At Cha, Nadine Willems reviews Xi Chuan’s Bloom & Other Poems:
Xi Chuan states that he sees himself as an artist whose medium happens to be language. To me, he is a poet of lucidity, whose experimentation with words regenerates the swirling everydayness of the world in its complexity and power of astonishment. In Bloom & Other Poems, the language often takes the dislocated and jagged form of the reality that inspires it—for example bringing in breaks, repetitions, parallelisms, and fragmented sentences as a reflection of the jagged rhythms of life in China.
And about the translation, she says:
Lucas Klein, the translator, must be credited for rendering with perceptiveness and skill the rhythms of Bloom & Other Poems into English … the result attests to his enthusiasm for, and deep affinity with Xi Chuan’s work. Although I cannot pretend to have grasped all the referents and cultural allusions of the text, I am hooked by this initiation to Chinese contemporary poetry and grateful that it is accessible in such a vivid translation.
Xi Chuan’s newest, his second book in English, Bloom and Other Poems, has only been out for a matter of days, but already it’s received its first review!
Heather Green at the Poetry Foundation writes:
[Xi] Chuan’s poetry speaks, in Lucas Klein’s translation, in a vital, brash, and, at times, comic voice, paradoxically both cynical and idealistic. The collection opens with the long title poem, “Bloom,” a lush meditation that exhorts the addressee to:
bloom barbaric blossoms bloom unbearable blossoms
bloom the deviant the unreasonable the illogical
The poem’s “bloom” describes both a sexual unfolding—“I want to witness your nipples blooming your belly button blooming your toes blooming”—as well as a broader, and, in the poem’s terms, necessary, existential flourishing.
She also mentions how Xi Chuan “writes with pathos about life’s contraction in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic … joking about people putting facemasks on pets … before swerving into a more serious mode”:
There have been Chinese people getting beaten up on Sydney streets for wearing facemasks, or ordered to remove their facemasks by the police in Berlin. How can the naked mouths of Sydney and Berlin understand? This is our way of life and means of existence!
“The thrill of this collection arises from [Xi] Chuan’s charismatic voice,” Green concludes, “vividly rendered by Klein, and the unexpected turns from the intellectual to the sensual, from the absurd to the dead-serious.”
“Translation Encounters: A Dialogue Between Authors and Translators” features translators Jeffrey Angles, Jennifer Feeley, and Lucas Klein, who will be joined by their writers Hiromi Itō 伊藤 比呂美, Eva Wong Yi 黃怡, and Xi Chuan 西川 to talk about their various collaborations: How long have they been collaborating? How did they ‘find’ each other? How are the translation processes? Have the collaborations changed over time? How much input do the writers provide to the translations, and in what way is this input essential, or not? Were there notable times when translators and writers were in disagreement? Our speakers will also read selected texts, followed by a Q&A session. This discussion will take place online 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/31IbNun] Moderated by Cha’s co-editor Tammy Lai-Ming Ho.
TRANSLATION ENCOUNTERS Date: Saturday 25 July 2020 Time: 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. (GMT+8) Platform: Zoom https://bit.ly/3eYq7CP (Meeting ID: 958 9545 0608) Languages: Cantonese, English, Japanese, and Mandarin Speakers: Jeffrey Angles, Xi Chuan 西川, Jennifer Feeley, Hiromi Itō 伊藤 比呂美, Lucas Klein, and Eva Wong Yi 黃怡 Moderator: Tammy Lai-Ming Ho
◓ JEFFREY ANGLES (speaker) Jeffrey Angles (1971- ) is a professor of Japanese literature at Western Michigan University in the US. He is the author of Writing the Love of Boys (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), These Things Here and Now: Poetic Responses to the March 11, 2011 Disasters (Josai University Press, 2016), and the award-winning translator of dozens of Japan’s most important modern Japanese authors and poets. He believes strongly in the role of translators as social activists, and much of his career has focused on the translation into English of socially engaged, feminist, and queer writers. His own book of poetry in Japanese, Watashi no hizuke henkō sen (My International Date Line, Shichōsha, 2016) won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature, making him the first non-native speaker ever to win this highly prestigious award for a book of poetry.
◓ XI CHUAN (speaker) Xi Chuan 西川 is a poet, essayist, and translator. He was born in Jiangsu in 1963 and raised in Beijing, where he still lives. A graduate of the Department of English at Peking University in 1985, he was formerly a professor of literature and head librarian at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) and is now a professor at the International Writing Center of Beijing Normal University. In China, he has been awarded the National Lu Xun Prize for Literature (2001), named Cultural China’s Person of the Decade (2001–2011) by Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post, and Author of the Year by the Chinese Book Industry (2018). He was also one of the winners of the Germany’s Weimar International Essay Prize Contest (1999), the recipient of Sweden’s Cikada Prize (2018), and the winner of the Tokyo Poetry Prize (2018). His Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems, translated by Lucas Klein, was published by New Directions in 2012 and won the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation award.
◓ JENNIFER FEELEY (speaker) Jennifer Feeley’s original writings and translations from Chinese have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including FIELD, Epiphany, Mekong Review, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, Chinese Writers on Writing, and Creating Across Cultures: Women in the Arts from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, among others. She is the translator of Not Written Words: Selected Poetry of Xi Xi (Zephyr Press and MCCM Creations, 2016), for which she won the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize and which received a 2017 Hong Kong Publishing Biennial Award in Literature and Fiction. With Sarah Ann Wells, she is the co-editor of Simultaneous Worlds: Global Science Fiction Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Additionally, she is the translator of the first two books in the middle-grade series White Fox by Chen Jiatong (Chicken House Books and Scholastic) and the selected works of Shi Tiesheng (forthcoming from Polymorph Editions), as well as Wong Yi’s libretto for the Cantonese chamber opera Women Like Us, which will premiere at the 2021 Hong Kong Arts Festival. At present, she is translating Xi Xi’s semi-autobiographical novel Mourning a Breast, a project funded by a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship. She holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale University. (Photography of Jennifer by Shi Lessner.)
◓ HIROMI ITŌ (speaker) Hiromi Itō 伊藤 比呂美 (1955- ) emerged in the 1980s as the leading voice of Japanese women’s poetry with a series of sensational works that depicted women’s psychology, sexuality, and motherhood in dramatic new ways. In the late 1990s, she relocated to southern California, and since then, she has written a number of important, award-winning books about migrancy, relocation, identity, linguistic alienation, aging, and death. A selection of her early work appears in Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Itō, translated by Jeffrey Angles (Action Books, 2009). Angles has also translated her wildly imaginative, book-length narrative poem about migration Wild Grass on the Riverbank (Action Books, 2014).
◓ 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 [LINK: http://bit.ly/2DrmfZN]. He is an associate professor in the School of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong. (Photograph of Lucas by Zhai Yongming.)
◓ EVA WONG YI (speaker) Eva Wong Yi 黃怡 is a Hong Kong writer, librettist, and editor-at-large at the literary journal Fleurs des Lettres. The recipient of the Hong Kong Arts Development Awards 2018 Award for Young Artist (Literary Arts), she is the author of three short story collections: The Four Seasons of Lam Yip (林葉的四季, 2019), Patched Up (補丁之家, 2015), and News Stories (據報有人寫小說, 2010). Additionally, she is the librettist for the Cantonese-language chamber opera Women Like Us (兩個女子), commissioned and produced by the Hong Kong Arts Festival. She has served as a columnist for various Hong Kong newspapers and magazines and currently co-hosts the program “Book Review” for Radio Television Hong Kong. In 2019, she participated in the Singapore Writers Festival and Los Angeles Architecture Exhibition “Island__Peninsula.” She holds a Master of Arts in English from King’s College London and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong.
◒ 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), the Hong Kong special issue of Svenska PEN’s PEN/Opp (formerly “The Dissident Blog”), and an e-chapbook of Hong Kong poetry published by Cordite Publishing. She is currently 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.
MCLC has published Joanna Krenz’s review of Chinese Poetic Modernisms (Brill, 2019), edited by Paul Manfredi and Christopher Lupke, which includes my chapter “Annotating Aporias of History: the ‘International Style’, Chinese Modernism, and World Literature in Xi Chuan’s Poetry.”
one need only read a few paragraphs of the Introduction, by editors Paul Manfredi and Christopher Lupke, to see that the formula of “Chinese poetic modernisms” is anything but conventional. Each of its three main conceptual components—Chineseness, poeticness, and modernism(s)—alone can provoke endless discussion and debate, not to mention the plethora of contested terms associated with these concepts and their multiple configurations and contextualizations. The fourteen scholars whose contributions are included in the book confront the idea of Chinese poetic modernisms from various, sometimes radically different angles, which add up to a dynamic, multidimensional picture of modernist practice in Chinese poetry.
She has some criticisms of my disagreement with Michelle Yeh about how to handle “Chineseness” as a topic of academic discussion, but she does wrap it up with some praise:
In any event, Klein, who recently published a monograph that demonstrates how Chineseness has been consistently constructed through translation, is definitely not a person who would want to strip Chinese poetry of its complexity, and his chapter on Xi Chuan confirms this. He refers extensively to the International Style in architecture, taking it as a starting point for his reflection on (Chinese) “modernism [which] is already broadly postmodernist from the get-go” (319). Both modernism and postmodernism, he proposes, are in reality “two steps in the same historical movement of post-Romanticism” (319). Following Eliot Weinberger, he calls for inclusive understanding of modernism as a notion rooted in history and embracing specific cultural geographies without detracting from their uniqueness. Klein’s familiarity with Chinese literature at large and with the evolution of Xi Chuan’s poetry is exceptional, as is his “negotiating the relationship between local and universal logic” (335), to borrow from his own description of Xi Chuan.
Follow the link above to see the whole review, which is exemplary as a way to engage an edited volume with breadth and with depth.
The new issue of the Kenyon Review has just launched, a special feature on “Literary Activism,” coedited by Rita Dove and John Kinsella–and in it, Xi Chuan’s poem “January 2011 in Egypt” 2011年1月埃及纪事 in the online edition. Here are some lines:
Eight thousand years after its founding the people are in a backwater earning too little always hearing about others making too much.
The piss stench of mules drifts through the alleys. Trash covers the wilderness.
Corrupt politics can’t manage the trash covering the wilderness; it can only keep the grand hall clean.
The midlevel official making E£500 a month and the doctor making E£150 a month demand change.
The youths banding together to vent their anger and despair don’t know each other. Vent first, then we’ll see.
So the smoke from burning tires rises from three sides of the temple, choking the gods inside—they proclaim themselves to be aliens so they should get respect and protection.
Anxious foreigners are smoking in the airport waiting area and no one cares.
The Romanian girl who worried about having nowhere to put her feet later disappears in the chaos of the crowd.
Yana, where are you?
Among the rioters looting the flower shop may be one who wants a rose for his beloved.
Whether you can be his beloved depends entirely on whether you’re lucky enough to survive.
The whole looks great. In addition to Xi Chuan, there’s new work by Anne Carson, Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, and others online, and in the print edition new work by Brenda Hillman, Nathaniel Mackey, and more.
Click here for the feature, starting with the introductions by Dove and Kinsella.
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.
Mail to Hong Kong from North America can be slow, so even though the current issue of Metamorphoses, a double issue on literature in Chinese, guest-edited by Sujane Wu, has been on the stands for some weeks, I only received my copy today.
Chinese steamed buns, or mantou 饅頭 “are, indeed, just bread.” The statement is by Harvard professor of medieval Chinese literature Stephen Owen, elaborating on his earlier comments on world literature, where he had said that in the“international poetry” he was looking at, “most of these poems translate themselves.” Is mantou just bread? And what does this assertion have to do with translation?
From there, I go on to discuss Walter Benjamin on pain and Brot, and Eliot Weinberger on pumpernickel and Wonder Bread (and steamed buns). Of all the articles of mine that have been published, this is probably my favorite.