Yu Xuanji in Poetry Magazine


After posting about my Yu Xuanji translations of Yu Xuanji 魚玄機 (840–868) in the new issue of Ancient Exchanges, I realized that I had neglected to announce my Yu Xuanji translation in the “Make it Old” issue of Poetry Magazine, last May (2022)!

Chewing ice and eating bark, wishes unfulfilled,
Jin River and Hu Pass in my dreams,
I want to crack this Qin mirror in half. Sorrow is a fallen magpie.
Let Shun play his zither. I grieve at the flight of geese …


And my bio of Yu, as well, here.

Click on the image for the poem in full.

Three Poems by Yu Xuanji in Ancient Exchanges

The new issue of Ancient Exchanges, “Threads,” is now live, and with it three translations of mine of poetry by Yu Xuanji 魚玄機 (840–868).

The shape of water conforms to its container: we know it is indeterminate.
Clouds drift with no intent. Will they ever come back?
Despondent spring winds over the Chu river tonight,
one mandarin duck flies away from its flock.


And a shot across the bow in my “Translator’s Note,” too:

In my eyes, contemporary English translations of classical Chinese poetry tend to fall between two extremes—with scholarly translators prizing philological accuracy and sometimes even taking a perverse pride in not letting their writing be informed by conventions of contemporary Anglophone poetry, while more creative attempts at experimentation often fall short of that goal … Scholarly and literary audiences do not have to be at odds: both are looking for precision of image together with compelling, and compellingly fresh, phrasing.

Follow the links to read the pieces.

Mukim on Duo Duo’s Words as Grain

Posting a review of Xi Chuan’s Bloom & Other Poems earlier this week made me realize that somehow I had left this blog go dormant for a year! Recently I also came across Mantra Mukim’s fascinating take on Duo Duo’s 多多 Words as Grain in The Georgia Review, which begins from an analysis of how grass is “also “at the center of the contemporary Chinese poet Duo Duo’s oeuvre, offering refuge and sustenance to the speaker but also an unrelenting sense of fragility.”

Grass becomes the name for those marginal “secrets” that the voice takes the risk of bringing to fore, however granularly, with “silence” and “depths of sorrow” being their point of origin. Klein’s decision to use only lowercase in his translations, obviously not a feature of the logosyllabic Mandarin, is perhaps an extension of Duo Duo’s own attention to the granular and miniscule in language, to its grassy “cover.” While the lowercase has its own near-mythological status in Anglo-American modernism, Klein’s choice seems to speak specifically to Duo Duo’s view of poetry as a weak yet “radiant” force of remembrance and memorializing. The point is that no act of memorializing is without its precarities or its weaknesses.

Mukim also writes:

Translations of modern Chinese poetry have often been sold to Western readers through a simplified narrative of disclosure, where poets are taken for impresarios removing the cloth from brutal historical events. This peculiar lust for allegories of non-Western national pasts is old news, however, for translators such as Klein, who deftly flags the problem in his introduction and notes why such readerly demands are disappointed by Duo Duo’s poetry, which remains defiantly elliptical and fragmentary. It is not that Duo Duo’s poems do not speak to their adjacent histories, but this dialogue concocts its own singular language nothing like reportage or testimony. If there is a history or a critique of totalitarian politics to be unearthed in these poems, it will only be found by paying attention to the wounds and reprieves of their language, something Duo Duo time and again compares to grass.

Click on the image above for the review in full.

In the coming weeks I’ll try to make up for the lost time of not posting for a year, with more reviews and announcements.

Willems reviews Bloom & Other Poems

At Cha, Nadine Willems reviews Xi Chuan’s Bloom & Other Poems:

Xi Chuan states that he sees himself as an artist whose medium happens to be language. To me, he is a poet of lucidity, whose experimentation with words regenerates the swirling everydayness of the world in its complexity and power of astonishment. In Bloom & Other Poems, the language often takes the dislocated and jagged form of the reality that inspires it—for example bringing in breaks, repetitions, parallelisms, and fragmented sentences as a reflection of the jagged rhythms of life in China.

And about the translation, she says:

Lucas Klein, the translator, must be credited for rendering with perceptiveness and skill the rhythms of Bloom & Other Poems into English … the result attests to his enthusiasm for, and deep affinity with Xi Chuan’s work. Although I cannot pretend to have grasped all the referents and cultural allusions of the text, I am hooked by this initiation to Chinese contemporary poetry and grateful that it is accessible in such a vivid translation.

Click the image above for the full review.

Schuchat reviews Klein’s Duo Duo & Lingenfelter’s Wang Yin

Writing for The Poetry Project, Simon Schuchat has reviewed two books of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation that came out last year, Duo Duo’ 多多 Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems, translated by Lucas Klein, and by Wang Yin’s 王寅 Ghosts City Sea, translated by Andrea Lingenfelter.

He writes:

Here are two new translations of important and wonderful Chinese poets, by two of the finest contemporary translators of Chinese literature. A northerner and a southerner. One was already adolescent during the Cultural Revolution, the other a primary school student … These two poets speak to the reader, without the formality of direct address in classical poetry, but without losing the paratactic and indeterminate potential of the classical tradition. That acknowledged, both Lucas Klein and Andrea Lingenfelter, consistently achieve the impossible and bring the poetry into English. They recreate voices for the poets themselves, which do not resemble their invisible interpreters.

About Duo Duo in particular, Schuchat says:

his poetry is more than the exile’s lament, and beyond either the hopes of the early reform era or their subsequent crushing first by armed force and then by raging capital. Surrealist poetry, loosely speaking, seeks to produce or transmit an emotional message that resists paraphrase or explanation, jumping over logical connections.

Click the image above for the review in full.

Xi Chuan’s Bloom & and Other Poems reviewed at Poetry Foundation

Xi Chuan’s newest, his second book in English, Bloom and Other Poems, has only been out for a matter of days, but already it’s received its first review!

Heather Green at the Poetry Foundation writes:

[Xi] Chuan’s poetry speaks, in Lucas Klein’s translation, in a vital, brash, and, at times, comic voice, paradoxically both cynical and idealistic. The collection opens with the long title poem, “Bloom,” a lush meditation that exhorts the addressee to:

bloom barbaric blossoms bloom unbearable blossoms

bloom the deviant the unreasonable the illogical

The poem’s “bloom” describes both a sexual unfolding—“I want to witness your nipples blooming your belly button blooming your toes blooming”—as well as a broader, and, in the poem’s terms, necessary, existential flourishing.

She also mentions how Xi Chuan “writes with pathos about life’s contraction in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic … joking about people putting facemasks on pets … before swerving into a more serious mode”:

There have been Chinese people getting beaten up on Sydney streets for wearing facemasks, or ordered to remove their facemasks by the police in Berlin. How can the naked mouths of Sydney and Berlin understand? This is our way of life and means of existence! 

“The thrill of this collection arises from [Xi] Chuan’s charismatic voice,” Green concludes, “vividly rendered by Klein, and the unexpected turns from the intellectual to the sensual, from the absurd to the dead-serious.”

Click the image above to read the review in full.