Shaw on Haizi

As part of their poetry month feature, Tristan Shaw wrote for SupChina on Haizi 海子:

Between 1984 and his death, Hai Zi is estimated to have written two million words worth of work, spanning lyrics, epics, and verse dramas. For all his output, however, Hai Zi’s poems attracted little attention from his contemporaries. There is still debate today over his mental state, and why he decided to commit suicide, but one theory might have been his lack of success. Some have pinned his suicide on an idealization of death; others believe, as his final notes indicate, that he suffered from delusions. Another factor might have been a meeting with his former student; Hai Zi was greatly upset when he learned that his old flame was married and planning to move to the United States.

At any rate, in the aftermath of Hai Zi’s suicide, his friends Luo Yihe 骆一禾 and Xi Chuan 西川 helped to spread his work. Posthumous publications of Hai Zi’s work in the 1990s earned him a cult following, with some fans considering him a martyr to poetry. Critics embraced him, scholars studied him, and foreigners translated him. In 1990, Xi Chuan prophesied that “the death of Haizi the poet will become one of the myths of our time.” For his young Chinese fans, who still follow in his path and makes pilgrimages to the places connected to him, Hai Zi has become a mystical, legendary figure.

Click through to read the article in full.

Emily Goedde on “translating the space between subjects”

Emily Goedde writes about Chinese poetry translation–in particular, translating the poetry of 1930s poet Mu Dan 穆旦–at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop:

I think about translation as a kind of listening to the echoes created as meaning moves between languages. I mark a space [ ] in the title of my translation of Chinese WWII era poet Mu Dan’s original “我” and my “I”. I ask: What knowledge is generated by putting languages in relation to one another? What can be gained through a greater attention to the process rather than the product of translation? More specifically, what can be discovered within the movement and change occurring in the act of translation between Mu Dan’s study of the individual in his poem “我” and my translation ”I”?

Click here to read the translation and her explanation of her process and product.

Introduction to Chinese Poetry in Translation in SupChina

As part of SupChina‘s feature on poetry last month, translator Dave Haysom selected five books to introduce Chinese poetry in English translation: Chinese Poetic Writing by François Cheng (translated by Donald A. Riggs & Jerome P. Seaton), The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry (edited by Eliot Weinberger), Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (edited by W.N. Herbert & Yang Lian, with Brian Holton), Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry (translated by Eleanor Goodman), and Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated by Eliot Weinberger.

Click through to see more on these titles, as well as Dave’s honorable mentions.

India-China Dialogues on Almost Island

The Monsoon 2019 issue of Almost Island is here, and with it a feature of poetry and prose from last October’s India-China dialogues in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Almost Island writes, announcing the feature:

This issue continues our dialogue with leading Chinese poets and novelists, ongoing since 2009. The dialogue was begun by Chinese poet Bei Dao [北岛] and Indian novelist and poet Sharmistha Mohanty. The most recent meeting between Indian and Chinese writers, curated by Almost Island and the Chinese journal Jintian [今天], took place in October 2018 in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Scholar Lydia H. Liu, in her essay The Gift of a Living Past, a tribute to Ashis Nandy, which we publish here, says:

“Confucius traveled from state to state—across many warring states before the unification in BCE 221—offering advice to the heads of states and attempting to counsel them, but everywhere he went, Confucius’s ideas were met with indifference and rejection. With his noble aspirations getting nowhere, Confucius gained the reputation of a homeless dog. The astonishing thing is that not only did the Master not mind being called homeless dog but he found the epithet to be a suitable description of his plight. I suspect that the story tells us something interesting about the defeat and survival of rootless intellectuals, and this story is the polar opposite of what you get from the official discourse of Confucianism in China.

Like Confucius, all rootless intellectuals are, in a sense, homeless dogs. This story lives on in our midst, like a gift to the present. As we share more of each other’s stories, the Chinese and Indian writers are essentially building a transnational literary alliance based on our melancholy knowledge of the living pasts. That our friendship can grow and form a lasting bond is owing to the fact that, in Nandy’s words, ‘India and China are both in some fundamental sense societies which negotiate the past and the future similarly despite all differences. This similarity lies in the fact that in both countries the past is as open as the future.’”

This openness of time speaks through Bei Dao’s new book length poem, from which we have excerpts here, translated by Eliot Weinberger and seen for the first time in English in this issue.

Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] follows Sufis and drifters in his poems in which “A screw and a flower embrace, tightening time.” The luminous translations are by Lucas Klein.

The poems of Xi Chuan are hard, sharp and brilliant, diamond like. Once again Lucas Klein achieves this in English.

Zhai Yongming [翟永明] has, on the surface, a seemingly lighter touch, but underneath she walks the razor’s edge. Andrea Lingenfelter renders this deftly into English.

We have an excerpt from novelist Han Shaogong’s [韩少功] deeply original A Dictionary of Maqiao, written in fact in the form of dictionary entries, each entry looking closely at different aspects of the village of Maqiao during the Cultural Revolution. Translator Julia Lovell catches the extraordinary within the ordinary in Shaogong’s prose.

And Ashis Nandy’s opening talk at the last India-China Dialogues held in Hong Kong and Hangzhou, Oct. 2018, where in his inimitable way he pries open the twentieth century to find that its most lasting legacy is genocide.

Click the highlighted links to download the .pdf files and begin reading!

Matches Polished into Lights: Tiananmen Thirty Years On

Matches Polished into Lights: Tiananmen Thirty Years On
June 3, 2019, at Bleak House Books, Hong Kong

Speakers: Jennifer Anne Eagleton, Guo Ting, Louisa Lim, William Nee, Mei Kwan Ng, Kate Rogers, and Lian-Hee Wee (with two special guest readers, Jeff Wasserstrom and Andrea Lingenfelter).
Moderator: Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

For selected texts by featured speakers, click here.

For Tammy Ho’s piece, published as South China Morning Post‘s “Young Post,” see here:

No photo description available.

Shieh on Zheng Xiaoqiong

Last month was Poetry Month (T.S. Eliot called April “the cruellest month”), and SupChina ran a host of short essays on Chinese poetry.

As part of the series, Simon Shieh wrote about Zheng Xiaoqiong
郑小琼:

Zheng is, by any measure, an anomaly. When she won the Liqun Literary Prize in 2007, she was completely unknown in the literary world. Now, she is a seminal figure in the emerging genre of migrant worker poetry and one of the most significant living Chinese poets, as her recent nomination for the Newman Prize attests.

Zheng’s poetry is well-known for its stylistic complexity. But what I find most interesting in her poetry is the relationship between two seemingly opposed landscapes: the classic pastoral landscape on the one hand and the landscape of mass-production on the other.

Shieh also quotes a poem by Zheng alongside its translation into English by Samantha Toh.

Click here to read the whole article.

Cha Journal Call for Submissions for Tiananmen Square Massacre 30th Anniversary Issue

[Call for Submissions] Special Feature on Tiananmen (June 2019)
Deadline Extended!

4 June 2019 will mark thirty years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, when the Chinese government crushed the nascent democracy movement led by students and workers. The ensuing decades have brought tumultuous changes to the culture, politics, economics of China and the whole world. To honour the struggle of the democracy protesters, mourn their defeat, and take stock of the last three decades, Cha: An Asian Literary Journalis convening a special feature of translations and original English works, to be co-edited by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming and Lucas Klein, for publication in the June 2019 issue of the journal.

June 4th.jpeg

We are looking for high-quality and previously unpublished poems, stories, remembrances, essays, and works of creative nonfiction, either originally written in English or translated from any of China’s languages into English, on the topic of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement and its aftermath.

Please email submissions to submissions@asiancha.com. The subject line should read “Tiananmen—[Your name]—Genre”. The extended deadline for submissions is 30 April 2019. Please follow our guidelines closely.

Logan on Billings’s Critical Cathay

William Logan’s long review of the new Cathay: A Critical Edition, edited by Timothy Billings

The New Criterion has published William Logan’s long review of the new Cathay: A Critical Edition, edited by Timothy Billings (Fordham, 2019).

Logan likes the book. He summarizes:

As Mori’s English was poor, and Fenollosa’s Japanese probably not advanced, an expert in both, the professor of international law Ariga Nagao, was employed as a translator. Also fluent in classical Chinese, he prepared the crib for one of the most important poems in the book, “Song of the Bowmen of Shu.” Mori and Ariga used what is called the kundoku method of reading and translating. This is Timothy Billings’s quite remarkable discovery in this extraordinary edition of Cathay. Kundoku allowed scholars who couldn’t speak Chinese, who could pronounce the characters only in the Japanese fashion, to read the texts closely. This is reminiscent of the study of Latin in the West, where for centuries the texts were pored over by students and scholars who sometimes could not speak the language and whose pronunciation would undoubtedly have driven ancient Romans mad—though ancient Romans in their polyglot city were used to foreigners mangling their tongue and delighted in making nasty remarks about it.

The full book is very worth reading for anyone interested in Ezra Pound’s Cathay and/or in Chinese poetry in English translation (and its history). But Logan’s review is also an excellent summary of what is most important and urgent in Billings’s edition.

Click here for the full review.

Bei Dao in WLT Hong Kong feature

As part of its feature on Hong Kong writing, guest-edited by Tammy Ho–featuring writing by Xi Xi 西西 as translated by Jennifer Feeley, poetry by Chris Song 宋子江, and more–World Literature Today has published my translation of “Dwelling Poetically in Hong Kong,” by Bei Dao 北島, published originally in 2010.

“Dwelling poetically” comes from Heidegger. “In short,” Bei Dao explains, “to dwell is the state of being of the human, while the poetic is the attainment via poetry of a spiritual liberation or freedom; therefore, to dwell poetically is to search for one’s spiritual home.” Such thinking inspired Bei Dao to launch the Hong Kong International Poetry Nights, which he explains in the piece.

Bei Dao began Poetry Nights to cure an ill he diagnosed in the youths of Hong Kong. He writes:

Because I teach, I have a lot of contact with the youth of Hong Kong. And I worry for their generation. They were born on a production assembly line—their whole lives are determined for them in advance. This assembly line has the look of being safe and reliable, but their creativity and imagination have been hijacked—by capital, by their fathers, by the media, by the internet; they have no curiosity, no vision, no desire to read or to learn, no independence, no ability to express themselves, yes, none whatsoever. I have no doubt that this is a contributing factor to the high suicide rate of youths in Hong Kong, a contributing factor to the pervasiveness of psychological complexes among the youth of Hong Kong.

After this piece circulated online, I noticed that some were not happy with Bei Dao’s characterization of the youth of Hong Kong. I thought his judgment could use some contextualization, so Tammy Ho and I decided that as translator I should append a note, special for the online edition. I wrote:

Bei Dao wrote “Dwelling Poetically in Hong Kong” in 2010, two and a half years after moving to Hong Kong and not long after what would be the first of the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong—a poetry festival that has helped change the cultural reputation of this city. At one point Bei Dao strikes a sour note about the youth of Hong Kong, whom he knew as his students. Much has changed in Hong Kong since he wrote this piece—the activation of the younger generation’s political engagement with Occupy Central (2014), or what was known as the Umbrella Movement, but also Bei Dao’s International Poetry Nights, which have taken place biennially since 2009. If his critique of students now rings false, then, to a certain extent, Bei Dao himself is partially to thank for that.

Click here to read the piece in full.

Shan on Yu Yoyo and Translation

The Asymptote blog has posted Xiao Yue Shan’s take on Yu Yoyo 余幼幼, as translated by Henry Zhang. Shan writes:

Floating signifiers are especially insecure in translation, in which one often has to choose between music and intention, double meanings or single ones, visual effect or faithful retellings. They present a particular dilemma because a floating signifier in one language may not be one in the other. The Chinese language, painting with a full palette of the pictorial, the symbolic, the historical, and the literal, has a tangibility that does not lapse into the vague as easily as English does. Ernest Fenollosa, in his (flawed but admirable) studies, characterized Chinese characters as a medium for poetry. It is not that Chinese is inherently more possessive of the elusive idea of poetics, but rather that the facets of Chinese language that enchanted Fenollosa with their invocation of poetry are also what result in headaches for translators. We do not count our losses in translation. Instead, we admire the growth a poem may undergo as it leaves its writer’s hand and wanders onto the page, how it may cross oceans and national borders, how it lives, how it is alive, the way we know language to be.

Shan notes that in Henry Zhang’s English version of Yu’s poem “Letter of Regret,” the word “‘love’ is applied much less liberally, turning up only four times” to Yu’s six for aiqing 爱情. “There is no retracing the tangled process of translation,” she says, “but one may guess that it has something to do with how ‘love’ weighs lighter in the Chinese language, which has ceded less value to the word in its public consciousness.”

I don’t know about that. But looking at the first stanza of the poem in Chinese and English, I wonder if Zhang was working with another version.

忏悔书

我写了那么多爱情
却从来没有
相信过
爱情到了最后
都让我变成
老死不相往来

Letter of Regret

I wrote so much love
but never
believed
love would make me
two cities, each ignoring the other

Click here to read the piece in full.