New Issue of CLEAR

The new issue of Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) is hitting the shelves (or stacks), along with it my article “Indic Echoes: Form, Content, and World Literature in Tang Dynasty Regulated Verse,” Charles Laughlin’s “New Translators & Contemporary Chinese Literature in English,” my review of Jonathan Stalling’s Shi Zhi 食指 translation, and Nick Admussen’s review of Notes on the Mosquito. Here’s an excerpt from his review:

Biography is a crucial dimension of contemporary poetry: the drive to make biography meaningful, to use it as a means of self-expression, is shared by poets not just in China, but all over the world. Klein notes that Xi Chuan read every draft of every translation, and was important to the processes of selection and organization (xii-xiii). Xi Chuan is a scholar and translator of English and American literature. His ability and willingness to be involved in this translation from start to finish makes it valuable and rare in the world of translated literature; in addition to being the transformation of original work by a translator, Notes on the Mosquito is a direct product of the artist himself. For this reason, readers get much more from the book than they might otherwise. Concretely, the narrative of Xi Chuan’s art undergoing transformations in 1989 is one that the poet himself wants to share.

This is, however, still a translated volume, and the hand of the translator is also visible in the English versions of the poems. Perhaps because of his ability to get Xi Chuan’s opinion on his final drafts, Lucas Klein’s translations are unafraid of taking significant risks with the original texts. This feels like the correct — perhaps the only correct — strategy in dealing with these poems. Because his lyric poetry is so syntactically complex, and because his prose work moves between intricate intertextuality and tonally layered vernacular, a bold attempt to render the feeling of a poem into English is almost always preferable to the uninterpretability of a literal translation.

For more information, click the image above.

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.

Karen An-hwei Lee reviews Notes on the Mosquito

ReviewXiChuan_slideKaren An-hwei Lee reviews Notes on the Mosquito at Your Impossible Voice! Here’s how it begins:

If I could sing well enough—or play acoustic guitar, for that matter—I would sing Xi Chuan’s early lyric poems in a quiet studio with a swept parquet floor. A single lightbulb or a candle burning. Enormous shadows on BioKarenLee_1the walls. Pot of cold black tea on a small table. Photographs of unadorned scenes from modern life: a power outage, a nurse’s youth dissolved by acid, a man pacing the room late at night. The title poem, “Notes on the Mosquito,” alludes to ironies existing between the collectivist ideal of proletariat rule versus actual bourgeois realities, a political motif in both his pre- and post-Tiananmen writings.

For the full review, click the image above.

Lilburn on Xi Chuan & Zhai Yongming in Brick

The Canadian literary journal Brick has published Tim Lilburn’s essay on “A Mandelstamian Generation in China,” on Xi Chuan and Zhai Yongming 翟永明. He writes,

There has been a tendency in North America and Europe to imagine Chinese writers, poets especially perhaps, as inevitably and necessarily political, dissidents in a way that flatters the West. This was true for writers in the Soviet Union too, which made it difficult, for example, to appreciate the complete range of someone like Joseph Brodsky once he first became known outside of Russia. Taking Xi Chuan this way, or any in his generation, would bring on similar reductive distortions. It is true that in China’s current state of cultural undefinition, some intellectuals, as Xi Chuan told [Eleanor] Wachtel, “are trying to rethink or reflect on history, not only ancient history but also on modern history, revolutionary history,” in order to imagine a possible, more coherent China. It’s also true that traditionally poets, like scholars, in the Confucian scheme of things, have seen themselves as serving the state by helping to shape its notion of itself, either by speaking directly to the masses or by educating the ruler. But the West is chiefly keen to identify dissidents wherever it can, because these, it supposes, are warriors for its own cause within an opposing power, who work utterly at their own risk. It’s hard to believe that any of the major Chinese poets I spoke to seeks to fulfill the role of furthering Western cultural expansion. As Xi Chuan said in the Wachtel interview: “I don’t think Cnia will one day become, for instance, Canada, America, England, or France.” Nor, it seems, does he wish exactly that it would. When I asked the Chinese poets gathered in 2008 at White Stone Town in Anhui Province how they thought of being seen by the West as dissidents, Ouyang Jianghe, one of the most fiery of the group, exploded that he had no wish to be regarded as a writer who was professionally a disaffected Chinese intellectual. Such a vocation was far too soft and besides was a self-serving invention from elsewhere.

For ordering information and the journal’s table of contents, click the image above.

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

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 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.

Announcing the Ancient Asia issue of Cha

Announcing the Ancient Asia Issue of Cha (December 2013), featuring new translations of Chinese poetry by Xi Chuan, Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, Du Fu 杜甫, He Qifang 何其芳, Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚, Liu Yong 柳永, the Shijing 詩經, Laozi 老子, Du Mu 杜牧, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, and new work by Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, Eleanor Goodman, Sharmistha Mohanty, and Jonathan Stalling. The full list of contributors:

Translation: Lucas Klein, A.K. Ramanjuan, Reid Mitchell, George Life, Canaan Morse, Michael Gray, Christopher Lupke, Dulal Al Monsur, Nicholas Francis, Michael Farman, Michael O’Hara, Eleanor Goodman, Chloe Garcia Roberts

Poetry: Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, W.F. Lantry, Aditi Rao, Stuart Christie, Luca L., Xiao Pinpin, Kate Rogers, Pey Pey Oh, DeWitt Clinton, Elizabeth Schultz, Stephanie V Sears, Joshua Burns, James Shea, Sean Prentiss, Steven Schroeder, Marjorie Evasco, Arjun Rajendran, Pui Ying Wong, Julia Gordon-Bramer, June Nandy, Janice Ko Luo, Stuart Greenhouse, Barbara Boches, Cathy Bryant, Justin Hill, Eleanor Goodman

Fiction: John Givens,  Xie Shi Min, Sharmistha Mohanty, Zhou Tingfeng, Khanh Ha

Articles: Jonathan Stalling, Michael Tsang

Creative non-fiction: Pavle Radonic

Photography & art: Alvin Pang (cover artist), Adam Aitken

Click the image above to access the full issue.

Susan Gillis’s When the City Goes Dark: Xi Chuan’s “Power Outage”

Recently in conversation Phil Hall pointed to a source of continuing interest in lyric poetry: that the personal is political. This poem reminds me the reverse is also true.

There’s no happy discovery at the end of Xi Chuan’s “Power Outage” such as there is in my sentimental framing of the ice storm stories. When the power goes out, the poem-speaker is cast into a disordered state. The darkness reveals small sounds far and near, traces of human presence in “wind chimes and a cat’s footbeats,” an engine that stops and a song that goes on. Loneliness and isolation are almost palpable.

Then “time turns back,” and darkness takes on a deeper tone, as living crows converge around a plate of crow meat, and blackness engulfs the poem’s speaker entirely. Despair acquires an odour and a name: power outage. The poem-speaker is pitched into an impossible, subsuming blackness. All he can do is summon a frustrated mutter as he recognizes his own wordless shadow.

Click the image above for the whole piece, & for more of Gillis’s writings on contemporary poetry.

Former People Interview with Lucas Klein on China and Literary Modernism

1280px-2004_0928_Nanjing_ZhongHuaGate_HorseRamp2C. 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.

Click the image above for the full feature.

Sinica: Chinese Literature in Translation podcast

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!

Listen here or follow this link to download.

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