Stand interview with Chinese Poetry Translators

Stand Issue 213, Volume 15 Number 1The current issue of Stand magazine features an interview with Chinese poetry translators Eleanor Goodman, Canaan Morse, and Heather Inwood–and the translations they’ve curated for the issue. In answer to the question “What kind of poetry translates best and is any simply ‘untranslatable’?” Morse writes:

CM: Let’s not wrongly ascribe agency here. Poetry doesn’t translate; translators translate. Inspired, dedicated translators translate best. No poetry is untranslatable as such, except for the mountain of government-sponsored, sycophantic screed that is literally too painful to translate.

Click the link above for the full interview.

Bai Meigui Chinese Poetry Translation Competition

eleanor goodmanThe University of Leeds is hosting its third Bai Meigui Translation Competition, with poems–by Chi Lingyun 池凌云, Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇, and Xu Xiangchou 徐乡愁–chosen by judges Eleanor Goodman, Heather Inwood, and Canaan Morse.

HeatherInwoodThe winner will receive a £490 bursary to the ‘Translate in the City‘ summer school at City University, London, in July 2017, and will have her or his winning translation published in Stand magazine in 2017.

canaan morseClick here for the poems, and here for the overview and judges’ bios.

The deadline is 20 August, 2016.

Heather Inwood on Chinese Poetry in the Age of the Internet

World Map in GreenThe newest issue of Chinese Literature Today features Heather Inwood on “Poetry for the People? Modern Chinese Poetry in the Age of the Internet.” Here’s a pull quote:

In China, existing discussions of media gatekeeping focus overwhelmingly on questions related to free speech and government censorship. It is important to note that although state-led surveillance and control of the media are inevitable in China (as they are in many countries around the world), these government-led measures are far from being the most important motivation for the gatekeeping of online literature. Just as gatekeepers of the media select and shape the messages that reach the public, gatekeepers of modern Chinese literature decide the social reality and public face of literature as it is seen by the world. Gatekeepers of literature are those with an inordinate amount of power over the publication and evaluation of literary texts, and include publishers, editors, critics, translators, academic researchers, and poets themselves. For readers of Chinese literature who are not part of the country’s lively literary scenes, it is especially easy to take the choices and standards of China’s literary gatekeepers for granted, and to assume that the writers they include in prominent literary anthologies or award with high-profile literary prizes represent, by virtue of their selection, the very best of China’s literary scenes. I would argue, thus, that any questions of quality and representativeness should be accompanied by efforts to think critically about the mechanisms used to determine literary standards and put certain writings on public display.

Click the image for the full article.

A New Golden Age for Chinese Poetry?

PRI has published an article on the thriving contemporary Chinese poetry scene. Here’s a taste:

As in other spheres, the Internet has proven a huge democratizing force in the world of Chinese poetry, leveling the playing field for migrant workers and millionaires alike. But love of verse was already there. Chinese poetry has 2,000 years of tradition at its back. Parents read it to their babies. Kids study it in school. But the thing is, most Chinese believe poetry peaked in the Tang Dynasty.  That ended more than 1100 years ago. So for today’s poets, their chosen art form’s exalted status can feel like a double-edged sword.

The article quotes Heather Inwood, Huang Yibing 黄亦兵 (Mai Mang 麦芒), Mindy Zhang 明迪, and Jonathan Stalling. Click here for the full article.

Heather Inwood at China Digital Times

Heather Inwood (image courtesy interviewee)The China Digital Times interviews Heather Inwood over her new book, Verse Going Viral (University of Washington Press, 2014). Here’s a sample Q & A:

CDT: Your book addresses the question of whether Chinese poetry is a “literature in crisis” in a “poetry country.” Other nations also pride themselves on their poetic traditions but scorn contemporary poetry. Do you see any parallels between the struggles of poetry communities in China and in other countries, such as the UK?

Inwood: The “death of poetry” has been a recurring theme for many years in most parts of the world; China is by no means alone in worrying about the state of the nation of poetry … Equally, in every instance this turns out to be simply not true: people will always write poetry, regardless of who is reading or listening or what other media temptations may exist, and as long as poetry is being written it will be continue to be relevant to lives around the world.

What makes China such an interesting case study is that modern poetry was a part of mainstream culture as recently as the 1980s, when poets like Gu Cheng and Shu Ting were seen as national celebrities–at least among a significant portion of China’s educated population. Up until just over 100 years ago, the importance of poetry was institutionalized through its inclusion in the civil service examinations, meaning that poetry was not just a highly respected art form and way of life, but also a direct channel to employment in the highest levels of the imperial bureaucracy.

This enduring association between poetry and elite society is another reason why poetry’s loss of readership in the last couple of decades has been felt so keenly in China. It also explains the ongoing efforts of writers and critics to expand the social reach of poetry, for example by advocating the poetry of migrant workers (打工诗歌 dagong shige) or championing “popular” (民间 minjian) poetry over “intellectual writing” (知识分子写作 zhishi fenzi xiezuo), as we saw in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Click on the image for the full interview.


Power to the People? Heather Inwood on Contemporary Chinese Poetry at HKU


This paper adopts a cultural studies lens to examine the often fraught relationship between China’s poetry scenes and members of the public, exploring key media dynamics and social practices that shape the writing, publication, and reception of modern Chinese poetry in the age of the Internet. I argue that so-called “new media” have also enabled new means of literary gatekeeping, whereby poets and the general public alike adopt participatory strategies for deciding what is and is not a poem. Such strategies have interesting implications for poets’ often-stated desire to continue opening poetry up to the masses, as well as for widespread assumptions about the democratizing potential of the Internet.

Heather Inwood is Lecturer of Modern Chinese Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, where she teaches classical Chinese language and literature, modern Chinese literature, and contemporary Chinese popular culture and media. Her research focuses on interactions between contemporary Chinese literature, culture, and media. Her first book, Verse Going Viral: China’s New Media Scenes, was published by the University of Washington Press in 2014.

Date and Time: June 24, 2014 (Tuesday); 5:30-6:45 p.m.
Venue: Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, University of Hong Kong

All are welcome

Heather Inwood: In China today, does poetry still matter?

VerseIn advance of her Verse Going Viral: China’s New Media Scenes, Heather Inwood blogs for University of Washington Press on the place of poetry in China today. Here’s how she concludes:

Yet the move toward accessibility hasn’t always pleased the public. Making written poetry sound like everyday speech was supposed to facilitate communication between poets and their audiences. Instead, it appears to have prompted a large swathe of China’s online population to adopt a gatekeeping mentality of their own, complaining that poems that are too easily understood don’t deserve the title of “poetry.” In doing so, they inadvertently address the question I began with. Does poetry still matter? If the question is being asked in the first place, I would venture that we already know the answer.

Click the image above for the full post.

Heather Inwood’s Verse Going Viral

New from University of Washington Press–Heather Inwood’s Verse Going Viral: China’s New Media Scenes.

Verse Going Viral examines what happens when poetry, a central pillar of traditional Chinese culture, encounters an era of digital media and unabashed consumerism in the early twenty-first century. Heather Inwood sets out to unravel a paradox surrounding modern Chinese poetry: while poetry as a representation of high culture is widely assumed to be marginalized to the point of “death,” poetry activity flourishes across the country, benefiting from China’s continued self-identity as a “nation of poetry” (shiguo) and from the interactive opportunities created by the internet and other forms of participatory media. Through a cultural studies approach that treats poetry as a social rather than a purely textual form, Inwood considers how meaning is created and contested both within China’s media-savvy poetry scenes and by members of the public, who treat poetry with a combination of reverence and ridicule.

Click the image above for more information, including purchasing and ordering.

Heather Inwood on Yi Sha

Yi ShaHeather Inwood of Ohio State University has written an introduction to the work of Yi Sha 伊沙, “lower-body” 下半身 and “post-colloquial writing” 后口语写作 poet. Here’s a sample of what she says:

Although his profession as a writer and a college professor makes Yi Sha an intellectual in his own right, his sympathies lie firmly with the less advantaged people of China, as can be seen from the poems included in this section (indeed, the dichotomy that has developed in contemporary poetry discourse between intellectuals and the “popular” or folk is a false one, given China’s long intellectual tradition of showing concern for the common people in literature). His poetry is predominantly narrative in style, relating with brevity and wit the kinds of everyday stories and detailed observations that are left out of most public records of contemporary life. As Tang Xin reports, the characters in his poems include criminals, prostitutes, traitors, punks, and drunks; no person or topic is omitted for being too lowly or crass. Maghiel van Crevel suggests that a quality of rejectiveness can be detected in Yi Sha’s poetic attitude of “cynicism, disbelief, negation, demystification, desecration, deconstruction, aggression, and destruction,” but readers could equally see the stories he tells as evidence of a more receptive or broadminded approach to poetry and its capacity to accommodate humanity in all shapes and sizes.

The feature also includes Inwood’s translation of six poems by Yi Sha.

Bonus point: last time I saw Heather, she had the same haircut as Yi Sha does in the picture above.