Xi Chuan speaking at the Antipodean China workshop 23 November 2017
Tian Wei interviews Xi Chuan for China Global Television Network. The setup is exceedingly cheesey, but the interview is good.
The Cikada Prize 2018 is awarded to the Chinese poet Xi Chuan!
Founded in 2004 to commemorate the 100th birthday of Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Harry Martinson, the Cikada Prize is given to East Asian poets whose work “defend the inviolability of life.” They write:
This year’s winner is Xi Chuan (official name Liu Jun), poet, essayist, translator, born in the city of Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, in 1963. Xi Chuan studied English literature at Beijing University from 1981 to 1985, and was a visiting scholar to the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa in 2002, and Orion Scholar to the University of Victoria, Canada in 2009. He is currently teaching Classical Chinese Literature at the School of Liberal Arts, Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
The prize was handed out during a prize ceremony in Beijing, arranged in close cooperation with the Swedish Embassy.
Click here for more information.
Mail to Hong Kong from North America can be slow, so even though the current issue of Metamorphoses, a double issue on literature in Chinese, guest-edited by Sujane Wu, has been on the stands for some weeks, I only received my copy today.
The issue includes two new translations I’ve done of poessays 诗文 by Xi Chuan, “On Fan Kuan’s Monumental Landscape Scroll Travelers among Mountains and Streams” 题范宽巨障山水《溪山行旅图》 and “Once More on Fan Kuan’s Travelers among Mountains and Streams” 再题范宽《溪山行旅图》.
It also includes a short essay titled “Our Daily Bread“:
Chinese steamed buns, or mantou 饅頭 “are, indeed, just bread.” The statement is by Harvard professor of medieval Chinese literature Stephen Owen, elaborating on his earlier comments on world literature, where he had said that in the“international poetry” he was looking at, “most of these poems translate themselves.” Is mantou just bread? And what does this assertion have to do with translation?
From there, I go on to discuss Walter Benjamin on pain and Brot, and Eliot Weinberger on pumpernickel and Wonder Bread (and steamed buns). Of all the articles of mine that have been published, this is probably my favorite.
Take a look!
As part of the conference last month of the China Australia Writing Centre, run by Fudan and Curtin University, I moderated a Creative Conversations discussion between Eleanor Goodman, Michael Farrell, and Xi Chuan, at the Zhida bookstore in Shanghai. Take a look!
As a follow-up to Xi Chuan’s being October 2018 author-of-the-month at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, the Centre is now hosting a Talking Translation interview with me!
They ask, and I answer:
Do you have any advice for readers new to Xi Chuan about where best to begin or how to approach his poetry?
My advice to new readers of Xi Chuan would be different depending on what those readers are used to reading, because he made a pretty big stylistic change in the early nineties. If you like well-crafted lyrical poems, calm and deep, then start with his earliest publications at the beginning of Notes on the Mosquito and work your way through the whole book. If you like more expansive prose poems, long sequences, and the poetics of knowledge with a good sense of humor, then maybe skip Xi Chuan’s earliest work and start with his prose poetry—or what he calls “poessays”—coming back to his earlier lyrics later.
Click the link above for the full interview.
The MCLC Resource Center has published Paul Manfredi’s review of Nick Admussen’s monograph, Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry (University of Hawaii Press, 2016).
Orthodox prose poetry is exemplified for Admussen by the writings of Ke Lan [柯蓝 ] and Guo Feng [郭风], semi-orthodox prose poetry by Liu Zaifu 刘再复 (b. 1941), and the works of Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] (b. 1956 ) and Xi Chuan (b. 1963) represent the unorthodox tradition in Chinese prose poetry. A through line in Admussen’s identification and exploration of the three sub-genres is the critical question of voice, and the vocal attribute most essential to Admussen’s analysis is a kind of ventriloquism that characterizes the prose poetic voice. This ventriloquist feature best substantiates Admussen’s argument, because it is as compellingly present in leftist oriented work as it is in more ideologically independent or experimental poetry. Indeed, the entire question of ideological underpinning, other than being responsible for the relative scarcity of prose poetry from about 1963 through the late 1970s, is refreshingly recast in this book. Admussen’s description of Chinese prose poetry manages to rise above left/right, free/constrained dichotomies.
Beyond the summary, Manfredi writes:
While the previous chapters are full of insights and useful information, one feels that Admussen is really working up to his final chapter, which addresses the work of Ouyang Jianghe and Xi Chuan. Ouyang Jianghe’s “Hanging Coffin” is the focus of the first part of the chapter. “Hanging Coffin,” however, is too long to quote at the outset, as he does with the poems opening the other chapters. Instead—and most creatively and ambitiously—Admussen advances his own condensation of Ouyang’s massive work in a single sentence: “Hanging Coffin is an epic manifestation of the evacuation of history” (134). He then proceeds to unpack that sentence, word by word, until a full reading of Ouyang Jianghe’s poem emerges. That reading details the incredible sweep of Ouyang’s work, but also the ways in which the poet endeavors to close the door on his own chapter of prose-poetic composition. By contrast, shifting finally to Xi Chuan, Admussen arrives at a very compelling summary of some of his key concepts as manifested in Xi Chuan’s work:
This is a basically ventriloquistic and pluralist ideology, one that calls into question the position of the speaker as a maxim-producing creator of wisdom; the poem recasts that speaker as a channeller of wisdom, a collector whose task implicitly denies the existence of a single set of universal truths. (153)
Manfredi concludes: “Admussen’s work is a rare combination of breezy and substantive, and certainly well worth the read.”
Click the image above for the review in full.
Xi Chuan has been the featured writer for October 2018 at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. Xi Chuan gave a reading and discussion on Chinese poetry and translation at Leeds on October 12, and was at the Manchester Literature Festival on the 13th, reading with Mary Jean Chan and Jennifer Tsai, then took kpart in an afternoon of writing workshops, networking, and dinner, at an event organised by Bi’an – the UK Chinese Writers’ Network – called ‘Both Sides Now: Writing from East and West‘.
The Leeds page also posts:
Xi Chuan and his translator Lucas Klein have kindly given us permission to feature three poems – ‘Eight Fragments’ 八段; ‘Abstruse Thoughts at the Panjiayuan Antiques Market’ 潘家园旧货市场玄思录, (first published in English in Pathlight, 2015) and ‘Travels in Xichuan Province’ 西川省纪行 – which you can read in Chinese and in English translation here.
Click here, or the image above (with a very old photo of me), to download the poems.
NORMAN, OK—An international jury has selected the Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西 (born 1937) as the winner of the sixth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the third female Newman laureate, and the first from Hong Kong.
Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of seven distinguished literary experts nominated seven poets this spring, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on October 9, 2018.
Winner Xi Xi 西西 (the pen name of Zhang Yan 張彥) will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, on March 7–8, 2019. In addition to this year’s nominating juror, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong Baptist University), other nominees and jurors include Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, nominated by Nick Admussen (Cornell University); Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, nominated by Eleanor Goodman (Fairbank Center, Harvard University); Xi Chuan 西川, nominated by Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong); Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, nominated by Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta); Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, nominated by Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University); and Bei Dao 北岛, nominated by Wang Guangming (Capital Normal University).
“This year’s nominees represent an extraordinarily wide variety of Sinophone poetry,” said this year’s Newman Prize Coordinator, Jonathan Stalling. “The jurors spent over an hour in vigorous deliberation before they finally emerged with one poet out of the many. It is genuinely exciting to see Xi Xi’s poetry and her lifelong contributions to world letters recognized by this year’s prize.”
According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,
Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.
Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan 莫言, Han Shaogong 韩少功, and Wang Anyi 王安忆, who won the 2009, 2011, and 2017 Newman Prizes, respectively. Mo Yan went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poets Yang Mu 楊牧 and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen 朱天文 won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2013 and 2015.
The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues over a decade ago, in 2006. The University of Oklahoma is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
紐曼華語文學獎的七位專家評審早在今年年初提名了七位詩人。今天，他們經過六輪投票，決定出最終得獎者。獲獎者西西（原名張彥）可獲得一萬美元的獎金，紀念獎牌一塊，銅質獎章一枚，並將受邀於2019年三月7日至8日參加在俄克拉荷馬大學舉辦的紐曼學術研討會和晚宴。西西的提名者是香港浸會大學的何麗明教授（Tammy Lai-Ming Ho）。另外六位評委和被提名的詩人信息如下：康奈爾大學的安敏軒（Nick Admussen）提名了詩人於秀華，哈佛大學費正清中心的學者顧愛玲（Eleanor Goodman）提名了詩人王小妮，香港大學的柯夏智（Lucas Klein）教授提名了詩人西川，阿爾伯塔大學的陸敬思（Christopher Lupke）教授提名了詩人蕭開愚，萊頓大學的柯雷（Maghiel van Crevel）教授提名了詩人鄭小瓊，以及北京首都大學的王光明教授提名了詩人北島。
紐曼華語文學獎的主辦方美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2006年成立。該學院的成立與Harold J. Newman和Ruth Newman夫婦的慷慨捐贈密不可分。俄克拉荷馬大學還設有中國文學翻譯檔案館，“今日中國文學”雜誌，“今日世界文學”雜誌，並定期主辦紐斯塔特（Neustadt）國際文學獎。
Writing for the LARB China Channel, Eleanor Goodman reviews The Reciprocal Translation Project, edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong 孙冬. And she comes out swinging!
The Reciprocal Translation Project is a messy, fraught endeavor. Here is the back blurb, which is also the first paragraph of the editors’ introduction:
In The Reciprocal Translation Project, six Chinese and six American poets have translated each other’s works. Since few of these poets speak both languages, bilingual specialists have fashioned literal translations including several options for words that have multiple meanings. These literal translations have been given to three poets in the other language to write poetic translations. In this volume, then, the reader will find an original poem, a literal translation, and three poetic translations of each poem as well as explanatory notes and biographies.
One hardly knows where to begin with this tangle. Here we have poets who have “translated” each other’s work, despite largely not knowing each other’s languages. This is done grâce à people mysteriously labeled “bilingual specialists,” who put together something called “literal translations, including several options for words that have multiple meanings.” That is to say: they translate the poems. So why are these “bilingual specialists” not the “translators”? The point, as I take it, is to save that particular appellation for “the poets” involved in the project, an issue which I will return to below.
She comes out swinging, but can she be wrong when she frames Xi Chuan this way?
Forgive me for being stodgy, but to my mind, a “translation” that changes the mode of address, the timing, the references, the places and the priorities of the original is not a translation at all. It is a new poem that stands on its own, or not.
The “literal translation” of Xi Chuan’s poem “Travel Diary” (出行日记) begins:
I drove the car onto the highway, which was precisely to begin a massacre of butterflies; or the butterflies seeing me speeding toward them, just decided to launch a suicide flight. The smashed to death on the windshield. They stubbornly mashed to death on my windshield.
This is an awkward but not inaccurate rendering of the Chinese. Nada Gordon’s “translation” is:
Wanted to massacre some fucking butterflies so drove my fucking car onto the fucking highway to massacre them. They were kamikaze butterflies, they were going to fucking kill themselves on my windshield. Splat. Fuck those fucking butterflies, stubborn assholes all up on my windshield.
Whatever one thinks of this, it certainly does not represent Xi Chuan’s tone or intention.
And she goes further:
The editors comment in their introduction: “Many modern translators present themselves as poets, not simply facilitators of communication. Revaluing translation in this way brings the translator out of the shadow of the author, leveling their identities.”
But this anthology has precisely the opposite effect. By involving “bilingual specialists” who actually do the grunt work of the translation, and then privileging the non-English-speaking or non-Chinese-speaking poet by labeling him or her the “translator,” the real translators are effectively hidden. There is also an underlying assumption that the act of translating involves grasping the literal meaning of a word (“including several options for words that have multiple meanings” – as though there are words that do not!) and that’s all that is needed. There is no acknowledgement of the structure, form, tone, emotional texture, repetition, surprise, rhythm, rhyme, sound effect, level of diction, intent, etc., etc., of the original.
Click the image above for the full review.