Poetry on Fire: Xi Chuan & Helen Wing at M Restaurant Beijing

Sunday, August 25, 4 p.m.
RMB 75, includes one drink


Poets Helen Wing and Xi Chuan come together to explore the idea of poetry as fire, from the fire imagery in their poems to their views on how the poetic imagination spreads, like fire, beyond borders. Writing in English (Helen) and Chinese (Xi Chuan), their work suggests that (with apologies to Robert Frost) poetry is not, after all, lost in translation.

The event promises to be excellent (I’ve hated Robert Frost for that line long enough, but now it’s time people were aware that David Bellos has demonstrated that “nobody has ever been able to find Frost saying anything like it in his works”). And here’s Helen Wing’s bio:

Helen Wing is a poet and a fiction writer who lives variously in Beijing, Cairo and London.  Currently she is Writer-in-Residence at Harrow International School, Beijing and works part-time at Renmin Da Xue. At Harrow, she promotes poetry writing with the students and publishes an annual poetry book project, done jointly with Harrow students and the students at Project Hope Vocational School, a migrant children’s charity school based in Wangjing.  Her poetic work, Archangel, rose to number four on Amazon’s e-kindle poetry list last year. Other poems have been published in a recent Middle Eastern anthology, Nowhere Near a Damned Rainbow: Unsanctioned Writing of the Middle East. Her stories have been published in the Mississippi Prize Review, the Southern Cross Review, in the Tale of Four Cities and Sukoon. She is currently working on a novel called I swore I’d set that donkey free before I left Beijing.

Born in London, Helen studied Spanish and French at Cambridge University and holds a PhD in Spanish poetry.

More Press on Translation

Salon.com has another article on translation, by Kevin Canfield, misleadingly titled “How do you say ‘balls of gold’ in French?” (wouldn’t a more accurate headline be “How do you say ‘des couilles en or‘ in English”?). Nevertheless, it’s a decent take. Here’s an excerpt that displays an interesting way of considering an old problem:

Not too long ago, Imre Goldstein completed a translation of Hungarian novelist Peter Nadas’ 1,100-page “Parallel Stories,” which comes out in the U.S. in November (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Does Goldstein believe translators are appreciated, and properly compensated, for the work they do? “I do not,” he said in an email from Tel Aviv.

But, Goldstein added, “I reach back to the theater where I spent more than four decades, to draw not a conclusion but only a parallel. Potentially the most gratifying and elevating teamwork, a theatrical production, as everyone knows, requires the input of many collaborators. Often, reviewers write only about some, say, the director, the actors and the costume designer, leaving out others, such as the composer, the musicians, the lighting designer, fight choreographer and all the invisible but indispensable tech crew, without whom there would be no production. When, as a translator, I am not mentioned in a review, I console myself by assuming that the reviewer read the text as if it were the original.”

“Is That a Fish in Your Ear” interview

One out of every five Americans is functionally bilingual — either because they are recent immigrants or they inherited it from their family or because they learned it at school or from residence abroad. That’s quite a high percentage for an English-speaking country. America isn’t as monolingual as people say it is — but it is culturally monolingual.

Readers of poetry in translation and advocates for linguistic diversity may be interested Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything, by David Bellos (one of Bellos’s crowning achievements is the translation of Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual). I haven’t read it yet, but I did appreciate his interview, under the title “The Birth of the Google Translate Era,” at Salon. The quote about is from that interview, as is the following excerpt:

Far more titles are translated from English than into English every year. What does that say about the relative status of English-speaking culture in the world?

There is a huge asymmetry. Somewhere around 3 or 4 percent of books appearing in the U.S. each year are of foreign origin, whereas in other developed book cultures, like France or Germany, it ranges from 15 to 20 percent. The English language book industry is vastly bigger than any other, so 4 percent of all the books published in English is actually quite a large number of books.

It’s partly because English is written by so many different cultures around the world — South Africans, Australians, and so forth — so the English book world is already diverse. But the fundamental reason is that publishers remain convinced that translated books are a hard sell and that they don’t have much of a public. They don’t really believe in translated books as way of making money. It’s true that very few New York Times bestsellers were originally written in another language, but these are to some degree self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s something I really want to carry on struggling against. Publishers should be more courageous and less enclosed in the received idea that translation is expensive and needs a subsidy and is never going to appeal to anybody.