Cha: An Asian Literary Journal has published Joanna Krenz’s review of the selected poems of Ya Shi 哑石, Floral Mutter 花的低语, as translated by Nick Admussen (Zephyr and Chinese University Press). Read the epic and erudite review here:
I came across Ya Shi’s works some two or three years ago in Admussen’s renditions on the Lyrikline and Poetry International websites. I was initially attracted by the author’s short bio, identifying a kindred spirit in this practitioner of mathematics and poetry—two disciplines that are particularly dear to my heart—a graduate of Peking University who left the capital to settle in the countryside in his native Sichuan. I gratefully devoured the handful of texts that were available online in English at the time and kept searching for his collections of poetry and essays in Chinese, planning to include Ya Shi in the Polish-language anthology of Chinese poetry I have been working on. One of the first texts I read and translated was “Full Moon Night”, with the “cursed” qingcui in line 8. I was troubled mostly by semantics and not by the tortuous syntax which is quite easy to recreate in highly fusional and structurally flexible Slavic languages. Admussen recalls he tried to retain at least two aspects of qingcui: frailty and clearness-and-melodiousness, but “the superimposition of the two” proved impossible. In Polish there is no perfect solution either, but I was quite satisfied with a near-superimposition, that is an adverb dźwięcznie (‘clearly, sharply, melodiously’) generously prompted by the ghost of the past. The word in question—and this is lucky for me—often happens to be misheard and misrepeated as wdzięcznie (meaning  ‘gracefully’ or  ‘gratefully’), which preserves part of the semantics of frailty, implying delicateness and proneness to destruction. I recalled a popular song often heard in my grandma’s small village church when I was a child, in which “nightingales are singing ah singing in a clear-and-melodious / graceful-or-grateful voice”; half of the congregation persistently sticking to dźwięczny, and the other half to wdzięczny. I still do not know which one is correct, but the memory of the rough, untrained but energetic and unswervingly faithful voices belonging mostly to old women, one of whom was my beloved grandma, proved quite instrumental in dealing with the lines in question. At the same time, it also influenced my reading of the parenthesized line 10, which I interpreted similarly to Admussen. Now when I look at the poem, I think it may well be taken much more literally, simply as a distance from the smooth maroon surface in the place where one keeps one’s elbows to the coarse far end of the desk, but both of us somehow naturally extended the desk to infinity, to undefined “coarse distance”, leaving the poem open to more ghosts.
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.
ZOOM: https://bit.ly/2YHxitE (Meeting ID: 959 2591 8289) Saturday June 13, 11:00 a.m. Hong Kong time (click here to find the date & time for you)
Congratulations to Zephyr Press! They are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and “Translators Speak: Translating Chinese Poetry” is part of the celebrations.
“Translators Speak: Translating Chinese Poetry,” co-sponsored by Zephyr Press, features several translators from Zephyr’s Jintian Series of Contemporary Chinese Poetry. Nick Admussen, Lucas Klein, Andrea Lingenfelter, and Jami Proctor Xu will talk about and introduce the poets they translated, the translation process, their views on translating Chinese poetry (as opposed to translating other genres), and advice and suggestions they would give other translators. They will also read from their books and contextualise the poems and their translations. We will have a Q&A session as well. This discussion will take place via Zoom and people from all over the world are welcome to listen in. [Find out what time it will be where you are: https://bit.ly/2W8O57q] Moderated by Cha’s co-editor Tammy Lai-Ming Ho.
TRANSLATORS SPEAK: TRANSLATING CHINESE POETRY Date: Saturday 13 June 2020 Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. (GMT+8) Platform: Zoom https://bit.ly/2YHxitE (Meeting ID: 959 2591 8289) Languages: English Speakers: Nick Admussen, Lucas Klein, Andrea Lingenfelter, and Jami Proctor Xu Moderator: Tammy Lai-Ming Ho
◓ NICK ADMUSSEN (speaker) Nick Admussen is an associate professor of Chinese literature and culture at Cornell University. He is the author of Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry, the translator of Ya Shi’s poetry collection Floral Mutter, and a poet whose most recent chapbook is titled Stand Back, Don’t Fear the Change. He was the recipient of a 2017 grant from the PEN/Heim fund for translation, has been anthologized in Best New Poets 2018 and Best Short Fictions 2017, and was a 2018 National Poetry Series finalist.
◓ LUCAS KLEIN (speaker) Lucas Klein (PhD Yale) is a father, writer, and translator. His scholarship and criticism have appeared in the monograph The Organization of Distance: Poetry, Translation, Chineseness (Brill, 2018), as well as in Comparative Literature Studies, LARB, Jacket, CLEAR, PMLA, and other venues. His translation Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems of Xi Chuan (New Directions, 2012) won the 2013 Lucien Stryk Prize; other publications include his translations of the poetry of Mang Ke, October Dedications (Zephyr and Chinese University Press, 2018), and contributions to Li Shangyin (New York Review Books, 2018). His translations of the poetry of Duo Duo, forthcoming from Yale University Press, won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant, and he co-edited Chinese Poetry and Translation: Rights and Wrongs (2019) with Maghiel van Crevel, downloadable for free from Amsterdam University Press. He is an associate professor in the School of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong.
◓ ANDREA LINGENFELTER (speaker) Andrea Lingenfelter is a writer and translator whose published books include The Changing Room: Selected Poetry of Zhai Yongming (Northern California Book Award winner), Hon Lai Chu’s The Kite Family, (NEA Translation Fellowship grantee), Li Pik-wah’s Farewell My Concubine and The Last Princess of Manchuria, and Candy and Vanishing Act by Mian Mian. Her poetry and prose translations have appeared in Manoa, Granta, Chinese Literature Today, Pathlight, Zoland Poetry Annual, Words Without Borders, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Two Lines, Chicago Review, and elsewhere. Her own work has appeared in various publications, including Strix and Cha. Current book-length translation projects include a collection of poems by Wang Yin, Zhai Yongming’s Following Huang Gongwang Through the Fuchun Mountains, and Wang Anyi’s novel Scent of Heaven. She is a contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and its affiliated China Channel, and is a two-time Vermont Studio Center Luce Translation Fellowship recipient (with Wang Yin [2017) and Cao Shuying  respectively). Currently based in Northern California, she teaches literary translation and literature and film of the Asia Pacific at the University of San Francisco.
◓ JAMI PROCTOR XU (speaker) Jami Proctor Xu is a poet, mother and translator. She writes in English and Chinese and splits her time between Northern California, Arizona, and China. Her publications include, among others, a Chinese chapbook, Shimmers (EMS, 2013) a Chinese poetry collection Suddenly Starting to Dance (Yi, 2016), an English chapbook, Hummingbird Ignites a Star, the translated collection of Jidi Majia, Words from the Fire (Manoa, 2018), and the translated collection of Song Lin, Sunday Sparrows (Zephyr, 2020). Her current translation projects include translations of poetry collections by Zhao Ye, Xiao Xiao, and Shu Cai. Jami is also editing an anthology of Chinese translations of US poets born in the 1970s as well as anthologies of international poets forthcoming from Beijing Normal University. Since 2016, she has co-organised an annual international poetry exchange at Beijing Normal University’s International Writing Center, and since 2019, she has collaborated with Zolani Mkiva to co-organise international poetry events in South Africa. Jami frequently reads at festivals around the world, and her poetry and translations have been published in anthologies in several languages. She is a recipient of the Zhujiang Poetry Award (2013) and the First Reader Best Poet Award (2016).
◒ TAMMY LAI-MING HO (moderator) Tammy Lai-Ming Ho is the founding co-editor of the first Hong Kong-based international Asia-focused journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of the academic journals Victorian Network and Hong Kong Studies, and the first English-language Editor of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine 聲韻詩刊. She is an Associate Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, where she teaches poetics, fiction, and modern drama. She is also the President of PEN Hong Kong, a Junior Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, an advisor to the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, and an Associate Director of One City One Book Hong Kong. Tammy’s first collection of poetry is Hula Hooping (Chameleon 2015), for which she won the Young Artist Award in Literary Arts from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Her first short story collection Her Name Upon The Strand (Delere Press), her second poetry collection Too Too Too Too (Math Paper Press) and chapbook An Extraterrestrial in Hong Kong (Musical Stone) were published in 2018. Her first academic book is Neo-Victorian Cannibalism (Palgrave, 2019). Tammy edited or co-edited seven literary volumes having a strong focus on Hong Kong, the most recent one being Twin Cities: An Anthology of Twin Cinema from Singapore and Hong Kong (Landmark Books, 2017). She guest-edited a Hong Kong Feature for World Literature Today (Spring 2019) and the Hong Kong special issue of Svenska PEN’s PEN/Opp (formerly “The Dissident Blog”). She is currently editing a Hong Kong chapbook for Cordite Poetry Review and she will be co-editing 2020: A Bilingual Anthology of Hong Kong Poetry with Chris Song. Tammy is also a translator and her literary translations can be found in World Literature Today, Chinese Literature Today, Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, among other places, and International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong (香港國際詩歌之夜) volumes (2015, 2017 and 2019). Her own poems have been translated into a number of languages, including Chinese, French, German, Latvian and Vietnamese.
The Harvard Reviewhas just published my translation of “That Time” 那时, by Duo Duo 多多, a section from his series The Desire of the Rose Now the Same as the Desire of Swords 玫瑰的欲望已经与剑的欲望一致.
In the brief introduction, I write:
The sequence as a whole is about the vicissitudes of memory: its pains but also its joys. The images that end “That Time,” horses and gravestones, are familiar throughout Duo Duo’s oeuvre, but here they are defamiliarized. The whole sequence ends with “remembrance” being the pursuit of “what is ahead,” while “the moment of happiness is the moment of memory.”
Here is how the poem begins:
why does the camel need twin humps to make it through the desert?
I look at you, you only look at yourself I look there, I only see you
I look at things I cannot see I see time—that long, long rose
at that time the lion could still think, no flames of fury in the beauty’s eyes at that time we could still walk into things we could not understand
it’s the heart that creates the invisible, between riddle and its four walls, letting the parable of life pass through the ring
the way my sunlight might pierce your eyes to see some even farther place
Many thanks to Tammy Lai-ming Ho for her suggestions on my translations!
While the coronavirus is keeping most of us indoors, artist Elizabeth Briel has been reading poems and posting them to Instagram and Facebook. Here she is reading my translation of Xi Chuan’s new poem, “Ode to Facemasks” 口罩颂.
“Ode to Facemasks” will be published in the forthcoming “Masks” feature, edited by Tammy Ho 何麗明, in the Hongkong-based literary journal Voice & Verse聲韻詩刊 (edited by Chris Song 宋子江). Voice & Verse is accepting submissions on the theme of Masks until May 15.
TRANSLATING ASIAN LANGUAGES: PREJUDICES & PRIVILEGES Date: Wednesday 15 April 2020 Time: 8:00-9:30 p.m. (GMT+8) Platform: ZOOM https://bit.ly/2JdMbLs (Meeting ID: 514 122 177) Languages: English Speakers: Lucas Klein, Grace Ting, and Matt Turner Moderator: Tammy Lai-Ming Ho
‘Every translation sparks / another translation.’ In the discussion “Translating Asian Languages: Prejudices and Privileges”, Lucas Klein (Cha‘s Translation Editor), Matt Turner and Grace Ting will talk about the issues pertaining to the translation of Asian literary texts.
They will ponder, among other questions, the following: What are the prejudices, if any, faced by translators of Asian texts? What are the potential privileges some translators may have? Are ‘academic translators’ more privileged? If yes, in what ways? Why are certain Asian languages/writers/texts translated but others are left out? Who make translation decisions? Under what circumstances do we see translators occupying a more visible position than the writers they translate? Is it ever possible to have too many translators translating a particular genre of texts? The three speakers will also read from either their own translations or those of others. There will also be a Q&A session. This discussion will take place via. ZOOM and people from all over the world are welcome to tune in. Moderated by Cha’s co-editor Tammy Ho.
If you would like to participate in a Cha reading, or if there are topics you would like to suggest, please write to us (email@example.com)! Here is the list: https://bit.ly/3dkIFgf
Nick Admussen’s translation of Floral Mutter 花的低语, by Ya Shi 哑石, is now out from Zephyr and Chinese University Presses, and to announce the publication the Cornell Chronicle has published an article under the headline “Translation opens a thriving world of Chinese poetry“, by Kate Blackwood. She writes:
Now, Ya Shi – a pen name meaning “mute stone” – teaches university-level mathematics in his home province, Sichuan, but he is also an award-winning poet. Nick Admussen, associate professor of Asian studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, has translated into English selections of Ya Shi’s poetry in the newly published “Floral Mutter.” Admussen’s research and teaching center around contemporary Chinese literature, and he is also a published poet.
For English readers, the book is an introduction to this unique poetic voice and a glimpse into Sichuan’s vibrant poetry scene.
“The arrangement of Ya Shi’s work in this volume is a tiny fraction of his writing, intended to foreground his intellectual restlessness and independence,” Admussen wrote in the introduction. “I have seen no other contemporary poet think so deeply and patiently about the intellectual uses of wild space in China today.”
The article ends with Admussen quoted as saying:
“If you want to have interesting and exciting poetry, you need to be moving between cultural traditions,” he said. “It’s true in music, it’s true in fiction. It’s true in all the other arts, too.”
Click on the link above to read the article in full.
The United Arab Emirates paper The National, the Middle East’s leading English-language news service, has published an investigation by Yang Lian 楊煉 into Chinese and Arabic poetry, in honor of Syrian poet Adonis.
The philosophical truths of the language and the immovability of verbs has confused many translators of Chinese poetry. But at the same time, don’t you think it provides also a great opportunity to write something more profound than just describing a concrete happening?
Du Fu’s Climbing High was a masterpiece about a poet universally in exile. The poem went far beyond himself. It was in the traditions of Ovid, Dante, Cvitayeva, Adonis, Yang Lian – all poets in exile across space and time.
Who is not in exile now? Therefore, who has in reality not been written about in Du Fu’s Climbing High 1253 years ago? It is the same as my poem written in the year 1989.
It was not wrong for that poem to be translated into the past tense (1989 is past), but if you read carefully the last line “this is no doubt a perfectly ordinary year”, then my point was clear, to challenge the changeless fate and forgetful nature of human beings. Therefore, I have to agree with the translations of Brian Holton in the present tense that contextualise poems in the eternal now. The same pleasant surprise came to me from the Syrian poet Adonis.
He examines the Du Fu 杜甫 poem “Climbing High” 登高, written in 767. Then:
The Hanan Prize for Translation (China and Inner Asia) was established in 2015 and is given biennially to an outstanding English translation of a significant work in any genre originally written in Chinese or an Inner Asian Language, from any time period.
This year’s winner is Eleanor Goodman, for The Roots of Wisdom by Zang Di 臧棣 (Zephyr Press).
The Awards Ceremony was going to be at the upcoming AAS annual conference in Boston, MA on Friday, March 20, but the conference has been canceled.