SCMP Runs Another Lame Review

Clouds of Dust

In February the South China Morning Post ran a review I called “horribly written” and said made me feel “embarrassed to say I like the translations in a book that could inspire such homely homilies.”

Here’s another stupid review of contemporary Chinese poetry in the SCMP, of I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust 我几乎看到滚滚尘埃 by Yu Xiang 宇向, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. It starts badly:

I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust differs from other poetry anthologies due to its simplicity. However, that doesn’t mean this collection is easy to understand.

(The book is not an “anthology,” it’s a collection; the interest of the poetry is not whether it’s easily understandable; simplicity is not a rare feature of poetry collections…). It continues with ignorant and sexist remarks:

This doesn’t follow traditional poetic rhythms or even the cadences of normal conversations; it’s like reading a woman’s tangled thoughts.

And concludes with platitudes, clichés, and mixed metaphors all at once!

This anthology is a refreshing breeze that highlights the little details of our daily lives.

It can be helpful to address a non-poetry-reading audience in a poetry review–especially in a newspaper in a place such as Hongkong. But I hope this is the last time the SCMP runs a poetry review by someone who hasn’t read a poem since middle school.

Yu Xiang reviewed on Words Without Borders

Image of Yu Xiang’s “I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust” I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust, the new poetry collection by Yu Xiang 宇向 translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, has been reviewed on Words Without Borders by Naomi Long Eagleson. Here’s how it begins:

Yu Xiang’s poems are the poetic equivalent of shoegazer rock. She takes the mundane—a whiff of cigarette smoke, a falling leaf, a housefly—and stares at it so intently that it splits open to reveal something unexpected. In the introduction to I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust, the translator Fiona Sze-Lorrain writes that Yu “is adamant that a mundane life does not lack poetry. Rather, it lacks being discovered.” And indeed, throughout this bilingual collection the everydayness of life is keenly observed, giving rise to poems that reveal as much about the self as they do the world.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain featured in China Daily

Solving a riddle with a harp and the magic of words

“Solving a riddle with a harp and the magic of words”

As a student at Columbia University, she dabbled in theater, writing and East Asian studies, and came to realize that there was more to be understood in the space between words and cultures, she said. Studying her own heritage from an intellectual perspective allowed for an ambivalence she had never indulged, and poetry provided an outlet for evolving views.

When she struggled with writing, she found solace in source material and the writing of other poets; from there, she discovered the pleasure of translating Chinese works. She has since translated books by the poets Yu Xiang, Bai Hua and Yi Liu, among others.

Click on the image for the full article.

 

Review of Words & the World

Kevin Carollo’s review of Words & the World, the publication from the 2011 International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong, has just appeared at Rain Taxi online. Carollo writes:

Enter Words & the World, the material result of 2011’s International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong. A white box roughly 7 x 11 x 2.5 inches in dimension houses a collection of twenty chapbooks, black ink on white paper, with at least two languages guaranteed in each chapbook (Chinese and English). The collection “begins” with the younger generation Mexican poet María Baranda (b. 1962), and “ends” with Chinese writer Yu Xiang (b. 1970), integrating them with better-known or longer-standing international versifiers, including Irish trickster Paul Muldoon, American spiritualist C.D Wright, Japanese lyric master Shuntaro Tanikawa, and Slovenian dynamo Tomaz Salamun. The box-set effect encourages reading at cross-cultural purposes, to be sure, and a nice leveling effect emerges between poets, poems, and languages. The work inside is generally stunning, strange, and vibrant, in no small part due to having crossed so many borders to appear before your very eyes.

Today’s English speaker is more than likely aware of the myriad forms of English informing the polyphonic Anglo poetry world, and the inclusion of such diverse poets as Muldoon, Wright, and Indian Vivek Narayanan intimates as much. Perhaps because the “West” often conveniently forgets that a billion people speak the language, Words & The World importantly underscores the heterogeneous nature of living and writing in Chinese by showcasing writers from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. All of them seem engaged in some form of epic conversation with a “West” that is far from predictable or uniform in its concerns or manifestations. The addition of poets like Brazilian Régis Bonvicino (writing in Portuguese, despite his French-Italian name) and German-born Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko further reinforces the sense of a grandiloquent, irreverent dialogue occurring across the seven seas. Bonvicino’s chapbook includes an untitled poem dedicated to Dragomoshchencko, which begins: “Almost no one sees / what I see in the words / byzantine iconoclasm / the clock reads midnight or mid-day?” (56). Indeed, the byzantine iconoclasm of this box set is what astonishes most of all, the overriding and often overwhelming sense that, night or day, it is high time for all of us to wake up.

Click on the image above for the full review.

DJS Translation Award for 2012

from Poetry East West 诗东西:

DJS Translation Award for 2012

News Release December 26, 2012

DJS Translation Award for 2012 will be given to the following individuals whose new translations of Chinese poetry have formed a significant part of “New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry 1990-2012” (to be published by Tupelo Press in 2013):

Nick Admussen (for translation of Ya Shi)

Christopher Lupke (for translation of Xiao Kaiyu)

Jonathan Stalling (for translation of Zheng Xiaoqiong)

Katie Farris (for co-translation of Duo Duo, Liao Yiwu, Zhang Shuguang, Feng Yan, and Hu Xudong)

Afaa Weaver (for co-translation of Sun Wenbo and Jiang Hao)

Tony Barnstone (for co-translation of Jiang Tao, Hu Xudong and Li Shumin)

Kerry Shawn Keys (for co-translation of Song Lin)

Eleanor Goodman (for co-translation of Bai Hua)

Jennifer Kronovet (for co-translation of Wang Xiaoni and Lan Lan)

Elizabeth Reitzell (for co-translation of Sun Wenbo)

Cody Reese (for co-translation of Hu Xudong)

The above translators will share the DJS Translation Award for 2012.

 

The 2011 DJS Translation Award recipient was Neil Aitken for his co-translations of poetry by Chinese poets Lü De’an, Sun Wenbo, Jiang Tao, Qin Xiaoyu, Yang Xiaobin, Zhang Zhihao, Liu Jiemin, Yu Xiang, Lü Yue, and Jiang Li.

DJS Translation Award was established by DJS Art Foundation, a private entity, to promote literary exchange between China and other countries and to encourage quality translation of poetry. DJS has supported several projects such as the multi-lingual journal Poetry East West. For more information, please visit the DJS pages on the website of Poetry East West: http://poetryeastwest.com/djs-translation-award/

 

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and Beyond

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and BeyondThe new issue of Mānoa is available, edited by Frank Stewart with Fiona Sze-Lorrain:

Sky Lanterns brings together innovative work by authors—primarily poets—in mainland China, Taiwan, the United States, and beyond who are engaged in truth-seeking, resistance, and renewal. Appearing in new translations, many of the works are published alongside the original Chinese text. A number of the poets are women, whose work is relatively unknown to English-language readers. Contributors include Amang, Bai Hua, Bei Dao, Chen Yuhong, Duo Yu, Hai Zi, Lan Lan, Karen An-hwei Lee, Li Shangyin, Ling Yu, Pang Pei, Sun Lei, Arthur Sze, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Wei An, Woeser, Yang Lian, Yang Zi, Yi Lu, Barbara Yien, Yinni, Yu Xiang, and Zhang Zao.
Sky Lanterns also features images from the Simple Song series by photographer Luo Dan. Traveling with a portable darkroom in remote, mountainous regions of southern China’s Yunnan Province, Luo Dan uses the laborious nineteenth-century, wet plate collodion process of exposure and development. In exquisite detail, he captures a rural life that has remained intact for centuries.

Click the image for ordering information.

China Daily on Path Light

The China Daily has an enthusiastic review by Chitralekha Basu of the recently published Path Light: New Chinese Writing, titled “One for the Ages.” The opening paragraph matches enthusiasm with detailed context:

This is a collector’s item. And not just because of its obvious historical importance. The first edition of Pathlight: New Chinese Writing magazine is a metaphor of the cooperation between Chinese and Western agencies – in this case, the influential People’s Literature magazine, edited by Li Jingze and the Paper Republic team, helmed by Eric Abrahamsen – to showcase Chinese literature to the rest of the world. What an absolute gem this slender 160-page volume is, in terms of the range of voices it covers, some of them translated for the first time. Kudos to the translators for bringing out the varied textures, emotions, cadences and even the visual appeal in some of the lines penned by the featured Chinese writers represent.

The review says less about the poetry: only,

The poetry section features six names, most of them born on the cusp of 1970. These, including the widely translated Xi Chuan, are seasoned, well-honed voices, who have been at their craft for a while, having evolved their own poetic idiom.

I loved the minimalist poems of Yu Xiang, especially the one about making friends with fellow women and then losing them along the way. It’s a very universal theme and quite unsentimentally put across.

I’m also a fan of Yu Xiang 宇向, and of Fiona Sze-Lorrain‘s translations. I have to admit, however, that I feel a bit queasy every time I see a reference to anyone–especially Xi Chuan–in the Chinese press that makes mention of being “widely translated.” Coming from a non-Chinese national such as Basu it’s probably no more than an objective–if relative–fact, or even praise of Xi Chuan’s border-crossing quality. But–and this may seem counter-intuitive to anyone not familiar with the political context of Chinese cultural standards–very often when certain Chinese figures talk about Chinese writers being “widely translated,” it comes with an insinuation that the writer is translated because his or her work is not “Chinese” enough (as if such a thing were quantifiable, or at odds with gaining an international following). Leaving aside the question of whether Xi Chuan is in fact “widely translated,” I’ve encountered situations where people have used this observation to denigrate his work–even when referring to what I think of as his most “Chinese” pieces!

Path Light on Podcast

Over at Popupchinese‘s Sinica series, host Jeremy Goldkorn is joined by Paper Republic‘s Eric Abrahamsen and Alice Liu, managing editor of Path Light: New Chinese Writing, as well as Jo Lusby, general manager of Penguin books in North Asia, for a special podcast on Path Light and the state of contemporary Chinese literature.

Despite the fact that Xi Chuan’s work (in my translation) is joined by that of five other poets–Lei Pingyang 雷平阳, Sun Lei 孙磊, Hou Ma 侯马, Yu Xiang 宇向, and Wong Leung Wo 王良和–the discussion says not a word about Chinese poetry. Still, it’s a worthwhile and informative podcast nonetheless.

Path Light Notifications Signup

Path Light, the new English-language journal produced by Paper Republic and People’s Literature 人民文学, is beginning to have a web presence. Sign up here for information & notification on news and new issues. And as an added bonus, here’s the table of contents of the first issue, including four Xi Chuan pieces in my translation:

Feature: 8th Mao Dun Literature Prize

Zhang Wei You Are on the Highland
Liu Xinglong Holy Heaven’s Gate
Liu Zhenyun A Word is Worth Ten Thousand Words

Fiction / Non-Fiction

Jiang Yitan ‘China Story’
Di An ‘Williams’ Tomb’
Qi Ge ‘The Sugar Blower’
Xiang Zuotie ‘A Rare Steed for the Martial Emperor’ and ‘Raising Whales’
Li Juan ‘The Winter of 2009’ and ‘The Road to Weeping Spring’

Poetry

Lei Pingyang Prayer-Poem on Mt. Jinuo, White Herons, Keeping a Cat, Going Home for a Funeral, The Myna Bird Asks a Question, Collectivist Insect Calls, and Abandoned City
Hou Ma Bloodsucking Rapture, Subway, Li Hong’s Kiss and A Wolf? In Sheep’s Clothing?
Sun Lei Travel
Yu Xiang Sunlight Shines Where It’s Needed, My House, They, A Gust of Wind, Low Key, It Goes Without Saying, Holy Front and Street
Wong Leung Wo At Midnight, I See Your Shoes in the Bathroom, Father, This is the Last Day, The Story of Santa and I Thought We Wouldn’t Meet Again
Xi Chuan The Body and History, Ill Fortune H 00325, Looking at the Mural in the Ruicheng Temple of Eternal Joy and Dragon

Editor’s Pick

Li Er

‘Stephen’s Back’