Bookworm Translation Slam

In a Battle of the Beards, Beijing Bookworm hosted a Translation “Slam.” Here’s how it went:

This year, Tibetan song lyrics (translated into mandarin) provided the raw materials. The band Neemah attended to play their compositions, and to clarify the meaning of their lyrics when translators got stumped.

Literature translator Canaan Morse and sinologist Sid Gulinck’s varying viewpoints produced some surprisingly disparate verses.

Your Ever Present Glance
Like a casual sunshine bundle
Causing a stir in my disheveled heart

wrote Gulinck. Whereas Morse thought the following was more appropriate:

Looking at me with those tender eyes
Warm and free, climbing the sunrise
Clear away dust and sin on my window.

Click the image above for the full article.

Announcing the Ancient Asia issue of Cha

Announcing the Ancient Asia Issue of Cha (December 2013), featuring new translations of Chinese poetry by Xi Chuan, Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, Du Fu 杜甫, He Qifang 何其芳, Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚, Liu Yong 柳永, the Shijing 詩經, Laozi 老子, Du Mu 杜牧, and Li Shangyin 李商隱, and new work by Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, Eleanor Goodman, Sharmistha Mohanty, and Jonathan Stalling. The full list of contributors:

Translation: Lucas Klein, A.K. Ramanjuan, Reid Mitchell, George Life, Canaan Morse, Michael Gray, Christopher Lupke, Dulal Al Monsur, Nicholas Francis, Michael Farman, Michael O’Hara, Eleanor Goodman, Chloe Garcia Roberts

Poetry: Eliot Weinberger, Matthew Turner, W.F. Lantry, Aditi Rao, Stuart Christie, Luca L., Xiao Pinpin, Kate Rogers, Pey Pey Oh, DeWitt Clinton, Elizabeth Schultz, Stephanie V Sears, Joshua Burns, James Shea, Sean Prentiss, Steven Schroeder, Marjorie Evasco, Arjun Rajendran, Pui Ying Wong, Julia Gordon-Bramer, June Nandy, Janice Ko Luo, Stuart Greenhouse, Barbara Boches, Cathy Bryant, Justin Hill, Eleanor Goodman

Fiction: John Givens,  Xie Shi Min, Sharmistha Mohanty, Zhou Tingfeng, Khanh Ha

Articles: Jonathan Stalling, Michael Tsang

Creative non-fiction: Pavle Radonic

Photography & art: Alvin Pang (cover artist), Adam Aitken

Click the image above to access the full issue.

Canaan Morse on Xi Chuan’s new book in Chinese

I'm a picture.In “Say What You Won’t,” Canaan Morse reviews Enough for A Dream 够一梦,  Xi Chuan’s newest collection of poems in Chinese. Morse writes:

Local language allows these poems to represent their respective subjects with painful honesty—not through invective, but rather through a soft, playful sarcasm that appears to be one of the hallmarks of Xi Chuan’s work. Nearly every poetic statement in the first section of Enough is satirical, invented or absurd, yet can provide the reader truly useful information. The mechanism of irony, which is merciless as only humor can be, slips the knife between the ribs and twists it.

In the high-energy environment of the poem, any image when first introduced is made vast by its potential significance. Xi Chuan brings those images in as they are, and then, through a simple repetition or a partial denial, deflates them. The reader becomes spectator to a farcical event, and is tempted to laugh. This ironical disbelief of the narrator’s own discourse appears with variations so often throughout the poems in Enough for a Dream, we should be able to consider it characteristic of Xi Chuan’s poetic voice.

Click the image above to read the whole piece, along with a poem of Morse’s in Chinese in echo of one of Xi Chuan’s.

Call for Poetry Translators for Pathlight #4

From Paper Republic:

Chinese content for our next edition of Pathlight: New Chinese Writing has been set in soap, and I’m glad to announce that this issue will include far more poetry than any of the previous issues have. Faced with an abundance of work and a dearth of talented contacts, this is a call for motivated, experienced translators of Chinese poetry to establish a relationship with us. To be featured are Zhu Ling (朱零), Ou Ning (欧宁), Yao Feng (姚风) , Wang Yin (王寅), Wang Xiaolong (王小龙), Yang Zi (杨子), Huang Jinming (黄金明) , Liao Weitang (廖伟棠) and Yang Xiaobin (杨小滨). The deadline is coming up soon; we’ll do our best to assign poems based on their relationship with the translator, and first drafts will be due in mid-September. Compensation is, if I may say so, exceptional for poetry. If interested, please send an email either to or

Metre Maids on Xi Chuan at the Bookworm

Sarah Stanton Translator & poet Sarah Stanton of the Metre Maids blog has posted a write-up of my event with Xi Chuan at the Beijing Bookworm last Thursday night. Comprehensive and enthusiastic, her coverage not only chronicles the event, but some of Xi Chuan’s background as well. Here’s my favorite moment of her piece:

This question came up again during the discussion after the reading, with translator Canaan Morse asking Xi Chuan how he feels when people expect him, as a Chinese writer, to be writing the same sorts of things the Tang poets were writing a thousand years ago. His answer was short and to the point: “I hate it!” Another memorable moment came when he was asked if he thought one had to get angry or upset to write good poetry: he replied to the effect that it’s hard work that creates good poetry, not emotion, and at that point I’m sure I heard millions of emo voices cry out in terror, and be suddenly silenced.

Lucas also discussed at some length the processes that went into creating the book, his own attitudes to translation, and translating Xi Chuan in particular. Once again I was struck by the sheer amount of time and love which had gone into these poems, both in their original language and in their English form. The role of the translator is so often relegated to that of mouthpiece, a faceless channel for the poet’s vision, but in good translation–and in good literature–there is always a sense of partnership. After the talk, I asked both poet and translator to sign my book, and Lucas’ signature sitting neatly below  Xi Chuan’s on the title page seems to me a perfect symbol of everything they’re doing right.

Canaan Morse on Contemporary Chinese Poetry

Over at the Metre Maids poetry blog, Pathlight poetry editor Canaan Morse has a poignant and touching post about contemporary Chinese poetry–featuring discussion of my translation of Xi Chuan’s “The Body and History” 体相与历史. Canaan explains:

Obscure to a Western reader, “double corneas” and heavy earlobes are references to Xiang Yu and Liu Bei, two of the great heroic figures of early Chinese history. In fact, all of the described abnormalities are references to specific mythicized figures. They are characters whom historical and poetic narrations have always served, never satirized.

Canaan’s framework is to discuss awakening to his aesthetic in Chinese poetry in the context of his father’s passing away, and the fading of his poetic influence–as I said, poignant and touching–but he also discusses an Andrea Lingenfelter translation of Zhai Yongming 翟永明, and Eleanor Goodman‘s translations of Lei Pingyang 雷平阳 and Shen Wei 沈苇.

International Poetry Nights Wrap-up

The final reading of the International Poetry Nights Hong Kong 2011 took place last night, with Paul Muldoon (Ireland / USA), Tian Yuan 田原 (China/Japan), and Yip Fai 葉煇 (Hong Kong) reading. Tian Yuan also read the poems of Japanese poet Shuntarô Tanikawa, who was prevented from traveling due to illness. And as with Xi Chuan’s graciousness on the first night’s reading, Tian Yuan extended thanks to his English translator, Denis Mair.

Though the Nights are over, and Xi Chuan has flown off to Norway (about which I’ll be posting anon), the conversation continues at Paper Republic, with notes by Canaan Morse and extra commentary by Yours Truly. Also, I expect that videos of the readings will be posted on YouTube, as they were two years ago, so expect clips and further links to those as they appear.

Last Day of International Poetry Nights Hong Kong

Having edited Chinese to English translations for the International Poetry NightsWords & the World booklets, I am familiar with all the participating poets who write in Chinese. Still, having a chance to hear Hongkong poet Wong Leung Wo 王良和 read his poems–written in standard Chinese, pronounced as Mandarin in my head–in Cantonese was fascinating for the linguistic disjunctiveness the poems created beneath their poetic smoothness (added to by Canaan Morse‘s excellent English translations, also onscreen behind Wong as he read). But even more exciting for me were the poets I hadn’t had much chance to encounter before; in particular, Mexican poet María Baranda‘s reading from “Cartas a Robinsón” / “Letters to Robinson,” translated by Joshua Edwards in a way that brings out the rolling passion of Baranda’s Spanish, was enthralling, as was Tomaž Šalamun‘s switching back and forth between Slovenian and English as he read (I saw Tomaž being interviewed by Xi Chuan and Chinese poetry critic Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡, an interview I’ll be sure to link to if it appears online).

The finale for the International Poetry Nights is tonight at 7:00 at the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity (Multi-Media Theatre, 135 Junction Road, Kowloon), with readings by Paul Muldoon (Ireland / USA), Tian Yuan 田原 (China/Japan), and Yip Fai 葉煇 (Hong Kong).