C. Derick Varn of Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers interviewed me with a series of complex questions on modernity and modernism in and about China. And of course, I couldn’t resist talking about Xi Chuan and Chinese and international poetry. Here’s an excerpt:
So that’s the problem. But as I’ve argued in a piece that’s forthcoming, modernism in literature is postmodernist in its philosophical implications … And I don’t think I’ve ever believed in modernism so much as modernisms. An interesting observation is that modernist writers who come from countries that claim an ownership of tradition—modernists from France or Italy or Russia—are often the ones to say, like Marinetti, “Museums, cemeteries!” while the modernists from countries that cannot claim such ownership—Pound and Eliot from the US, Joyce from Ireland—are the ones who want to revivify the ancient amidst the machinations of the modern (this isn’t foolproof, of course: William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein stand against such generalizations). As for whether there’s a Chinese modernism, the interesting thing is that after the Cultural Revolution, you get both: those feeling like their country has too much a claim on tradition, and is overwhelmed and stifled by it, as well as those who feel like their country is too displaced from tradition, and needs to re-own it and re-define it. So at any given moment Bei Dao might read like a shrugging off of tradition, and Yang Lian might read like a refitting of it, and Xi Chuan a refitting of that refitting, but they’re also specific responses to the relationship between tradition and modernity as have played out in China in the past hundred years and more.
At Popup Chinese Jeremy Goldkorn interviews translators Linda Jaivin and Alice Liu for a wide-ranging translation of what translation is, how it affects us, how to or not to do it, and how contentious translators can be in private. All that and a resounding endorsement of Xi Chuan’s Notes on the Mosquito!
China will be guest of honor at the International Istanbul Book Fair (Nov 2-10), with the theme being the Journey of Chinese literature from traditional to contemporary as illustrated by the “New Silk Road.”
Festivities are scheduled to include Xi Chuan 西川 and sixteen other Chinese authors, such as Ge Fei 葛菲, Jiang Nan 江南, Lao Ma 马俊杰, Li Jingze 李敬泽, Liu Zhenyun 刘震云, Su tong 苏童, Wang Gang 王刚, Yang Hongying 杨红樱, Yu Hua 余华, Zhang Wei 张炜, Zhang Yueran 张悦然, and China Writers Association president, Tie Ning 铁凝.
The 2013 Lucien Stryk Prize went to Lucas Klein for his translation of the Chinese poetry collection Notes on the Mosquito by Xi Chuan. The $5,000 prize, which was established by an anonymous donor, recognizes the best book-length translation into English of Asian poetry or of source texts from Zen Buddhism.
“Klein’s volume is the most deserving of the prize by virtue of the quality of many of the translations and the caliber of the poems they represent,” said the Stryk Prize committee. “Judging from this collection, Xi Chuan is clearly a major poetic voice whose formal versatility and relentlessly unswerving insights into the often grim but fascinating here and now of China’s comédie humaine represent a significant contribution to Chinese letters and are well-deserving of a Western readership.”
Tinfish Press, which published the Xi Chuan chapbook Yours Truly & Other Poems, is Press of the Month at Small Press Distribution. Click the image for 40% Off Selected Titles and more information.
More on Tinfish:
Tinfish Press publishes experimental poetry from the Pacific Region.
Tinfish has been called “one of the great small presses of the United States” (Ron Silliman). Hank Lazer notes that “Tinfish Press most definitely increases a reader’s sense of the highly specific, highly localized terms of composition.” Marie Carvalho writes that Tinfish “vibes on [a] irreverent cross-cultural mix of language, vision, viewpoint and design.”
Founded in 1995, Tinfish published 20 issues of a journal (now discontinued), as well as numerous chapbooks and full length collections. Their mission has been to inspire conversations between a diverse, far-flung group of writers.
Tinfish is particularly interested in language issues in Hawai`i and the Pacific and has published books in and including Pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English), Samoan, Tagalog, Hawaiian, and Chamorro. While Tinfish does not publish writers for their ethnic or gender identities, they have been leaders in publishing experimental work by Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, native Hawaiians, Euro-Americans from Hawai`i and others.
Poets Helen Wing and Xi Chuan come together to explore the idea of poetry as fire, from the fire imagery in their poems to their views on how the poetic imagination spreads, like fire, beyond borders. Writing in English (Helen) and Chinese (Xi Chuan), their work suggests that (with apologies to Robert Frost) poetry is not, after all, lost in translation.
The event promises to be excellent (I’ve hated Robert Frost for that line long enough, but now it’s time people were aware that David Bellos has demonstrated that “nobody has ever been able to find Frost saying anything like it in his works”). And here’s Helen Wing’s bio:
Helen Wing is a poet and a fiction writer who lives variously in Beijing, Cairo and London. Currently she is Writer-in-Residence at Harrow International School, Beijing and works part-time at Renmin Da Xue. At Harrow, she promotes poetry writing with the students and publishes an annual poetry book project, done jointly with Harrow students and the students at Project Hope Vocational School, a migrant children’s charity school based in Wangjing. Her poetic work, Archangel, rose to number four on Amazon’s e-kindle poetry list last year. Other poems have been published in a recent Middle Eastern anthology, Nowhere Near a Damned Rainbow: Unsanctioned Writing of the Middle East. Her stories have been published in the Mississippi Prize Review, the Southern Cross Review, in the Tale of Four Cities and Sukoon. She is currently working on a novel called I swore I’d set that donkey free before I left Beijing.
Born in London, Helen studied Spanish and French at Cambridge University and holds a PhD in Spanish poetry.
Also see my feature “Xi Chuan: Poetry of the Anti-lyric” from an earlier issue, with translations of “Power Outage” 停电, “Re-reading Borges’s Poetry” 重读博尔赫斯诗歌, and “Three Chapters on Dusk” 黄昏三章. (And my earlier co-translations of poems by Bei Dao 北岛 with Clayton Eshleman).
Note that this will be the last issue of Cerise Press. The journal will remain archived at cerisepress.com as a resource for readers and educators.
Editorial Intern Michael Gray asks Chinese poet Xi Chuan and his translator Lucas Klein tough questions concerning process, navigating translation, and the relationship between literature and reality. Lucas Klein performed the English translation of Xi Chuan’s book Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems (2012).
For Xi Chuan: What elements of your original text do you find are most altered in the process of translation?
XC: In my own writing, especially recently, I’m often very blunt, but bluntness can be very hard to translate. I’ve done a lot of translations myself, and in my experience imagery is relatively easy to translate; with musicality, or particularly rhythm, though it’s hard to match the translation perfectly with the original, it’s still possible to find comparable solutions. But with ideas expressed bluntly it’s easy to lose the poetry. Bluntness is a quality of late Borges, because in his early years he was playing with the Baroque. It’s also a notion of expression Milosz was fond of, coming from Eastern Europe. These two stepped outside the bounds of lyrical poetry.
When I had the chance to meet the Chinese poet Xi Chuan at a conference on translation in Beijing, I asked him about the choice to write prose poems. Prose poems make up approximately half of Notes on the Mosquito, his selected work translated by Lucas Klein. He responded that years ago, an artist asked if he would write a poem in relation to a photograph of someone washing with a plastic wash basin. He told this artist that he did not know how to write about plastic basins, only wooden ones. Prose was a way for Xi Chuan’s poems to step outside of the imagery and language of traditional Chinese poetry and reenter with a different idiom and perspective. Xi Chuan’s prose poems are nodes of intense and felt thinking in relation to China’s present, expressed in a voice that is starkly contemporary and layered with history. Form and voice in Xi Chuan’s work feel like rooms where impossible thinking explains everything. In one poem he writes:
“In a crowd of people some people are not people, just as in a flock of eagles some eagles are not eagles; some eagles are forced to wander through alleyways, some people are forced to fly in the sky.”
Read the whole review by clicking here or the image above.