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 …
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.
水柔逐器知難定 雲出無心肯再歸 惆悵春風楚江暮 鴛鴦一隻失群飛
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.
The new site Hong Kong Protesting has published four poems by Liu Waitong 廖偉棠 in my translation. The whole site–an offshoot of Tammy Ho Lai-ming’s literary journal Cha–is very much worth digging into, but here are the poem translations as one way in.
From “Two Million and One” 二百萬零一:
After white snow is black snow after two million is two million and one. The numbers that come after will always add onto him tattoos coming after will always seep blood you cannot remove his raincoat.
After yellow is a golden torrent to replace the mud of shopping malls and the central government complex. You cannot pluck his star rays one after two million is always just one pens pierce the armor of the arrogant.
Announcing October Dedications, the selected poems of Mang Ke 芒克, edited and translated by Lucas Klein, with further translations by Huang Yibing and Jonathan Stalling—part of the Jintian series jointly published by Zephyr and The Chinese University Press.
Mang Ke (b. 1950, penname of Jiang Shiwei 姜世伟) began writing poetry as a sent-down youth in Baiyangdian, rural Hebei province, during the Cultural Revolution. As co-founder of the PRC’s first unofficial literary journal Jintian (Today) in 1978, he is one of the progenitors of what would later be called Obscure or “Misty” Poetry, with spare, impressionistic poems that were among the first to break free of the imposed discourse of Maoism towards an image-based literary style that left space for both expression and interpretation. He currently makes his living as an abstract painter and lives in Songzhuang, an artists’ colony on the outskirts of Beijing.
“Mang Ke’s poems are radical in their immediacy, exploring the vexed space between public world and private experience, honing in on the gap between with sometimes uncanny directness … I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like it.”
“Mang Ke is a genius amongst contemporary Chinese poets. In a dark age, his early lyric poems were unparalleled–translucent, profound, and enchanting.”
The new issue of Asymptoteis now live, featuring sections of my translation of “Taj Mahal Tears” 泰姬陵之泪 by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河.
Tears about to fly. Do they have eagle wings
or take a Boeing 767, taking off on
an economic miracle? Three thousand km of old tears, from Beijing
to New Delhi skies
just like that. After time flies, can the double exposed
red and white of our minds’ oriental archaeologies
match the supersonic, withstand
sudden turbulence? Can we borrow eagle eyes to watch the sunset
dissolve inside a jellyfish like mica?
This publication also includes my translator’s note:
The poem is, of course, about the tears that fill relationships between men and women, but it is also about the relationship between god or gods and man as well as the relationship between India and China—not to mention both countries’ relationships to their histories. Parts of the poem take place in, and take advantage of, the vocabulary of fungibility and modernity; other parts excavate an archaeology of historical lexicons, including Buddhist terminology and a broad scope of literary and cultural allusion. As a translator, I had in mind the English of a handful of poets known as practitioners of ethnopoetics, investigating the deep recesses of the self at the same time as the wide resources of the planet. As Ouyang writes, “the mirror image glances back.”
Back in action after a brief hiatus, Lee and Rob interview translator and professor Lucas Klein, whose most recent work, October Dedications, is a book of translations of the poet Mang Ke. Prof. Klein is best-known for his work with Xi Chuan, but gives a nice guided tour of historical trends in poetry translation, the differences between classical and modern poetry, and why exactly it’s nice to know the person you’re translating.