The Monsoon 2019 issue of Almost Islandis 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.
“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!
Here’s a let-down of a travelogue: Irish poet Harry Clifton went to China and wrote about it for The Irish Times. At the invitation of Bao Huyi 包慧怡, and also led around by Zhai Yongming 翟永明, he nevertheless manages not to be able to write anything of particular insight into contemporary Chinese poetry–despite the article’s tag being about how “Harry Clifton was bowled over by nation’s teeming life on trip through its poetic heartland,” despite being in the company of two of China’s most interesting poets.
This wonderfully preposterous event, involving Chinese professors, university students, joint-smoking hill-tribe poets and illiterates off the street, left me with an abiding conviction – that there is such a thing as inspired misunderstanding between peoples of goodwill comically ignorant of each other, which creates an energy that never would otherwise have existed. Beneath the flashing lights and projected texts on the walls, with Ms Zhai in her feisty hat puffing away in front of me, I realised something as old as the transfer of Zoroastrian texts up the Silk Road was happening, and with roughly the same level of comprehension.
Yes, there is “inspired misunderstanding,” but there’s also just not really connecting. I hope the next time an English-language newspaper commissions a poet to write something about a trip to China, the paper can be sure that the poet will do the appropriate research to make some sense of what goes on during the trip.
Disappointed with W.H. Auden’s Chinese sonnets, which he calls “all gigantism and moralising abstraction, with the human reality lost in its shadow,” Clifton promises “to write [his] own Chinese sonnets, with the life of the place inside them.” 加油!
The Dialogue between Chinese and Indian Writers is organized by Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation and two prominent literary magazines—Today from China and Almost Island from India. The Dialogue will be held in Hong Kong on 13-14 October 2018 at the University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong.
Today and Almost Island have been convening contemporary Chinese and Indian writers, critics, musicians and artists for international cultural exchange since 2009. Their ongoing discussions cover a wide range of topics—literature, music and art, as well as culture, politics and history, in company with poetry recitals, fiction readings and music performances.
After the events in Hong Kong, they will further their conversations in Hangzhou, Mainland China.
Chinese Writers and Artists
Bei Dao 北島, Li Tuo 李陀, Ge Fei 格非, Ouyang Jianghe 歐陽江河, Lydia H. Liu 劉禾, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Bao Kun 鮑昆, Han Shaogong 韓少功
Their books are carefully curated, well edited, and beautifully produced. Above all, their translators (here I must profess that I am one of them) tend to be at the top of the field, which is of course essential to the making of a good book in English.
Alongside mentions of their publications of Han Dong 韩冬, Bai Hua 柏桦, Lan Lan 蓝蓝, and Yu Xiang 宇向, Goodman specifically writes about her translation of Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, about Andrea Lingenfelter’s translation of Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Austin Woerner’s translations of Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西, Steve Bradbury’s translation of Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü 夏宇, and my own forthcoming translations of Mang Ke 芒克.
With with “deep resources of scholarship and natural talent to draw upon,” she writes, it is
this mix of qualities—the best of the contemporary Chinese poetry world combined with translators who are also careful readers and appreciators of poetry—that makes the Zephyr collection so unique and valuable. These books are a labor of love from start to finish, and it shows in the final products. There is simply no better introduction to the contemporary Chinese poetry scene available today.
As part of the “Birds of Metal in Flight” event, Columbia University hosted a panel discussion with Bei Dao 北岛, Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Xi Chuan 西川, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Zhou Zan 周瓒, and Xu Bing 徐冰, as moderated by Lydia Liu 刘禾 and John Rajchman and introduced by Eugenia Lean, titled “Sound and Image: Chinese Poets in Conversation with Artist Xu Bing.” Click the image above for more information & photos, or here to stream the discussion via iTunes.
Readings by Marilyn Nelson, Bei Dao 北岛, Afaa Weaver, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Pierre Joris, Xi Chuan 西川, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Zhou Zan 周瓒, Charles Bernstein, and Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, followed by remarks from Xu Bing 徐冰, introduced by Lydia Liu 刘禾.
For Xi Chuan reading my translation of “Bloom” 开花, jump to 49:21.
For pictures and more information on the reading, click here. For recordings of the readings, visit PennSound.
In the new Chinese Literature Today, editor Jonathan Stalling interviews Wolfgang Kubin about his life and the poets and poetry he’s known.
Zhang Zao and Ouyang Jianghe wanted pure poetry and new vocabulary, whereas the vocabulary of Bei Dao before ’89 is quite conventional and comes close to what the Spanish poets of the ’30s and ’40s made use of. Bei Dao writes short poetry, but the so-called post hermetic poets prefer the longer form and their outlook is quite different. They are not politically naïve anymore; they do know how complicated a society can be. The poetry of Bei Dao or the poetry of the ’80s, however, always believes in a future that will be good and that will be coming tomorrow. You won’t find this kind of naiveté in Ouyang Jianghe … Zhai Yongming’s starting point is so-called hermetic poetry, and her first cycle about women is so complicated that it drives you crazy as a translator. I translated her work into German and published a book of it very early. I translated much more of her poetry, and actually I should have produced another book, but she’s very modest and always asks me to translate others before editing a new volume of her poetry. But before long she left this kind of hermetic poetry. During her second phase, she dealt with a history of women in her mother’s generation in China before and after ’49. She chose a very plain language and she preferred the long poem. The poetry of her second phase is very easy to translate into a foreign language; it’s not complicated at all. During her third phase, when she started criticizing men, when she started making fun of male protagonists, then her language changed again—it was not hermetic, it was not plain, it was something in-between. Nowadays she prefers a very plain language for social critique. This is her fourth phase, so she’s the only Chinese poet about whom we can say that she went through three, no, four phases of different kinds of poetry. Bei Dao has only two phases; Yang Lian, I think you would say he has one phase and has never changed. P. K. Leung the Hong Kong poet—in some respects he’s always good, always the same. Zhang Zao, the same. Ouyang Jianghe has made changes, perhaps with his last long poem. Xi Chuan, he’s riper now, so he’s different, but concerning his form, I do not see much difference. He’s now more philosophical and he’s more sophisticated, he has humor, he makes fun.
The new Asia Literary Review is hosting a feature on modern (I think they mean contemporary) Chinese poetry. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction by Zheng Danyi 鄭單衣 (translated with Martin Alexander and Shirley Lee):
For us, poetry wasn’t just a social tool or a political weapon. We worked to create an independent literary movement, inspired by T. S. Eliot and other Modernists, and to form a new sense of beauty from Chinese and Western traditions. We wrote in the music of our own southern languages – and edited with an ear for Mandarin. A vernacular approach was therefore also important – what Coleridge called “the language of ordinary men”. This had been a feature of China’s New Culture Movement, which flourished from 1917 to 1919. It aimed, as we did, to build on the literary traditions of the past and to speak directly to a broad audience in its own language.
The feature includes new translations of old poems by Zheng along with Bei Dao 北島, Duo Duo 多多, Shu Ting 舒婷, Yang Lian 楊煉, Gu Cheng 顧城, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Bai Hua 柏樺, Zhang Zao 張棗, and Chen Dongdong 陳東東.