Posting a review of Xi Chuan’s Bloom & Other Poems earlier this week made me realize that somehow I had left this blog go dormant for a year! Recently I also came across Mantra Mukim’s fascinating take on Duo Duo’s 多多 Words as Grain in The Georgia Review, which begins from an analysis of how grass is “also “at the center of the contemporary Chinese poet Duo Duo’s oeuvre, offering refuge and sustenance to the speaker but also an unrelenting sense of fragility.”
Grass becomes the name for those marginal “secrets” that the voice takes the risk of bringing to fore, however granularly, with “silence” and “depths of sorrow” being their point of origin. Klein’s decision to use only lowercase in his translations, obviously not a feature of the logosyllabic Mandarin, is perhaps an extension of Duo Duo’s own attention to the granular and miniscule in language, to its grassy “cover.” While the lowercase has its own near-mythological status in Anglo-American modernism, Klein’s choice seems to speak specifically to Duo Duo’s view of poetry as a weak yet “radiant” force of remembrance and memorializing. The point is that no act of memorializing is without its precarities or its weaknesses.
Mukim also writes:
Translations of modern Chinese poetry have often been sold to Western readers through a simplified narrative of disclosure, where poets are taken for impresarios removing the cloth from brutal historical events. This peculiar lust for allegories of non-Western national pasts is old news, however, for translators such as Klein, who deftly flags the problem in his introduction and notes why such readerly demands are disappointed by Duo Duo’s poetry, which remains defiantly elliptical and fragmentary. It is not that Duo Duo’s poems do not speak to their adjacent histories, but this dialogue concocts its own singular language nothing like reportage or testimony. If there is a history or a critique of totalitarian politics to be unearthed in these poems, it will only be found by paying attention to the wounds and reprieves of their language, something Duo Duo time and again compares to grass.
Click on the image above for the review in full.
In the coming weeks I’ll try to make up for the lost time of not posting for a year, with more reviews and announcements.