India-China Dialogues on Almost Island

The Monsoon 2019 issue of Almost Island is here, and with it a feature of poetry and prose from last October’s India-China dialogues in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Almost Island writes, announcing the feature:

This issue continues our dialogue with leading Chinese poets and novelists, ongoing since 2009. The dialogue was begun by Chinese poet Bei Dao [北岛] and Indian novelist and poet Sharmistha Mohanty. The most recent meeting between Indian and Chinese writers, curated by Almost Island and the Chinese journal Jintian [今天], took place in October 2018 in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Scholar Lydia H. Liu, in her essay The Gift of a Living Past, a tribute to Ashis Nandy, which we publish here, says:

“Confucius traveled from state to state—across many warring states before the unification in BCE 221—offering advice to the heads of states and attempting to counsel them, but everywhere he went, Confucius’s ideas were met with indifference and rejection. With his noble aspirations getting nowhere, Confucius gained the reputation of a homeless dog. The astonishing thing is that not only did the Master not mind being called homeless dog but he found the epithet to be a suitable description of his plight. I suspect that the story tells us something interesting about the defeat and survival of rootless intellectuals, and this story is the polar opposite of what you get from the official discourse of Confucianism in China.

Like Confucius, all rootless intellectuals are, in a sense, homeless dogs. This story lives on in our midst, like a gift to the present. As we share more of each other’s stories, the Chinese and Indian writers are essentially building a transnational literary alliance based on our melancholy knowledge of the living pasts. That our friendship can grow and form a lasting bond is owing to the fact that, in Nandy’s words, ‘India and China are both in some fundamental sense societies which negotiate the past and the future similarly despite all differences. This similarity lies in the fact that in both countries the past is as open as the future.’”

This openness of time speaks through Bei Dao’s new book length poem, from which we have excerpts here, translated by Eliot Weinberger and seen for the first time in English in this issue.

Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] follows Sufis and drifters in his poems in which “A screw and a flower embrace, tightening time.” The luminous translations are by Lucas Klein.

The poems of Xi Chuan are hard, sharp and brilliant, diamond like. Once again Lucas Klein achieves this in English.

Zhai Yongming [翟永明] has, on the surface, a seemingly lighter touch, but underneath she walks the razor’s edge. Andrea Lingenfelter renders this deftly into English.

We have an excerpt from novelist Han Shaogong’s [韩少功] deeply original A Dictionary of Maqiao, written in fact in the form of dictionary entries, each entry looking closely at different aspects of the village of Maqiao during the Cultural Revolution. Translator Julia Lovell catches the extraordinary within the ordinary in Shaogong’s prose.

And Ashis Nandy’s opening talk at the last India-China Dialogues held in Hong Kong and Hangzhou, Oct. 2018, where in his inimitable way he pries open the twentieth century to find that its most lasting legacy is genocide.

Click the highlighted links to download the .pdf files and begin reading!

Xi Chuan wins Sweden’s Cikada Prize

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.

New Klein Translation / Translation Studies Publications

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!


Lucas Klein Talking Translation with Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

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.

Manfredi on Admussen’s Recite and Refuse

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).

Manfredi summarizes:

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 October 2018 Featured Writer for Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

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.

Xi Xi Wins 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

Image may contain: 3 people, including Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, people smiling, people sitting and indoorNewman Prize winner Xi Xi with her nominator Tammy Ho and translator Jennifer Feeley (photo by Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁)

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.

 

美國中部時間2018年10月8日,中國香港作家和詩人西西獲得第六屆紐曼華語文學獎(詩歌獎)。她是紐曼華語文學獎的第三位女性獲獎者,也是第一位來自香港的獲獎者。

紐曼華語文學獎是由美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2008年設立的獎項,是美國第一個為華語文學或詩歌設立的獎項,每兩年頒獎一次。評委們完全基於文學價值選出為最能表現人類生存狀況作品。所有在世的用中文寫作的作家都有機會入選。諾貝爾文學獎得主莫言是2009年年首位紐曼文學獎得獎者,中國大陸作家韓少功和王安憶分別於2011年和2017年折桂,台灣詩人楊牧和台灣作家朱天文分別在2013和2015年領此殊榮榮。

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。

今年紐曼華語詩歌獎評委團的組織者石江山(Jonathan Stalling)說,“本次被提名的詩人們代表了華語詩歌極度豐富的多樣性。”“評委們經過一個多小時的熱烈的評議和投票才選出了最後的勝者。西西的詩歌和她畢生對文學的貢獻在今年的紐曼文學獎上得到了肯定,這是一件真正激動人心的事“。

何麗明博士在提名詞中寫道:“很長一段時間以來香港文學都被視為是次要的,甚至有人認為這個城市不能出產重要的文學作品或著名的作家。香港詩歌或許在很多人眼中是個更抽象和虛妄的概念。西西或諧或莊的詩歌道出了這個城市及其居民的品格。她的詩歌也證明了一個城市的故事不必是宏大的敘述,而可以是表面瑣碎的絮語,寓言或者童話。西西的詩歌陰柔,纖細,機智,敏銳,動人心弦,無可辯駁地宣示著香港詩歌的存在感“。

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。