Asymptote Reviews Bai Hua’s Wind Says

The new issue of Asymptote features Henry Leung’s review of Wind Says 风在说, poems by Bai Hua 柏桦 translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Here’s what he has to say on the poetry and translation:

Beginning especially with the “Hand Notes on Mountain and Water” section in Wind Says, his poems become more staccato, numbered, and jagged, pinballing from image to image—freeing up the range of movement. One of my favorite lines is section 4 in “Hand Notes,” which reads in its entirety: “He has a dawn-like spirit, but his punctuality expresses his sadness.” And the poem ends with a rhyme of action that would not be so poignant or direct without the sharp cuts of white space around each line:

He smashes ants with a hammer.
That maid picks up and walks away with two pieces of dog shit.
That old man rubs two peaches like rubbing two testicles.

These are uninflected juxtapositions of images. They don’t require explanation or rhetoric; the images spin a vitality out of their own mysteries.
Sometimes I wonder if certain lines that fall flat—such as “infinitely, infinitely …” in “Character Sketches,” a line so poor compared to its succeeding line with the same function, “fiddling with an eternal bell on a bike”—are flaws of the original, or of the translation, or simply of the incapacity of English to carry abstractions the way Chinese can. On the translation itself, I must note some occasional awkwardness that is misdirecting more than productive—”Opposite windows open” is a mistranslation of what would mean “the windows opposite”; “The third story (can’t help but) begin(s) from romance” is an overcomplication of the original parenthetical; and so on—but overall the translation is admirable. Sometimes Sze-Lorrain even improves on the original, as in the exquisite cadence of “who blows now / who is fire / who is the convulsing arm of a new flower” in “Beauty.” And by no means can I fault a translator who can bring us this couplet from “Fish”:

Born as metaphor to clarify a fact:
the throat where ambiguous pain begins

Interesting, though, that amidst a discussion of translation, Leung would focus on the line “That old man rubs two peaches like rubbing two testicles” without mentioning that this is, in fact, a mistranslation: the line in Chinese is 那老人搓着两个核桃若搓着两个睾丸, so the old man is rubbing walnuts, not peaches.

Panax Ginseng Review of Sky Lanterns

Sky Lanterns: Poetry from China, Formosa, and BeyondHenry Leung’s review of Sky Lanterns, the new issue of Mānoa edited by Frank Stewart and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, has appeared at Lantern Review. Here’s how it begins:

Manoa’s recent “Sky Lanterns” issue spotlights “new poetry from China, Formosa, and Beyond.” The issue features contemporary poets organized in order of age: “not as a bow to hierarchy,” writes editor Fiona Sze-Lorrain in her prefatory note, “but to trace a possibility sensitive to time.” From a first glance at the cover, we see a juxtaposition of the old and the new in the grandly staged Soul Stealer, photographs by artists Zeng Han and Yang Changhong. In the diptych’s top half is Mulian Opera #11: costumed figures of an ancient theater tradition, including mythic animal avatars such as the monkey king, who populate a green landscape with a seven-story pagoda obscured by mist. Meanwhile, in the bottom half is World Warcraft #11 (dated a year later): costumed figures of neo-contemporary archetypes, including the princesses, warlocks, and demons familiar to role-playing video gamers, who populate a craggy landscape with a line of skyscrapers obscured by what may be polluted smog. The “possibility sensitive to time” in the photographs is appropriate to this volume because the costumed figures above and below reflect the modulations of culture, place, and society over time—and yet exist as avatars of myth and imagination outside of time. The same might also be said of the figures and expressions of poetry.

Review of Cha’s “China Issue”

Rare are reviews of literary journals, but over at Lantern Review‘s “Panax Ginseng” Henry W. Leung has a write-up of Cha‘s “China issue”–where five of my translations from Xi Chuan’s “Thirty Historical Reflections” 鉴史三十章 appeared–in which he looks at poetic representations of China in English and in Chinese as translated into English. I don’t know if he didn’t read the Xi Chuan or just has nothing to say about his work, but I was impressed by the opening:

The China Issue” of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal presents itself with an ambiguous title. It is the journal’s literary issue on China, but it might just as well be ‘the issue of China,’ i.e. the problem of it, a claim to authority and singularity; or simply ‘the issue of representing China,’ the question of it, the difficulty. ‘China’ as a thematic boundary is naturally complex for a journal based in Hong Kong—but virtually, over the internet—and presented in English. Most of this issue’s poems are translations from the Chinese, with the originals preserved; of these, few refer explicitly to or narrow themselves by locality… Some of the poems written in English, however, announce their ‘Chineseness’ with archetypal localities, such as romanticized pastorals of farmland China, or romance recalled as manufacture…