Eleanor Goodman on Contemporary Chinese Poetry from Zephyr


As part of Paper Republic‘s series of blogs for Global Literature in Libraries throughout February, Eleanor Goodman writes on Zephyr Press, which she says “has done more to raise the profile of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation than any other press today”:

Their books are carefully curated, well edited, and beautifully produced. Above all, their translators (here I must profess that I am one of them) tend to be at the top of the field, which is of course essential to the making of a good book in English.

Alongside mentions of their publications of Han Dong 韩冬, Bai Hua 柏桦, Lan Lan 蓝蓝, and Yu Xiang 宇向, Goodman specifically writes about her translation of Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, about Andrea Lingenfelter’s translation of Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Austin Woerner’s translations of Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西, Steve Bradbury’s translation of Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü 夏宇, and my own forthcoming translations of Mang Ke 芒克.

With with “deep resources of scholarship and natural talent to draw upon,” she writes, it is

this mix of qualities—the best of the contemporary Chinese poetry world combined with translators who are also careful readers and appreciators of poetry—that makes the Zephyr collection so unique and valuable. These books are a labor of love from start to finish, and it shows in the final products. There is simply no better introduction to the contemporary Chinese poetry scene available today.

Click the image above for the full article.

Insistent Voices Modern Chinese Poetry at Asia Literary Review

The new Asia Literary Review is hosting a feature on modern (I think they mean contemporary) Chinese poetry. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction by Zheng Danyi 鄭單衣 (translated with Martin Alexander and Shirley Lee):

For us, poetry wasn’t just a social tool or a political weapon. We worked to create an independent literary movement, inspired by T. S. Eliot and other Modernists, and to form a new sense of beauty from Chinese and Western traditions. We wrote in the music of our own southern languages – and edited with an ear for Mandarin. A vernacular approach was therefore also important – what Coleridge called “the language of ordinary men”. This had been a feature of China’s New Culture Movement, which flourished from 1917 to 1919. It aimed, as we did, to build on the literary traditions of the past and to speak directly to a broad audience in its own language.

The feature includes new translations of old poems by Zheng along with Bei Dao 北島, Duo Duo 多多, Shu Ting 舒婷, Yang Lian 楊煉, Gu Cheng 顧城, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Bai Hua 柏樺, Zhang Zao 張棗, and Chen Dongdong 陳東東.

Click the image above for the full feature.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain featured in China Daily

Solving a riddle with a harp and the magic of words

“Solving a riddle with a harp and the magic of words”

As a student at Columbia University, she dabbled in theater, writing and East Asian studies, and came to realize that there was more to be understood in the space between words and cultures, she said. Studying her own heritage from an intellectual perspective allowed for an ambivalence she had never indulged, and poetry provided an outlet for evolving views.

When she struggled with writing, she found solace in source material and the writing of other poets; from there, she discovered the pleasure of translating Chinese works. She has since translated books by the poets Yu Xiang, Bai Hua and Yi Liu, among others.

Click on the image for the full article.


Asymptote Reviews Bai Hua’s Wind Says

The new issue of Asymptote features Henry Leung’s review of Wind Says 风在说, poems by Bai Hua 柏桦 translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Here’s what he has to say on the poetry and translation:

Beginning especially with the “Hand Notes on Mountain and Water” section in Wind Says, his poems become more staccato, numbered, and jagged, pinballing from image to image—freeing up the range of movement. One of my favorite lines is section 4 in “Hand Notes,” which reads in its entirety: “He has a dawn-like spirit, but his punctuality expresses his sadness.” And the poem ends with a rhyme of action that would not be so poignant or direct without the sharp cuts of white space around each line:

He smashes ants with a hammer.
That maid picks up and walks away with two pieces of dog shit.
That old man rubs two peaches like rubbing two testicles.

These are uninflected juxtapositions of images. They don’t require explanation or rhetoric; the images spin a vitality out of their own mysteries.
Sometimes I wonder if certain lines that fall flat—such as “infinitely, infinitely …” in “Character Sketches,” a line so poor compared to its succeeding line with the same function, “fiddling with an eternal bell on a bike”—are flaws of the original, or of the translation, or simply of the incapacity of English to carry abstractions the way Chinese can. On the translation itself, I must note some occasional awkwardness that is misdirecting more than productive—”Opposite windows open” is a mistranslation of what would mean “the windows opposite”; “The third story (can’t help but) begin(s) from romance” is an overcomplication of the original parenthetical; and so on—but overall the translation is admirable. Sometimes Sze-Lorrain even improves on the original, as in the exquisite cadence of “who blows now / who is fire / who is the convulsing arm of a new flower” in “Beauty.” And by no means can I fault a translator who can bring us this couplet from “Fish”:

Born as metaphor to clarify a fact:
the throat where ambiguous pain begins

Interesting, though, that amidst a discussion of translation, Leung would focus on the line “That old man rubs two peaches like rubbing two testicles” without mentioning that this is, in fact, a mistranslation: the line in Chinese is 那老人搓着两个核桃若搓着两个睾丸, so the old man is rubbing walnuts, not peaches.

New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry

New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry Edited by Ming Di


New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry

The most up-to-date anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, translated by American poets and edited by the executive editor of the bilingual literary journal Poetry East West. Showcasing the achievement of Chinese poetry in the last twenty years, a time of tremendous literary ferment, this collection focuses on a diversity of exciting poets from the mainland, highlighting Duo Duo (laureate of the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature) and Liao Yiwu (recipient of 2012 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade organization) along with not yet well-known but brilliant poets such as Zang Di and Xiao Kaiyu and younger poets Jiang Tao and Lü Yue. The anthology includes interviews with the poets and a fascinating survey of their opinions on “Ten Favorite Chinese poets” and “Ten Best-Known Western poets in China.”

Featured poets: Duo Duo, Wang Xiaoni, Bai Hua, Zhang Shuguang, Sun Wenbo, Wang Jiaxin, Liao Yiwu, Song Lin, Xiao Kaiyu, Lü De’an, Feng Yan, Yang Xiaobin, Zang Di, Ya Shi, Mai Mang, Lan Lan, Jiang Tao, Jiang Hao, Lü Yue, Hu Xudong, Yi Lai, Jiang Li, Zheng Xiaoqiong, Qiu Qixuan, and Li Shumin.

With translations by Neil Aitken, Katie Farris, Ming Di, Christopher Lupke, Tony Barnstone, Afaa Weaver, Jonathan Stalling, Nick Admussen, Eleanor Goodman, Ao Wang, Dian Li, Kerry Shawn Keys, Jennifer Kronovet, Elizabeth Reitzell, and Cody Reese.

SCMP on Bai Hua’s Wind Says

The South China Morning Post has published a review of Wind Says 风在说 (Zephyr Press), by Bai Hua 柏桦 and translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain.

It’s a positive review, but it’s a horribly written one: full of cliches about Chinese essences (“Messages are conveyed in sharp but poignant images, paying homage to Chinese and Western writers of the past, as well as to the philosophical tradition in which Chinese writing is steeped.”), the untranslatability of translated poetry (“one must question how much is lost to the non-Chinese reader in translation”), and literary historical nonsense (“realism is, after all, a defining characteristic of Misty poetry, a reaction against restrictions on art during the Cultural Revolution”). By the time we reach the end line (“In Bai’s poetic voice, one can almost feel the winds of change blowing through the pages”), I feel queasy and am embarrassed to say I like the translations in a book that could inspire such homely homilies.

Oh, and there’s a picture of Chinese mountains enshrouded in mist–you know, because Bai Hua is post-“Misty,” get it?

Bai Hua’s Wind Says at Received & Recommended

Wind Says- Bai HuaThe weblog Received & Recommended has received–and recommends–Wind Says 风在说 (Zephyr Press), by Bai Hua 柏桦, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain (click here for their write-up of Fiona’s Water the Moon). Here’s what they say:

Bai Hua’s poetic style, potent and complex, when paired with Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s remarkable talent for translation continues to be a pleasure to read in Wind Says. The English poems in Wind Says appear along side their Chinese originals, so this small collection is perfect for people who read both English and Chinese texts.

DJS Translation Award for 2012

from Poetry East West 诗东西:

DJS Translation Award for 2012

News Release December 26, 2012

DJS Translation Award for 2012 will be given to the following individuals whose new translations of Chinese poetry have formed a significant part of “New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry 1990-2012” (to be published by Tupelo Press in 2013):

Nick Admussen (for translation of Ya Shi)

Christopher Lupke (for translation of Xiao Kaiyu)

Jonathan Stalling (for translation of Zheng Xiaoqiong)

Katie Farris (for co-translation of Duo Duo, Liao Yiwu, Zhang Shuguang, Feng Yan, and Hu Xudong)

Afaa Weaver (for co-translation of Sun Wenbo and Jiang Hao)

Tony Barnstone (for co-translation of Jiang Tao, Hu Xudong and Li Shumin)

Kerry Shawn Keys (for co-translation of Song Lin)

Eleanor Goodman (for co-translation of Bai Hua)

Jennifer Kronovet (for co-translation of Wang Xiaoni and Lan Lan)

Elizabeth Reitzell (for co-translation of Sun Wenbo)

Cody Reese (for co-translation of Hu Xudong)

The above translators will share the DJS Translation Award for 2012.


The 2011 DJS Translation Award recipient was Neil Aitken for his co-translations of poetry by Chinese poets Lü De’an, Sun Wenbo, Jiang Tao, Qin Xiaoyu, Yang Xiaobin, Zhang Zhihao, Liu Jiemin, Yu Xiang, Lü Yue, and Jiang Li.

DJS Translation Award was established by DJS Art Foundation, a private entity, to promote literary exchange between China and other countries and to encourage quality translation of poetry. DJS has supported several projects such as the multi-lingual journal Poetry East West. For more information, please visit the DJS pages on the website of Poetry East West: http://poetryeastwest.com/djs-translation-award/


Wind Says, by Bai Hua


Bai Hua 柏桦
translated from Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
ISBN 978-0-9832970-6-2 (paper) $15
6 x 8
200 pages

Considered the central literary figure of the post-Obscure (or post-”Misty”) poetry movement during the 1980s, Bai Hua is one of the most influential poets in contemporary China. Born in 1956 in Chongqing, he studied English literature at Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute before graduating with a Master’s degree in Western Literary History from Sichuan University. His first collection of poems, Expression (1988), received immediate critical acclaim. A highly demanding writer, Bai Hua’s poetic output is considerably modest but selective: in the past thirty years he has written only about ninety poems. After a silence of more than a decade, he began writing poetry again in 2007. That same year, his work garnered the prestigious Rougang Poetry Award. A prolific writer of critical prose and hybrid texts, Bai Hua is also a recipient of the Anne Kao Poetry Prize. Currently living in Chengdu, Sichuan, he teaches at the Southwest Jiaotong University.

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and Beyond

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and BeyondThe new issue of Mānoa is available, edited by Frank Stewart with Fiona Sze-Lorrain:

Sky Lanterns brings together innovative work by authors—primarily poets—in mainland China, Taiwan, the United States, and beyond who are engaged in truth-seeking, resistance, and renewal. Appearing in new translations, many of the works are published alongside the original Chinese text. A number of the poets are women, whose work is relatively unknown to English-language readers. Contributors include Amang, Bai Hua, Bei Dao, Chen Yuhong, Duo Yu, Hai Zi, Lan Lan, Karen An-hwei Lee, Li Shangyin, Ling Yu, Pang Pei, Sun Lei, Arthur Sze, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Wei An, Woeser, Yang Lian, Yang Zi, Yi Lu, Barbara Yien, Yinni, Yu Xiang, and Zhang Zao.
Sky Lanterns also features images from the Simple Song series by photographer Luo Dan. Traveling with a portable darkroom in remote, mountainous regions of southern China’s Yunnan Province, Luo Dan uses the laborious nineteenth-century, wet plate collodion process of exposure and development. In exquisite detail, he captures a rural life that has remained intact for centuries.

Click the image for ordering information.