Klein on Nappi’s Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities

Last month MCLC published my review of Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities (Oxford UP) by Carla Nappi, a study of translation and multilingualism in late imperial China.

I write:

Illegible Cities is an important work of history, arguing against the temptation in Sinology to reduce pre-twentieth-century China to what occurred in one language alone (“Sinology means the study of Chinese civilization as a coherent whole,” wrote Frederick Mote in 1964, and “language study is the only pass leading through the Great Wall and into the chung-yuan” [中原]); more than that, it is an experimental joy of a read, a fun, challenging, exciting, only occasionally frustrating, book that not only makes a point, but constructs it. Illegible Cities “attempts to use translation,” Nappi writes, “as a way to reconsider what language is, what languages are, and to begin to historically contextualize what we think of constituting a ‘language.’ Languages, here, are forms of practice that are constantly being invented and enacted.” And so is this book: a form of practice in constant process of being invented and enacted.

Click on the image to read the review in full.

Horton Reviews Mang Ke’s October Dedications

October Dedications, the selected poems of Mang Ke 芒克 (Chinese UP & Zephyr), translated by Lucas Klein with Jonathan Stalling and Yibing Huang, has been reviewed in Cha by Harrison Horton. Horton writes:

In his “Translator’s Forward” to October Dedications, Lucas Klein points us to a similar phenomenon in the poetry of Mang Ke, stating that his work “must have been read as shockingly direct and heterodox at the time” (x). That a poem describing sunlight could be, in fact, about sunlight and not Mao Zedong was a courageous act of defiance that helped lay the foundation for schools of poetry to come afterwards. In this way, the seemingly simple contrasts with a backdrop of works that still emulated the writings from the previous era.

The review ends:

Mang Ke’s work stands up on its own and stands out against many of the poems produced in the early Opening Up period and later. October Dedications makes it possible, finally, for English language readers to appreciate Mang Ke’s work and correctly place him among other notable poets coming out of his era and afterwards. Click on the image for the review in full.

Duo Duo’s Words as Grain Nominated for PEN Award for Poetry in Translation

Last month PEN announced the longlists for its 2021 awards–and Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems of Duo Duo 多多 (Yale University Press) is in the running for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation! Click here to see all the longlisted nominees.

Caro Carter, Michael Favala Goldman, Parisa Saranj are the other judges. Among the excellent books of poetry in translation also on the longlist, in Chinese poetry in translation there is also I Name Him Me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan, translated by Stephen Nashef (Ugly Duckling Presse).

John Bradley on Duo Duo’s Words as Grain

The current print issue of Rain Taxi features John Bradley’s review of my translation Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems of Duo Duo 多多 (Yale University Press).

Bradley writes:

Klein does a superb job of keeping the English translations as clear as possible, and when compared to others who have attempted the rigorous challenges of Duo Duo, Klein is more succinct, concise, and poetic. Words as Grain offers Zen koan-like poems that call for rereading and contemplation.

Since it’s in the print issue, here’s a photo of the whole review:

Liang Luo on Duo Duo’s Words as Grain

Over at Cha, Liang Luo’s review of my translation Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems of Duo Duo 多多 (Yale University Press) has been published.

She explains:

Written by one of the most celebrated contemporary Chinese poets Duo Duo 多多 (1951- ) and translated and edited by the award-winning translator Lucas Klein, Words as Grain 词如谷粒 moves from Duo Duo’s most recent poems back to his earliest ones, with four sections, each forming a period of his life’s journeys and taking its title from one of his poems of that period. “The Force of Forging Words (2004-2018)” collects every single poem written upon Duo Duo’s return to China from 15 years of exile abroad. “Amsterdam’s River (1989-2004)” includes selected poems written during the period of his exile, mainly in the Netherlands. “Delusion is the Master of Reality (1982-1988)” highlights selected poems written during China’s “reform and opening up” period of the 1980s. “Instruction (1972-1976),” the last of the four sections, features some of Duo Duo’s earliest collected poems written in his twenties during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

As for her reading of Duo Duo’s poetry, she elaborates:

In this context, “words as grain” emerges in vivid configurations and comes alive as a central metaphor for the forging and remaking of poetry and life, which involves planting seeds, picking weeds, and harvesting grain in the fields, among many more layers of a complex web of meanings. In his poetry over four decades, Duo Duo connects grain, weeds, and fields in his musings on life and death, lonesomeness and expression, speeches and silence, and emptiness and harvest …

Lucas Klein, in his translator’s introduction, asks to what degree contextualisation is useful in reading Duo Duo’s poetry (or any poetry), and arranges his selections and translations to move from present into the past, as he considers the recent poems less culturally situated, hence more accessible, than older poems for the non-Chinese reader …

Klein finds the questions—whether the poems are best read as tied to their contexts or as independent works of the imagination—are the same ones we must ask of translations: whether they are best approached as if tethered to the texts they are representing, or can they take on lives of their own in a new language? He hopes to answer yes to both questions in both cases (xxiii). On the one hand, Klein believes in the potential of poems in translation to take on lives of their own, on the other hand, he also demands accuracy. His goal as both translator and compiler of the poems included in this collection, according to the translator’s introduction, “is to let Duo Duo’s style come through” (xxiv).

As readers, we are fortunate to have Klein’s meticulous work and expert guidance in translating and compiling this excellent volume of Duo Duo’s poems, in close dialogue with and filling important gaps in previous translations and scholarly studies.

Thanks, Luo Liang and Cha for the great review!

Click the image above to read the review in full.

The introduction is also available for download as a .pdf file on Cha.

Drew Calvert on Duo Duo’s Words as Grain

Asymptote has published Drew Calvert’s excellent review of Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems by Duo Duo 多多 (Yale University Press).

Here’s an excerpt:

That bounty is now on full display in English, thanks to Lucas Klein, the translator of Words as Grain: The Poetry of Duo Duo, published by Yale University Press. The volume opens with new work—Duo Duo’s poems last appeared in English twenty years ago, while he was still living abroad—and moves in reverse chronology back to the Cultural Revolution years, which he spent in rural Hebei Province along with other “Misties.” Klein’s introduction helpfully sketches the politics of modern China throughout the poet’s life, but the poems themselves are more concerned with a personal cosmology of memory, desire, and stillness. Many contain explicitly Buddhist references and idioms—“sūtra rivers,” non-self, the “quietude of original dwellings rhetoric abandoned”—as if the poet is forging a new grammar of devotion from his own broken syntax, straying from classical prosody and imagery in a way that recalls—at least for some English readers—the modernists who strayed from Tennyson’s finely cadenced rhetoric into avant-garde mysticism. One might call it modernist Zen: a hunger for unmediated divinity and a deep suspicion of language, with its stale cliches, as a pathway to enlightenment. Ultimately, the impression one gets from the full arc of Duo Duo’s career is that of a poet enraptured by the metaphysics of writing itself.

Click on the image to read the piece in full.

Thanks, Drew Calvert and Asymptote for the great review!

Force of Forging Words: A Translation Conversation

An online launch for Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems by Duo Duo 多多, translated by Lucas Klein, from The Margellos World Republic of Letters by Yale University Press.

Lucas Klein in discussion with Nick Admussen, Chris Song, and Jami Proctor Xu, moderated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

In “The Force of Forging Words,” a poem in Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems by premier Chinese poet Duo Duo 多多 (Yale University Press, The Cecile and Theodore Margellos World Republic of Letters series), translated by Lucas Klein, Duo Duo writes: “outside force, continuing on / from enough, is insufficient hallucination // … // this is rationale’s wasteland / but the ethics of poetry.”

What are the ethics of poetry? Is poetry the wasteland of the rationale, or of the rational? Is translation a kind of hallucination, and is it sufficient? What care needs to be taken to translate such poetry? Our speakers will discuss these questions with the translator to celebrate the publication of Words as Grain.
▁▁▁▁

INFORMATION

Zoom: https://bit.ly/3wAgrXA
Meeting ID: 988 5804 6038
Date: Friday/Saturday 9/10 July 2021
Time:
▚ Arizona—Friday 9 July 2021; 6 pm
▚ HK—Saturday 10 July 2021; 9 am
Global Clock: https://bit.ly/2SDuUTR
Facebook Event Page: https://bit.ly/34zNuza