I came to believe that in order to study the Chin P’ing Mei accurately, I would need to have some means of control over the text, so I spent about two years making a card index of every line of poetry, parallel prose, and proverbial sayings in the entire novel. I ended up with tens of thousands of file cards. People said, “Why didn’t you hire a graduate student to do that?” But I knew that wouldn’t have worked. With this information at my fingertips, I could read through earlier Chinese drama and poetry, and whenever I saw something that seemed familiar, I could check the index cards within seconds to see whether or not that phrase occurred in the Chin P’ing Mei. That’s how I wrote the notes of my translation. Without having compiled this index, I never could have done it.
I tried to read every extant work of Chinese fiction and drama in circulation before the Chin P’ing Mei was published. That’s a huge project, but I kept discovering more and more sources.
Also see my feature “Xi Chuan: Poetry of the Anti-lyric” from an earlier issue, with translations of “Power Outage” 停电, “Re-reading Borges’s Poetry” 重读博尔赫斯诗歌, and “Three Chapters on Dusk” 黄昏三章. (And my earlier co-translations of poems by Bei Dao 北岛 with Clayton Eshleman).
Note that this will be the last issue of Cerise Press. The journal will remain archived at cerisepress.com as a resource for readers and educators.
Susan Schultz’s Tinfish Press has a beautiful new website, including a new page for Yours Truly & Other Poems, the chapbook of my translations of six Xi Chuan poems. Follow the link for purchase or .pdf download information.
The new, fifth anniversary edition of Cha is now available, with a Hong Kong Feature with work by Nicholas Wong, Kit Fan, Eddie Tay, Arthur Leung, Jason Hun Eng Lee, Belle Ling, and Jennifer Wong, and the “Misrepresentation” Flash Fiction winners, Tom Mangoine, Angelo B. Ancheta, and Hema S. Raman.
I’ll be guest-editing the “Ancient Asia Issue,” scheduled to launch September 2013–so get your submissions ready. See also their earlier publication of my translation of five sections from Xi Chuan’s “Thirty Historical Reflections” 鉴史三十章 from their China Issue.
Quorum, featuring Miroslav Kirin & his translations of Xi Chuan into Croatian, as well as the following:
Luka Bekavac, Fili Žganjar, Darko Šeparović, Darija Žilić, Marija Karaklajić, Olja Savičević Ivančević, Monika Bregović, Irena Čurik,Goran Pavlić, Alem Korkut, Boris Greiner, Miroslav Mićanović, Marinela, Mario Suško, Senko Karuza, Vesna Biga, Suzana Bosnić, Darija Domić, Ivan Molek, Igor Rončević, Krešimir Pintarić, Dorta Jagić, Marko Pogačar, Katarina Brajdić, Kemal Mujičić Artnam, Tonko Maroević, Ivan Šamija, Anera Ryznar, Vladimir Arsenić
If poets are, as P. B. Shelley wrote, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” then translation must be one of the unacknowledged legislators of poetry. Certainly translation of Chinese poetry has been essential to modern American writing: Ezra Pound’s Cathay didn’t just invent, as T. S. Eliot put it, “Chinese poetry for our time,” it invented the possibility within English for modes of writing recognizable as somehow Chinese. Poets as dissimilar as Charles Reznikoff and Stanley Kunitz, or Charles Wright and J. H. Prynne, have built careers inhabiting these modes; from Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End to John Ashbery’s Mountains and Rivers, we know Chinese whispers when we hear them in American poetry because we have read Chinese poetry in an English first invented by Pound.
Never mind the inaccuracies that have often come with translating poetry from Chinese to English; inaccuracies have been one of poetic translation’s more fruitful possibilities: Aramaic gamla may mean both “camel” and “rope,” but would we cite the Bible’s suspicion of the rich entering heaven if not for the striking surrealism of camels passing through needle-eyes? Or, in that case, mind the inaccuracies, because through them a kind of poetry is born. And this is the kind of poetry that Jonathan Stalling brings us with Yingelishi: Sinophonic English Poetry and Poetics.
Some time ago this blog received a comment from Agnès Dupuis, a PhD candidate in Montréal writing her dissertation on Xi Chuan and translation into French. We started a brief but illuminating (for me, anyhow) correspondence, with her explaining the background of her argument to me via email.
Recently I came across some of her published translations of Xi Chuan’s early work, including three poems I’ve translated for Notes on the Mosquito–“Écho” 回声, my “Echo”; “Il a vieilli” 一个人老了, my “A Man Ages”; and “Mener un troupeau à la mer” 把羊群赶下大海, my “Send Your Flock to the Sea” (her first translation, “L’automne, en Quatorze Lignes,” is from Xi Chuan’s 秋天十四行, which we decided not to include). Here’s how she begins “Écho“:
Tout être est comme une ville
Il est un écho
Les briques et les pierres entassées repoussent l’océan vers le lointain
Le brouillard, aux petites heures du matin, se confine
Et toutes ces forteresses qui nous protègent de l’horizon
Mais qui donc autrefois allait faire paître le troupeau ?
Xi Chuan’s Notes on the Mosquito intercepts the traditional loveliness of the pastoral lyric with the close inspection of city eyes. This remarkable book traces the evolution of a poet who is simultaneously contemplative and social, a world-wanderer firmly rooted in his native Beijing. After the quashing of the student movement in 1989 and several years of self-imposed silence, Xi Chuan resumed writing at a point between two ends—between poetry and history, between poetry and philosophy, poetry and religion. He writes with a calm, ever-curious, and questioning intellect—a poet supremely interested in “now” and firmly resistant to either nostalgia for, or amnesia of, “then.” This welcome, bilingual selection by one of China’s preeminent contemporary poets opens more long-sealed doors to the complexity of his homeland.