The “Masters & (M)other Tongues” discussion at CUHK yesterday was fascinating, though not in the ways I had expected. I had thought that it would be a discussion about the tension between the two sides of the parenthesis around “(m)other tongues,” and about the models the poets use for their own work from traditions either native or foreign to them. But now that I look at the schedule online again I see that it’s simply “Masters & Mother Tongues,” which creates a different kind of tension; perhaps this accounts for the difference, since all the participants—Liu Wenfei 劉文飛 (the Chinese translator of Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, unable to attend due to illness), Silke Scheuermann, Vivek Narayanan, and Xi Chuan—ended up discussing “mother tongues” amidst the troubling connotations of the word “master.” And they all ended up talking about their own sense of awkwardness and embarrassment. Xi Chuan, for instance, said that while people from other parts of China used to have to apologize for not speaking Mandarin well, he feels embarrassed about only speaking Mandarin, and only rarely speaking the related, but distinct, Beijing dialect.
The evening’s reading was excellent. Liu Wenfei read Dragomoschenko’s poems in Russian, followed by Ling Yu 零雨 (some of whose pieces I also translated), then C. D. Wright, and then Xi Chuan—with excellent zither 古琴 performances by Yao Gongbai 姚公白 interspersed. During Ling Yu’s reading she was mysteriously moved to tears by the memories her poems called up, which was stunning to witness, not least because my experience translating her work was to be filled with a very different sense of mystery. And Xi Chuan, always gracious, was the only of the poets reading to thank his translator—to which I can only say, my pleasure!
Above and below are two shots I took of Xi Chuan’s reading.
This afternoon at 3:30 at City University (Connie Fan Multi-media Conference Room, 4/F Cheng Yick Chi Building) I’ll be leading a discussion on “Writing Across Languages” with Bejan Matur (Turkey), Tomaž Šalamun (Slovenia), Tian Yuan 田原(China / Japan), and Yao Feng 姚風 (China / Macau). The readers this evening at 7:00 at the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity (Multi-Media Theatre, 135 Junction Road, Kowloon) are Régis Bonvicino (Brazil), Lo Chih Cheng 羅智成 (Taiwan), Bejan Matur, and Yu Xiang 宇向 (China).