the international poets sat down one by one with Yang Lian, or Liao Weitang, or Qin Xiaoyu in front of a Skype-connected computer to read their poetry and the Chinese poets’ poetry, and to interact with a faceless, presumably multitudinous online audience. Interpreters and questioners were everywhere; back in a half-lit meeting room in the top floor of a building on the Third Ring Road, a team of ants, armed with laptops, scrambled to turn Chinese into English, English into Chinese, send all of it over QQ to everybody else, then post it to a Tencent microblog stream on which audience members could pose questions to the poets.
Who came? Kwame Dawes, from the Caribbean; James Byrne, British poet and editor of The Wolf; Canadian poet Ken Babstock; Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky; Syrian poet Adonis; and several others whom I would name in full, but the site’s server has stopped responding. They were all well-known, well-published poets and editors, and if the medium of their correspondence, which required stop-and-start maintenance along with as many as three translators (in the case of Adonis, who spoke in French, and therefore had to be translated from French to Dutch, to English, to Chinese), hadn’t been such an obstacle, they might have been able to engage in some truly meaningful discussion. Tang Xiaodu moderated the event on the Beijing side, while Yang Lian moderated most of the event on theirs — and “moderate” may itself be too moderate a description, as a lack of audience questions early on prompted YL to take on the interpreter’s and moderator’s mantles himself, which resulted both in interesting leads and a lot of distracting hand-waving.
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