Turner’s Lu Xun in Seedings

seedings1-f-coverIssue 1 of the new journal Seedings is now out, featuring a great collection of work by some of English’s best poets: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Tarn, Rosmarie Waldrop, Will Alexander… and translators: Keith Waldrop (Paul Verlaine), Cole Swensen (Jaime Montestrela), Johannes Göransson (Sara Tuss Efrik)…

Worth mention on this blog are the three new translations by Matt Turner of prose poems by Lu Xun 魯迅. From “Waking” 一覺:

Planes on a mission to drop bombs, like the start of class at school every morning, fly over Beijing. Everytime I hear the sound of their parts pound the air I repeatedly feel a light tension, as though witnessing a “death” raid. But at the same time intensely feeling the “birth” of existence.


Click the image above to access the issue.

Notes on the Mosquito a Finalist for Best Translated Book Award!

From the Poetry Foundation & the Three Percent blog:

John Felstiner said translation is like a window. It lets some fresh air in and allows some stale air to drift out. Here are seven books of poetry from around the world that offer some of the freshest air possible into American poetry. The Best Translated Book Awards was started by Chad Post, editor of Open Letter and founder of the blog Three Percent. This was my fifth year serving as a judge for this award and every year I have been astounded by the lyricism and innovative approaches to translation and poetry we’ve found in the books nominated for the prize. If you are looking for a book of poetry to take the top of your head off, you couldn’t go wrong with one of the finalists on this list. A discussion of these astounding books will appear on Three Percent next week:

2013 Best Translated Book Award: Poetry Finalists

Transfer Fat by Aase Berg, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson (Ugly Duckling Press; Sweden).

pH Neutral History by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid (Copper Canyon Press; Macedonia).

The Invention of Glass by Emmanuel Hocquard, translated from the French by Cole Swensen and Rod Smith (Canarium Books; France).

Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stanescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Archipelago Books; Romania).

Notes on the Mosquito by Xi Chuan, translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein (New Directions; China).

Almost 1 Book / Almost 1 Life by Elfriede Czurda, translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (Burning Deck; Austria).

A truly humbling gathering of poets & translators to be put together with!

The War On in American Poetry

Poet / lawyer / blogger Seth Abramson has been blogging, as part of his preparation for his PhD preliminary exams, about the Creative Writing MFA and its place in the polysystem of American literature, especially poetry. His overall point is to overturn the standard narrative of the Creative Writing MFA, which is that it “institutionalizes.” Abramson argues pretty convincingly that the “institutionalization” reading comes from an ideologically-based analysis of the current economy of poetic production that conspicuously overlooks both the history and the present reality of the MFA as an institution. As a poet with an MFA, Abramson clearly has a dog in this fight.

But he’s also getting a PhD, which puts him in an interesting position in what he describes as the “125-year-long battle between two opposing forces in American poetry, ‘creative writing’ and ‘the Academy.’” I take it Abramson is motivated against what he sees as the predominant model of an embattled American poetry scene (as Abramson says, “the Combatants Aren’t Who You’d Suspect“), defined by Ron Silliman as the “post-avant” vs. the “School of Quietude,” and enshrined in places like Cole Swensen’s anthology American Hybrid (a hybrid can only emerge from forces in opposition to each other). Rather than the opposing forces being two different ways of writing poetry, Abramson says, it’s two different ways of conceiving poetry. My tendency in the decade or so that I’ve been following Ron Silliman’s blog has been to see the shifting battle lines historically, that is, what used to be a split between Academic Study of poetry vs. Creative Writing poetry had shifted to be a split between poetry inspired by & engaged with the continued relevance of Pound and / or Stein vs. poetry that would rather imagine that moment had never existed. Abramson is asking that we take another look at the fundamental division; if nothing else, it’s fair to say there are many fronts in this fight, as well as some unexpected allegiances.

I can relate to Abramson’s approach because I think one of the reasons I got so interested in translation during college was my frustration with many of the approaches to poetry I’d witnessed in both the creative writing classes I took and the academic courses for my major. In short, I turned to translation for something that could provide both the rigor I came to expect from academic coursework and the freedom I looked for in the Creative Writing workshop. And yet since then I have also become only more and more of an academic. In many ways this tension within me still exists, as I define the translations I don’t like (mine or by others) as being either too “academic” or too much defined by a “poetic voice” I recognize from the workshop atmosphere but don’t recognize in the poet being translated. But as an academic–albeit not of the English dept., which I think is where the brunt of Abramson’s analysis falls–I have seen a lot of how my colleagues and I and the institutions around us tend to treat the things we treat. And this is where I think Abramson’s reading of the battle between Creative Writing and the Academy falls short: basically, I don’t recognize the academy in his description of “the academy.”

Abramson makes some interesting points about the university–such as how it is “pro-multiculturalism in discourse, anti-multiculturalism in community“–but more often I find myself lost in unexplained statements like “Consistent with their academic affiliations, the forces of the Academy are anti-aesthetics and pro-poetics” and “The Academy equates aesthetics and politics.” Does that mean the Academy is anti-political? I’m confused. If I could recommend a quick corrective to Abramson’s view of the Academy, it would be that he treat it with the same care with which he treats the MFA. Be more clear on its history the recent developments within literature departments, sure (for instance, have discursive appeals to multiculturalism been followed up by increased multiculturalism amongst and within academic communities?), but specifically in terms of the relationship between the Academy as an institution–a university with a bureaucracy, endowment, and workplace regulations–and the Academy as a literature dept. in which people talk about writing. Then I’d be more interested in what he’s got to say about it, and less prone to believe that his appeals for peace between “creative writing” and “the Academy” weren’t disingenuous attempts to ensure his side more respect from the other.

Still, I do agree with his conclusions. He writes, in the last paragraph:

if we could get all these folks together we could probably remake the presence of the literary arts in the academy in a generative way that would take us to the next stage in the development of American poetry. It’s time for those dissatisfied with 125 years of fruitless propaganda-laden battles to put down their swords and seek a better way forward for all.

For me, that would have to include–and even be based on–translation.

New Issue of Cerise Press

Cerise Press Vol. 3 Issue 9 Cover

The Spring 2012 issue of Cerise Press is now online, with new work by Cole Swensen, interviews with Chinese translator Nicky Harman and Tibetan-Chinese writer Woeser ཚེ་རིང་འོད་ཟེར་ / 唯色, and an essay by Chloe Garcia Roberts on her translations of the poetry of late Tang poet Li Shangyin 李商隱.

Also see my feature “Xi Chuan: Poetry of the Anti-lyric” from an earlier issue, with translations of “Power Outage” 停电, “Re-reading Borges’s Poetry” 重读博尔赫斯诗歌, and “Three Chapters on Dusk” 黄昏三章. (And my earlier co-translations of poems by Bei Dao 北岛 with Clayton Eshleman).

New Publication

The new issue of Plume is up, with excellent new pieces from the likes of Cole Swensen and Georg Trakl (translated by Mark Wunderlich). And Xi Chuan, in my translation of “The Ant’s Plunder” 蚂蚁劫 (according to Daniel Lawless’s Editor’s Note, their “first work from a Chinese poet”). Plume only publishes twelve pieces a month, so their dedication of space to Xi Chuan is all the more exciting.

Thanks to Steve Bradbury for pointing me to Plume!