaping human relationships. And here he borrows from Ezra Pound, who theorized that the Chinese language, when properly used, was a demonstration of Confucian social values — a stance not far from Confucius’, who saw the function of naming as giving correct proportion to human interactions. Incorrect naming would result in an inability to perform concrete tasks.

So it will not be surprising that Yip is not interested in the stereotypically Chinese features of poetry: moons, drinking, gauze curtains and so on. By incorporating English into his poetics, the “indigenous” is given a different, artificial voice. The slippery language of his poetry demonstrates that modernist techniques of verbal layering and oblique reference alongside the traditional Chinese techniques of figurative distance and subjective alienation are nearly the same techniques, but yield surprising effects.

Click the image above to link to the review, or download the .pdf here.

Rothenberg on Pound & Yip

Jerome Rothenberg has posted his introduction to a collection of the poetry in English of Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉, forthcoming next year. Here’s an excerpt:

But what about [Ezra Pound’s] invention of China or of Chinese poetry?

What is left to say is that Pound set a style that came to typify early twentieth-century translations into English/American and that he later pointed (in Canto 49, say) toward other styles that were possibly closer to the classical Chinese … It fell to Wai-lim Yip – a poet first and foremost – to unearth all this for us – not to invent China over again but to explain and explore aspects of the traditional poetry that link to American works after and beyond Pound and William Carlos Williams.  From Yip’s work we get what we might call the montage principle based on both a knowledge and practice of Chinese poetry and an observation of the work of later American poets, including Pound himself in the Cantos.  (That Yip’s approach is not only that of a scholar but of a deeply involved poet is also something worth noting.)  In the course of doing this Yip has opened for us not only a sensible view of Chinese poetry but a profound understanding of the nature of translation and the possibilities of poetry as they emerge from an actual practice.

Click on the image above for the full piece.

Yip’s Qu Yuan forthcoming in Rothenberg’s new Technicians of the Sacred

Portrait of Qu Yuan by Chen HongshouJerome Rothenberg will be releasing an expanded version of his foundational anthology Technicians of the Sacred, and it will include an excerpt from a new translation of Qu Yuan 屈原 by Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉. Rotheberg has published a preview on his blog at Jacket2, where he writes:

The Nine Songs by Qu Yuan (332–296 B.C.), excerpts from which appeared in the earlier editions of Technicians of the Sacred in Arthur Waley’s well-known & text-only translation, was in its origins a clear example of poetry as an act of “total performance.” Writes Wai-lim Yip as translator: “Recent scholarship, particularly the work of the poet-scholar Wen Yiduo, sees Qu Yuan’s The Nine Songs as a collection of songs of folk and oral nature used in ancient shamanistic ritualistic dramas performed near Dongting Lake in Hu’nan Province. The songs as they appear in the Chu Ci or The Songs of the South (consisting of one single, ambiguous voice and in the form of poems) are believed to have been greatly worked over by Qu Yuan. Wen Yiduo, himself a famous modern Chinese poet of the 1920s, in addition to his many essays tracing the poem to relevant origins, reconstructs The Nine Songs into a performable structure. The present translation is a slightly modified version based on his reconstruction.”

A section from the translation reads:

Riding a white turtle, chasing spotted fishes,
I will roam with you among the small islets
As swollen waters come tumbling down.
With crossed hands, I will go with you to the East,
To escort my beautiful one to the Southern Shore.

Click the image above for more.

Chinese Literature Today

CLT Vol.2 No.1The current issue of Chinese Literature Today features:

  • Chinese Poets Writing in English (Qiu Xiaolong 裘小龙, Yun Wang, Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉)
  • Non-Chinese Poets Writing in Chinese (Jami Proctor-Xu, Denis Mair, Afaa Michael Weaver [translated by Lucas Klein])
  • Special features on Yu Jian 于坚 and Wai-lim Yip
  • Book reviews of Jacob Edmond, A Common Strangeness; Michael Gibbs Hill, Lin Shu, Inc.; Xi Chuan, A Bend in the Great River; and Yu Jian, On the Long Journey.
  • And more

Click on the image above for more information.

Wai-lim Yip in Chinese Literature Today

Wai-lim Yip

Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉 on his background and beginnings:

While the poets in Hong Kong and in Taiwan shared the same frustration, the modernist writings that emerged from this frustration have different permutations. Hong Kong poets faced radicalized crisis of cultural identity and the concomitant cul- ture industry that came with British colonization, whereas their Taiwan counterparts wrestled with the rule of the Kuomintang during a period that became known as the White Terror. Both discovered language strategies from Euro-American modernism and modified them through the lens of classical and contemporary Chinese poetry. I began in Hong Kong and matured in Taiwan.

Click the image above for the entire article.

Chris Lupke on Xi Chuan

Today’s Book Review Seminar with Xi Chuan features Chris Lupke’s review of my translations, Notes on the Mosquito. Because it’s still forthcoming in print, I can’t reproduce the entire review, but here’s an excerpt of Lupke’s intricate and sensitive take on Xi Chuan’s poetry and its importance in China and the world:

The density of his poetry aside, the other trial facing me and any reader at this time is that we have no serviceable nomenclature for what Xi Chuan is doing, particularly his work of the past ten years or so. He is engaged in an unprecedented project to recast literary expression in contemporary China. And we do not know, cannot now know, whether the results of his project eventually will be the idiosyncratic work of one man, or whether he is setting a path, one possible path, for other poets to follow. Xi Chuan exists at a special time in Chinese literary history when form has finally matured in modern Chinese poetry, when the anxiety of influence can be tempered by several generations of earlier modern poets who bore the major brunt of being compared with the illustrious tradition of classical Chinese poetry and when experiments with Western poetic structures have by and large been cast aside. The successes of free verse poets from Taiwan such as Yang Mu, Yu Guangzhong, Wai-lim Yip (Cantonese, but educated in Taiwan), and others have established a solid corpus in the vernacular mode. Obscure poets from China have safely neutralized the once suffocating omnipresence of Maospeak. Through the use of internal rhymes, rhythmic repetition, alliteration and assonance, Xi Chuan is able to forge his work in an environment in which the so-called avant-garde (which to date has not been adequately defined in China) is the norm. Liberated from the twin strictures of classical Chinese and Western prosody, Xi Chuan has become a successful bricoleur, a world poet who interacts with the tradition, engages literary giants of China’s past within his work, and also establishes a dialogue with Western greats such as Homer, Petrarch, Baudelaire, Rilke, Pound, Gary Snyder, and others. His work is the product of a creative dialectics that violates Hu Shi’s admonition to eschew literary allusion while embracing his demand to articulate things in the vernacular. The conflicts that Xi Chuan bespeaks in his poetry are not those of a clash of civilizations, of traditional and modernity or East and West. Rather, they are internal conflicts, conflicts of the soul. His work is completely personal and untranslatable to others, not just linguistically but emotionally. But at the same time, his problems are genuine and are no different than those that give pain to each of us: the death of friends and family, frustration over failure, difficulty communicating to others, weakness and ineffectuality, humiliation, fear, lust, and limitation. “The one with the greatest vision is blind” 最具视觉功夫的人竟然是个瞎子, he flatly observers, “if Homer wasn’t blind, then whoever created Homer must have been” 如果荷马不是瞎子,那创作了荷马的人必是瞎子. And he concludes at the end of the same poem: “Nietzsche the last son of Dionysus, never touching a drop, still went crazy in Weimar” 尼采酒神的最后一个儿子,滴酒不沾,却也在魏玛疯疯癫癫 (109). Genius has its consequences. It’s not a game.

Hope you can attend!

Date: 1 November, 2012 (Thursday)
Time: 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Venue: G4302, Green Zone, 4/F, Academic 1, City University of Hong Kong.