Josh Billings on Arthur Waley

As part of a series called “Lives of the Translators,” Asymptote has published Josh Billings’s essay “I Have Changed Nothing: Seven Paradoxes in Pursuit of Arthur Waley.”

Reading his short article on dreaming in Eastern literature (“Some Far Eastern Dreams”), it is difficult not to think about translation—this despite the fact that, at no point in the article does Waley himself make this connection. If anything, one of the most mysterious parts of “Some Far Eastern Dreams” is how persistently it refrains from the elaboration that comes so naturally to people when they talk about dreams. Like a scholar in a Borges story, Waley speaks with rigorously lowered eyebrows, uttering sentences that, taken seriously, would blast holes in most peoples’ views of how reality works. Some of these sentences sound like they have been taken from an instruction manual for an alien board game. “Dreams can be bought and sold, or stolen.” “Anyone who hears a dream and has a good enough memory to repeat it word for word can rob the dreamer of its benefits.”

The more we read, the more we get the sense that what Waley is really talking about here is his own work, and the dreamlike knack it has for opening questions that we thought had been settled.

Click on the image for the full piece.

Salsa on Entropy’s best poetry of 2014

salsa_wSteve Bradbury’s translation of Salsa by Hsia Yü 夏宇 (Zephyr Press) was named one of the thirty Best Poetry Books & Collections of 2014 by the independent literature community and portal Entropy. They quote John Rufo of HTMLGIANT for their blurb:

“Jorge Luis Borges has been reincarnated as a radical poet from Taipei, and Salsa invites you to her personal hell. In Hsia Yü’s most recently translated book of poems, we come face-to-face with an inferno of identity crises.”

Click on the image for the full list of thirty.

John Rufo on Hsia Yü’s Salsa

salsa_wJohn Rufo has posted a review of Steve Bradbury’s new translation of Salsa by Hsia Yü 夏宇 (Zephyr Press). It starts:

Jorge Luis Borges has been reincarnated as a radical poet from Taipei, and Salsa invites you to her personal hell. In Hsia Yü’s most recently translated book of poems, we come face-to-face with an inferno of identity crises.

And ends:

Translators typically present Borges’s most famous prose-poem “Borges y Yo” in English as “Borges and I.” If Hsia Yü wrote a version of this poem, the title might be “Hsia Yü and I.” This sounds altogether more intimate than “Borges and I” because of the homophone, in English, of “you.” At the same time, the duality of “Yü,” both as the poet’s name, who is not you, and as “you,” who might be you, reveals the frightening fracture of identity Salsa endlessly probes. “But,” as a line of Hsia Yü’s poem “And You’ll Never Want to Travel There Again” rightly notes, “I do leave a memorable fracture.”

Click on the image above for the full review.

Lucien Stryk Prize Acceptance Speech

Someone was impressed enough by my acceptance speech for the Lucien Stryk prize to suggest I share it here. So I am!

It’s a wonderful honor, both for me and for Xi Chuan, to be awarded the Lucien Stryk Prize for Asian poetry in translation. Any prize awarded by ALTA would be an honor, because ALTA is one of my favorite organizations to belong to—I’ve often said that literary translators are by definition interesting people, because by definition we’re interested in more than one thing. ALTA as a group and many of its members as individuals were very helpful in offering their time, patience, insight, and scolds as I worked on translating Xi Chuan, and much of my success as a translator is owed to the wisdom I gained from them.

The Lucien Stryk prize, in particular, is also a special one for me and for Xi Chuan, because of its dedication to honoring Asian poetry in translation, and the tradition of Asian poetry in translation—in addition to Asian poetry in general—was very much in my mind when translating the pieces in Notes on the Mosquito, as it was in Xi Chuan’s over the three decades in which he wrote the poems. As an undergrad English major, Xi Chuan wrote his senior thesis on Ezra Pound’s translations from Chinese, he recently published a translation of Gary Snyder’s poetry, and in many ways Xi Chuan was reintroduced to the literary history of his own culture from the attention and presentation he encountered in Pound, Snyder, and others, including Jorge Luis Borges.

I’m also especially honored to be part of the group of previous Lucien Stryk honorees—a group that already features some of my favorite translators! I find inclusion in such a group both humbling and inspiring, as the best Asian poetry in translation has always been.

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to New Directions, to my editor Jeffrey Yang, and most of all to Xi Chuan, whose cooperation and friendship were essential to the success of this book. Until three years ago there were no single-author collections of poetry by Chinese-language poets currently living in mainland China published in the US, but now we are living in what appears to be a golden age of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation, to match what may be a golden age of poetry in China itself. Thanks to New Directions for contributing to that golden age, and thanks to Xi Chuan for helping make that golden age in the first place!

Thank you very, very much!

Bookslut Reviews Notes on the Mosquito

BookslutThe online literary journal Bookslut has posted Greer Mansfield’s excellent review of my translation of Xi Chuan titled “Notes on Xi Chuan’s Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems.” Here’s an excerpt:

Xi Chuan has translated Borges and even written a poem about him, but these prose poems bring to mind another great Argentine: Julio Cortazar in quizzical sketches like Cronopios and Famas.

His poems also bring to mind the Western modernists: urban surrealism, clear images expressed in laconic language, black humor, and dialogues with the dead. But one also thinks of the classical Chinese poets: atmospheres and experiences captured in a few words, a slight shift in mood (a change in the weather, the sight of an inscription on a tree) evoking entire worlds … One also thinks of a Chinese wisdom writer as great as Zhuangzi. Xi Chuan has a similarly playful and puzzling mind, embracing the bafflement and ambiguity of the world. Zhuangzi himself makes an appearance in these poems, as do other luminaries of Chinese literature, philosophy, and history: the “grand historian” Sima Qian, the satirical poet Sima Xiangru, the poets of the Tang Dynasty, and even Confucius. These presences are as much a part of Xi Chuan’s landscape as Beijing’s streets, the South Xinjiang mountains, or the huge Chinese plains.

Click here for the whole review!