Yang Lian 杨炼 reading with Richard Berengarten at the Cambridge University Poetry and Prose Society.
Eligible works include book-length translations into English of Asian poetry or source texts from Zen Buddhism, book-length translations from Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean into English.
In a cover story for the Times Literary Supplement titled “Poetry of the suicide note,” or alternately, “It is useless to live,” she reviews five recent books of Chinese poetry–both modern and premodern–in English translation: Hawk of the Mind, the collected poems of Yang Mu 楊牧, edited by Michelle Yeh; Narrative Poem 叙事诗 by Yang Lian 杨炼, translated by Brian Holton; Michèle Métail’s study of “reversible” poems in Wild Geese Returning, translated by Jody Gladding for Calligrams; and the Calligrams re-release of The Collected Poems of Li He 李賀, translated by J. D. Frodsham and François Cheng’s Chinese Poetic Writing, translated by Donald A. Riggs, with an anthology of Tang and Song poems translated by Jerome P. Seaton.
The essay begins,
There is a type of Chinese poem called the juemingci [絕命詞], which means, roughly, verses to terminate your life. Almost the poetic equivalent of a suicide note, the juemingci … is a formal acknowledgement of one’s negative relation to the present: the world in whatever configuration it finds itself will never be for you, will never work out for you, and the mark of a fine mind is that it will go to waste.
She also writes:
Perhaps this setting aflame, like all those elements of Chinese poetry that foil translation – its grammar, its sonic and visual elements, its “characters’ formidable power of suggestion” … – might be enfolded into the aesthetics of decadence, so that discussion of Chinese poetry in translation does not have to turn endlessly on arguments about translatability. Even if one is set on regarding translation as subtraction (a tally of what is lost or needlessly added), in decadent poetry you can lose almost all of the valences and still have more than enough meaning.
But what I think is her most moving passage is,
Maybe one does not have the training to catch all the allusions (to both Chinese and foreign literature and history), maybe one does not read difficult Chinese, or maybe one does not read Chinese (or poetry) at all. None of this is to suggest that we should not try. We should, not least because these particular books evince their translators’ responsibility and accuracy, and represent the best possible resources for becoming familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese language, and accessing levels of meaning previously closed to the uninitiated.
Announcing the publication of
by Lucas Klein
What makes a Chinese poem “Chinese”? Some call modern Chinese poetry insufficiently Chinese, saying it is so influenced by foreign texts that it has lost the essence of Chinese culture as known in premodern poetry. Yet that argument overlooks how premodern regulated verse was itself created in imitation of foreign poetics. Looking at Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 and Yang Lian 楊煉 in the twentieth century alongside medieval Chinese poets such as Wang Wei 王維, Du Fu 杜甫, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, The Organization of Distance applies the notions of foreignization and nativization to Chinese poetry to argue that the impression of poetic Chineseness has long been a product of translation, from forces both abroad and in the past.
Sinica Leidensia, 141
Brill, 19 July 2018
€44.00 / US$53.00
€49.00 / US$59.00
My review of Narrative Poem 敘事诗, by Yang Lian 杨炼 and translated by Brian Holton (Bloodaxe, 2017), is out in the new issue of Translation and Literature (Vol. 27, issue 2).
It’s paywalled but for subscribers and certain academic institutions, but here’s a paragraph free:
That so much of Yang Lian’s poetics – indeed, his mythopoetics – centres on the Chinese past is a particular challenge for Holton as translator. Of course, some critics from China and elsewhere have accused Yang of writing a China of and for western understanding – but why not? In any event, that it is for westerners to understand does not make it easier to translate. Holton has not shied away from providing notes to mark moments where Yang makes allusions to people and places that fall outside the expected anglophone frame of reference. Mostly, however, it is in the strength of his diction that the power of his verse lies, just as the force of Yang Lian’s word choice is what makes his poetry most compelling in Chinese. The thought and emotion of Yang Lian’s writing are immanent in the words he uses – and the same is true of Holton’s translations.
Click the image above to link to the full review.
Writing at mychinesebooks.com, Bertrand Mialaret offers a synopsis of the life and poetry of Hai Zi 海子. “Almost thirty years after his suicide, the poet Hai Zi remains celebrated in China,” it’s titled.
Hai Zi, who committed suicide at age 25, remains one of the most celebrated poets in China especially with the younger generations. Some very creative years, 250 short poems, 400 pages of long poems, short stories, plays. His complete works were published in 1997 by his friend, the poet Xi Chuan.
Mialaret also mentions the difference generations make in forming different poetic styles, which are born in some ways from the encounter of the personal with broader gyrations of history.
He was not part of the group of “misty” poets of the early 1980s, which were made famous by Beidao, Gu Cheng, Mangke, Yang Lian … This group refuses the revolutionary “realist” tradition and poetry at the service of politics. Poetry is an individual creation, it is a mirror of oneself. The focus is on the image in the creative process even if it is accompanied by sometimes complex and obscure texts.
The generation of Hai Zi is very different, it did not experience the re-education in the countryside, could go to university, knows the works of the world literature, the great movements of thought and all the “isms” (existentialism, surrealism, structuralism …).
Click the image for the article in full.
At his blog, Jacob Edmond writes about being censored in a Chinese publication. Edmond reviewed Maghiel van Crevel’s Chinese Poetry in Times of Mind, Mayhem and Money (2008) for The China Quarterly in 2011, and agreed for it to be translated into Chinese for the Journal of Modern Chinese Studies (现代中文学刊). But,
the Chinese version [of van Crevel’s book] lacks the chapter on “Exile,” which includes discussion of poems written by Bei Dao 北岛, Wang Jiaxin 王家新, and Yang Lian 杨炼 after the Chinese government’s violent 4 June 1989 suppression of dissent.
And as a result, Edmond’s review had to be censored as well.
In approving the translation of my review, I faced the same dilemma that Van Crevel and these publishers and editors face in deciding whether to allow their work to be censored: refuse to change anything and so lose the possibility of addressing a Chinese audience, or make the changes and hope that one’s translated words and the mute marks of censored omissions might communicate better than the total silence of refusal. Van Crevel’s is an excellent book on contemporary Chinese poetry: I stand by my review’s description of it as the “definitive sourcebook.” It therefore deserves a wide audience in China, where its insights are most relevant. Cutting one chapter was the price of that audience.
But, as he continues, “The pressures and choices are not, of course, the same in every situation.” He concludes with lessons that are, “like censorship itself, eminently—and frighteningly—translatable.”
Click the image above for his full blog entry.
English PEN has announced its latest list of PEN Translates award winners, and Brian Holton’s translation of Narrative Poem 叙事诗 by Yang Lian 杨炼 (Bloodaxe) is one of the winners!
Chinese is also represented in Nicky Harman’s forthcoming translation of Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China 平如美棠 : 我俩的故事 , by Rao Pingru 饶平如.
Click the image to the right for the full list.
Narrative Poem, Yang Lian’s most personal work to date, is built around a series of family photographs, the first of which was taken on the day when he was born, on 22 February 1955, and the last of which dates from the time he spent undergoing ‘re-education through labour’ – and digging graves – during the mid-1970s.
The poetry ranges backward and forward in time, covering his childhood and youth, his first period of exile in New Zealand, and his subsequent adventures and travels in and around Europe and elsewhere.
In ‘this unseen structure written by a ghost’ Yang Lian weaves together lived experience with meditations on time, consciousness, history, language, memory and desire, in a search for new/old ways of speaking, thinking and living.
Click on the image for more information.
The new Cha also features my review of László Krasznahorkai’s Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Semi-fictional reportage about Krasznahorkai’s travels through China, it features transcripts of discussions with Chinese poets–which I elaborate on in my review:
My own reading experience was one of being amazed at the representative resonances with those whom I know among the book’s characters—critic Tang Xiaodu and poets Yang Lian and Ouyang Jianghe as well as Xi Chuan—while also being enwrapped in the dramatic tension of its various frustrations.
I also take a look at whether the book is fictional, and how Krasznahorkai plays with central questions in Chinese literary studies to
While those trained in European literature are equipped to believe that writing is in itself a fictional act, others have argued, “In the Chinese literary tradition, a poem is usually presumed to be nonfictional: its statements are taken as strictly true.” But this statement is itself at the core of further debates in Chinese literary studies, such as about Orientalism and the mental sequestering of China as an object of study that comprises much scholarship in Chinese literature.
These debates play out implicitly in the pages of the book, I say:
This is the game Krasznahorkai plays. His self-aware presentation of his Westerner’s vision is embodied and embedded in his structure. In Hungarian, Stein’s name is Dante. Changing it to Stein invokes Aurel Stein (1862–1943), the Hungarian-British archaeologist who discovered the grottoes at Dunhuang and removed four cases of relics and paintings and twenty-four cases of medieval manuscripts to the British Museum in London, where they are preserved, or to which they were stolen. But the moniker Dante also implies Destruction and Sorrow‘s knowing Eurocentrism: the book’s three-part structure proceeds through the hell of the narrator’s exasperation to the utopia of the Suzhou gardens … By positing his China as a passage through the hereafter, Krasznahorkai acknowledges his enclosure within the Western tradition. Not that all narratives in Western literature are fulfilled: from Exodus to Ulysses, heroes have failed in their journeys, too. Or that unfulfilled narratives are the only Chinese authentic: don’t the pilgrims in Journey to the West reach Buddha’s Western Heaven?
Click the image above for the full review.