The new issue of Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) is hitting the shelves (or stacks), along with it my article “Indic Echoes: Form, Content, and World Literature in Tang Dynasty Regulated Verse,” Charles Laughlin’s “New Translators & Contemporary Chinese Literature in English,” my review of Jonathan Stalling’s Shi Zhi 食指 translation, and Nick Admussen’s review of Notes on the Mosquito. Here’s an excerpt from his review:
Biography is a crucial dimension of contemporary poetry: the drive to make biography meaningful, to use it as a means of self-expression, is shared by poets not just in China, but all over the world. Klein notes that Xi Chuan read every draft of every translation, and was important to the processes of selection and organization (xii-xiii). Xi Chuan is a scholar and translator of English and American literature. His ability and willingness to be involved in this translation from start to finish makes it valuable and rare in the world of translated literature; in addition to being the transformation of original work by a translator, Notes on the Mosquito is a direct product of the artist himself. For this reason, readers get much more from the book than they might otherwise. Concretely, the narrative of Xi Chuan’s art undergoing transformations in 1989 is one that the poet himself wants to share.
This is, however, still a translated volume, and the hand of the translator is also visible in the English versions of the poems. Perhaps because of his ability to get Xi Chuan’s opinion on his final drafts, Lucas Klein’s translations are unafraid of taking significant risks with the original texts. This feels like the correct — perhaps the only correct — strategy in dealing with these poems. Because his lyric poetry is so syntactically complex, and because his prose work moves between intricate intertextuality and tonally layered vernacular, a bold attempt to render the feeling of a poem into English is almost always preferable to the uninterpretability of a literal translation.
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