During the last election cycle, the American working class got a lot of airplay. Donald Trump’s rhetoric was a throwback to a different era of politics and a different economy. Talk of American workers often included overt and coded criticism of China, which was portrayed as a villainous and devious nation that had stolen jobs from deserving Americans. Of course, the Asian workers (many of whom are not Chinese) who were supposedly responsible for America’s declining fortunes were never mentioned.
In the past, American labor movements produced literature that was both popular and politically effective. Books like The Jungle exposed working conditions and pressed for egalitarian politics. It may feel dated today, but it raises an interesting question: What would popular working class literature look like in another context? What if The Jungle were written in an iPhone factory?
Covering poetry and fiction from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines, for Chinese poetry he highlights the anthology of workers’ poetry, Iron Moon, translated by Eleanor Goodman. He says:
Considering that these worker-poets often have very little formal education (and not a lot of time on their hands), the high quality of the work here points to one obvious conclusion: There are a lot of good poets in China. More notable, however, is that they exist outside of China’s professional system of writers, just as their jobs put them outside of the usual trajectories of professional advancement. A lot of us could learn something from these individuals about solidarity—as well as about writing.
Click on the image for his full list.
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has collected recommendations from noted American writers and publishers for what to read of Asian literature. And unsurprisingly, Chinese poets and poetry are well-represented.
Barbara Epler, president of New Directions publishing, recommends Li Shangyin and Bei Dao, among others. She writes:
I am torn between favorites—Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Tanizaki’s The Maids, Li Shangyin’s Derangement of My Contemporaries, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book—but finally want to choose Bei Dao’s new memoir, City Gate, Open Up. It’s a remarkably moving autobiography of this great poet, beautifully translated by Jeffrey Yang: a testament to stubbornness and endurance, City Gate, Open Up is a love letter to the Beijing of his childhood and to his family.
And Eliot Weinberger gives an even fuller syllabus, explaining, “‘Favorite Asian book’ is as impossible as ‘favorite European book’ or ‘favorite song.’ Sorry not to play by the rules of this game–and instead rattle off a long list of personal faves–but, after all, it’s 3000 years of writing in many languages and over a hundred years of translations that one would still want to read.” His list includes:
The many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy by David Hinton (especially, for me: the poems of Tu Fu, T’ao Ch’ien, and Meng Chiao); Ezra Pound’s Cathay (now in a facsimile edition from New Directions) and his much-maligned masterpiece The Confucian Odes; A.C. Graham, Poems of the Late T’ang; Kenneth Rexroth & Ling Chung’s translation of the Sung Dynasty woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao; Gary Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems (Han Shan); Michèle Métail’s anthology of reversible poems, Wild Geese Returning (tr. Jody Gladding). (For more translations by Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, W.C. Williams, and Hinton, and essays by them on Chinese poetry: my The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.)
As for modern and contemporary Chinese poetry: Bei Dao (various translators); Gu Cheng (tr. Joseph Allen); Xi Chuan (tr. Lucas Klein). Lastly, David Knechtges’s three-volume translation of the Wen xuan, a 6th-century anthology of the usually neglected, often ridiculed documentary poetry fu form (also Watson’s Chinese Rhyme-Prose)
It’s a lot to read!
Click on the image above for the full list.
A great and expansive discussion between Xi Chuan and Xu Zhiyuan 许知远. No version with English subtitles yet.
Is Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 (1897 – 1931) unknown outside China? In advance of an event at New York’s Renwen Society at the China Institute (now passed) in honor of Xu’s 120th birthday–which was “conducted in Chinese, with no interpretation“–Eleanor Goodman considered for SupChina whether that should be the case.
His most famous poem, “Another Farewell to Cambridge” (再别康桥 Zàibié Kāngqiáo, commonly translated as “Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again,” though there are many translations for this title) is a paean to the River Cam in Cambridge, where he spent a year at King’s College. It begins (translation mine):
Quietly I go,
As quietly as I came;
Quietly I wave
farewell to the western clouds.
The golden willow by the banks
is the bride of the setting sun.
Reflections shimmer on the water
and ripple through my mind.
In the poem “By Chance” (偶然 Ǒurán) he writes (my translation again):
I am a cloud in the sky,
that shadows your stirred heart by chance.
No need for you to feel surprise,
still less to be delighted,
in a flash, every trace of me will be gone.
So it seems. Xu wrote what he lived, and lived what he wrote. To be reminded by these poems of Keats or of Shelley (“I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers, / From the seas and the streams; / I bear light shade for the leaves when laid / In their noonday dreams”) is right on target. These Western poets were a direct influence on the Crescent Moon Society, and their Romanticism — a reliance on natural images, gestures toward the sublime, an emphasis on individual sensual experience — became the main model for this innovative group of Chinese poets, Xu primary among them.
Goodman is right, of course, about Xu’s significance to modern Chinese literary history, but I admit I’ve never grieved over his being unknown in English–until now, that is. Reading these fragments of Goodman’s translations, I’m almost ready to change my mind.
Click on the image above to read the piece in full.
In a piece titled “‘The protests became a poem‘: Liu Waitong’s ‘Wandering Hong Kong with Spirits,'” new on Jacket2, Collier Nogues reviews Wandering Hong Kong with Spirits 和幽靈一起的香港漫遊, by Liu Waitong 廖偉棠, with translations by Enoch Yee-lok Tam, Desmond Sham, Audrey Heijns, Chan Lai-kuen, and Cao Shuying 曹疏影 (Zephyr Press & MCCM Creations). To my knowledge, this is the first time Jacket2 has paid any attention to poetry translated from Chinese.
Nogues asks, “What is it to be a Hong Kong poet writing now?” She answers:
For Liu Waitong, it means to be accompanied always by ghosts. But it means also to seek them out and keep them company in turn — to haunt with them. Working through questions of displacement, citizenship, and competing visions of Hong Kong’s and China’s future, Liu’s poems insist that a careful attention and receptivity can be revolutionary. For Liu, that attention is what we owe our pasts and each other.
Christopher Mattison, the director of the Atlas series of translations of Hong Kong Chinese literature into English, points out in his introduction that it would be a mistake to brand Liu primarily as a political poet. Rather, Mattison says, Liu is a careful observer of Hong Kong, and many things in Hong Kong are inherently political. Perhaps it’s just a matter of emphasis, but I’m not certain that I agree with Mattison here; while it’s true that Liu is indeed a “poet of longing,” as Mattison suggests, “of past eras, former loves, lost neighborhoods, and poetic mentors” (xvi), nothing on that list is separable from politics in the poems or in Hong Kong more generally. When Liu elegizes the demolished Central Star Ferry Pier, for example, he is not only lamenting the loss of a familiar landmark, but also pointedly indicting Hong Kong’s real estate market, which incentivizes the replacement of historic sites with new, more profitable development. In Liu’s poem, the pier shakes its head and sings into the cold rain: “It all will finally disappear to become a postcard sold / for ten dollars. This Hong Kong will disappear and become real property / with an unspecified mortgage” (93).
Click on the image above for the full review.
Maram Al-Masri, from Barefoot Souls; Gabeba Baderoon, Poetry For Beginners
Javier Bello, I Decided to Dissolve
Charles Bernstein, Pinky’s Rule
John Burnside, An Essay on Mourning
Chan Chi Tak 陳滅, Hong Kong Lights 香港韶光
Chen Dongdong 陳東東, The Emperor of Poetry Translated from Conquered Nations 譯自亡國的詩歌皇帝
Chen Xianfa 陳先發 The Question of Raising Cranes 養鶴問題
Lorna Crozier, Angel of Tigers
Julia Fiedorczuk, Orion’s Shoulder
Jérôme Game, Hong Kong is Hong Kong
Hirata Toshiko 平田俊子, The Man Without Arms
Major Jackson, Heritage
Nuno Júdice, Variation on Roses
Agnes S.L. Lam 林舜玲, Poppies by the Motorway 公路旁的紅罌粟
Semezdin Mehmedinović, Functions of the Heart
Moon Chung-Hee, A Letter from the Airport
George Szirtes, Like a Black Bird
Mark Tredinnick, Egret in a Ploughed Field
Anja Utler, Counter Position
Dmitry Vedenyapin, The Faith of a Mushroom
Haris Vlavianos, Pascal’s Will
Cui Jian 崔健, Never Turning Back 死不回頭
Chow Yiu Fai 周耀輝, Androgyny 雌雄同體.
To order click the image above.
For more information on International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong, including the schedule of readings and events, go to http://www.ipnhk.com/
The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has published the judges’ statement for their selection of Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字 by Xi Xi 西西 for the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize.
The judges were Eleanor Goodman, Kendall Heitzman, and Aditi Machado. They write:
Jennifer Feeley’s superb translation captures all of the creativity, intellect, and playfulness in the verse of premier Hong Kong poet Xi Xi. In these skillfully wrought and daring poems, Feeley employs all the tools of the English language, including unforced end and internal rhyme, alliteration, wordplay, and references that run the gamut from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to fine art to contemporary politics … This translation is essential reading, providing a window into the rich literature of Hong Kong and the larger Sinophone world.
Click the image above for the full text.
Tank Magazine has published Jamie Baty’s review of The Collected Poems of Li He 李 賀 (c. 790–c. 817), translated by J. D. Frodsham, under the title of “The Sound of Glass.” Baty writes:
Frodsham presents Li as a poète maudit in the mould of Baudelaire, or Rimbaud. From the first pages of the introduction, Li’s “modernity” is illustrated with a quote from the 20th-century writer Hugo Friedrich; Baudelaire’s poem “L’Invitation au voyage” is quoted to illustrate Li’s (categorically non-Western) conception of heaven; his approach to composition is likened to the poetic philosophy of Gautier and the Parnassiens. Such examples masquerade as glimpses of an interconnected network of culture entirely free from geography or history, but in reality they assert a profoundly European sense of linear “progression”, with the ultimate effect of claiming Li as some form of non-Western, proto-modern Western modernist.
But on many occasions, when he is trying most concertedly to claim Li for the “modern” West, Frodsham is defending himself from those who claim the translation of Chinese poetry to be altogether impossible.”
Despite this interesting frame, I should point out some slight errors in the review: the book is credited as being published by “University of Hong Kong Press,” but in fact it’s Chinese University Press, in coordination with New York Review Books; also, the review states that the book is “the second English translation of Li’s work published in the 50 years,” but since it’s a reprint, the referenced earlier translation may be Frodsham’s, as well (I find a 1970 version as well as a 1983 version)–and of course this does not include the various piecemeal translations that have appeared in anthologies, journals, and scholarly writing.
Click the image for the full review.