Jade Ladder’s Poets

I’ve compiled a list of the poets whose work appears in English translation in Jade Ladder, the new anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry edited by Yang Lian 杨炼, W N Herbert, Brian Holton, and Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇. The anthology presents the work of poets by birth year, but the work is separated into sections–lyric poems, narrative poems, neo-classical poems, sequences, experimental poems, and long poems–so I’ve put together this alphabetical list of the poets represented. Poets in bold (23, by my count) are those not included in the recent Copper Canyon anthology, Push Open the Window (of whom 19 of the 49 are not included in JL; click here for that anthology’s table of contents). Also, since Jade Ladder is English-only, I’m not sure of every poet’s name in Chinese, and consequently have left some blank. If you know, or spot any other errors, let me know.

  1. Bai Hua 柏桦
  2. Bei Dao 北岛
  3. Chen Dongdong 陈东东
  4. Chen Xianfa 陈先发
  5. Duo Duo 多多
  6. Ge Mai 戈麦
  7. Gu Cheng 顾城
  8. Hai Zi 海子
  9. Han Bo韩博
  10. Hu Dong
  11. Hu Xudong 胡续冬
  12. Huang Canran 黄灿然
  13. Jiang Hao 蒋浩
  14. Jiang He 江河
  15. Jiang Tao 姜涛
  16. Liao Yiwu 廖亦
  17. Lü De’an 吕德安
  18. Ma Hua 马骅
  19. Mai Cheng
  20. Mang Ke 芒克
  21. Meng Lang 孟浪
  22. Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河
  23. Pan Wei
  24. Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇
  25. Qing Ping 清平
  26. Senzi 森子
  27. Shui Yin
  28. Song Lin 宋琳
  29. Song Wei
  30. Sun Lei
  31. Sun Wenbo 孙文波
  32. Wang Ao 王敖
  33. Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
  34. Xi Chuan 西川
  35. Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚
  36. Ya Shi
  37. Yan Li
  38. Yang Lian 杨炼
  39. Yang Xiaobin 杨小
  40. Yang Zheng
  41. Yi Sha 伊沙
  42. Yu Jian 于坚
  43. Yu Nu 余怒
  44. Zang Di 臧棣
  45. Zhai Yongming 翟永明
  46. Zhang Danyi
  47. Zhang Dian
  48. Zhang Shuguang 张曙光
  49. Zhang Zao 张枣
  50. Zhong Ming
  51. Zhou Lunyou
  52. Zhu Zhu 朱朱
  53. Zou Jingzhi

Review of Push Open the Window

Over at The Rumpus, Christopher Honey has a review of Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China. It’s not a perfect review, in my mind–he doesn’t acknowledge the translators by name–but he does raise some interesting issues and questions. Here are a few I found worth considering (which is not to say agreeing with):

From my own personal experience, I always wonder who I am reading when I read Rexroth’s beautiful collections of Asian poetry in translation. Am I reading Tu Fu or am I actually reading Rexroth?

The quality and sophistication of the poets seems to go up as the poets get younger and younger. The earliest poets have a sort of untutored enthusiasm – almost like naïve art – touched by the political.

I do not believe I am going out on a limb by saying that the more recent poets in Push Open the Window are much more fully connected to the larger literary world. As barriers to the rest of the world have dropped, poets have benefitted by cross pollination with other traditions.

The number of translators also led to another potential issue. A single translator would have enabled a more accurate understanding of the development and changes within Chinese poetry over the last fifty years. With so many different translators, how can one be sure that a perceived, new rhetorical addition to the bag of tricks available to Chinese poets isn’t just a tic of one translator as opposed to another?

It is hard to escape seeing it a sort of historical or sociological document on the evolution of literary schema rather than as a work of literature. What is more, with the variations in the quality of the poems, I find it hard to believe that historical thinking was not a factor in the selection process – that this book was intended to document the progress of literary evolution and not just to provide the best literary products.

Chinese Names in Push Open the Window

When I first wrote about the Copper Canyon anthology Push Open the Window, I said, “My only quibble with the book so far is that, while everything is printed with Chinese and English en face, for some reason the Chinese characters of none of the poets’ names made it into the book.” Co-translation editor Sylvia Lin has worked to address this, writing in a recent post to the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture email list:

List members may be interested in a new bilingual anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, Push Open the Window, the third volume in a larger project of bilingual anthologies of contemporary poetry funded by the NEA. The poems were selected by the Chinese editor, Qingping Wang, with Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt as translation editors.

Despite our objections, the publisher, Copper Canyon Press, chose not to include the poets’ names in Chinese. We are making them available here; feel free to share the list with other users of the anthology.

Shi Zhi 食指
Mang Ke 芒克
Shu Ting 舒婷
Yu Jian 于坚
Zhai Yongming 翟永明
Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
Sun Wenbo 孙文波
Gu Cheng 顾城
Bai Hua 柏桦
Zhang Shuguang 张曙光
Wang Jiaxin 王家新
Song Lin 宋琳
Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚
Han Dong 韩东
Chen Dongdong 陈东东
Zhang Zao 张枣
Qing Ping 清平
Sen Zi 森子
Huang Canran 黄灿然
Xi Chuan 西川
Huang Fan 黄梵
Cai Tianxin 蔡天新
Zang Di 臧棣
Hai Zi 海子
Ye Hui 叶辉
Ma Yongbo 马永波
Shu Cai 树才
Yi Sha 伊沙
Yu Nu 余怒
Ge Mai 戈麦
Lan Lan 蓝蓝
Xi Du 西渡
Yang Jian 杨键
Sang Ke 桑克
Chen Xianfa 陈先发
Lin Mu 林木
Zhou Zan 周瓒
Zhu Zhu 朱朱
Jiang Tao 姜涛
Yan Wo 燕窝
Jiang Hao 蒋浩
Ma Hua 马骅
Han Bo 韩博
Leng Shuang 冷霜
Duo Yu 朵渔
Hu Xudong 胡续冬
Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇
Shen Muqin 沈木槿*
Wang Ao 王敖

* The book prints this name as Shen Mujin; the character can be pronounced either jǐn or qín.

BBC: When borrowing from China makes the US richer

When Xi Chuan and Zhou Zan were on their reading tour of the US promoting the Copper Canyon anthology Push Open the Window, the BBC caught up with them and interviewed them about Chinese poetry. On the 3rd of November they posted the article and video, titled “When borrowing from China makes the US richer.”

While I’m all for contextualizing poetry in terms of international politics and economics–writing, after all, is about something, and it often refers, in its oblique ways, to current global realities–I have to say I found the BBC report pretty lame. The article’s brushstrokes are obstinately broad, saying nothing more nuanced than “China holds trillions of dollars in US debt and the eurozone countries are looking to Beijing for bailout cash, but not all international transactions come at a price. A cultural exchange is also under way between east and west.”

Meanwhile, the accompanying video–which, unfortunately, I cannot embed into this post–hits the only two notes about China the BBC expects will resonate with English-speakers: it starts out talking about censorship, and ends up talking about classical Chinese poetry as calligraphy pans by and a reed flute lulls in the background. To be clear, Xi Chuan’s writing engages with the classics of Chinese poetry in fascinating and unexpected ways, and as a teacher of ancient Chinese literature and former calligrapher, Xi Chuan enjoyed the chance to get a private tour of the Freer Gallery and some of the pieces not normally on display. But rather than exhibit how Xi Chuan draws on the Chinese tradition, the BBC video suggests he’s an Ancient Poet (albeit one who has to deal with Maoist censorship)! When Xi Chuan reads from my translation of “Exercises in Thought” 思想练习 (a poem that opens with a demand that we reevaluate Nietzsche) Chinese chamber music kicks in and the accompanying image is a scroll of calligraphy–as if that were the text of the poem!

Art Talk with Xi Chuan

On the first of November the National Endowment for the Arts posted an interview between Xi Chuan and Katie Schulze, conducted in English over email while Xi Chuan was on a reading tour in the US promoting Push Open the Window (the NEA partly funded the anthology, as part of its five-year literature translation initiative). Xi Chuan’s answers again demonstrate the breadth and depth of his poetic mind. Here’s perhaps my favorite moment:

NEA: Which one of your poems is the most significant to you—in terms of subject, or the evolution or your work, or some other criteria?

XI CHUAN: A series named “Salute,” finished in 1992. 1989 abolished my method of writing poetry. Prior to 1989 I had many model poets that I tried to follow. Later, I found that these models were not enough for me to express myself. I almost stopped writing between 1989 and 1992; there was a crash in my heart, so I started writing notes. In 1992, I wrote “Salute” and it started with notes to vomit emotions/experiences about dark things that happened between 1989-1992. After I wrote this poem, I changed absolutely. Before I had an “I” in my heart; later I found [that it was multiple] “I’s” and not “we.” I found that all these deceased people live in my heart.

Weinberger & Subin in Hongkong

I had lunch yesterday with Nina Subin & Eliot Weinberger (New Directions author and translator of Octavio Paz and Bei Dao 北島, among others), in town for work with Chinese University Press on their way to Vietnam and Laos. The topics–they’re epic conversationalists–ranged from Cantonese cuisine to museums under colonialism to out-of-print sinology to the Poetry Foundation to American politics. And of course to Xi Chuan, whose photo-portrait by Nina from a few years ago should appear on the forthcoming Notes on the Mosquito, and whom Eliot met with recently during Xi Chuan’s New York stop on the Push Open the Window reading tour. In Oranges & Peanuts for Sale, Eliot mentions a trip to China where he met a Chinese poet “polymath, equally at home discussing the latest American poetry or Shang dynasty numismatics”; that was Xi Chuan.

Here’s a clip of Eliot reading at the International Poetry Nights Hong Kong two years ago:

(click here for information on this year’s Poetry Nights, including Xi Chuan’s events)

Forrest Gander’s Introduction of Xi Chuan & Zhou Zan

The night of October 10 (the hundred-year anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution 辛亥革命 that ended the Qing Dynasty 清朝), Forrest Gander introduced Xi Chuan, Zhou Zan, Marilyn Chin, and Li-young Lee at Manhattan’s 92nd St. Y. Here’s the text of his introduction:

This occasion is as much a celebration of poetry as it is a celebration of translation, that art that plucks from our black hats and blank looks the passport permitting us to cross borders of culture, language and imagination.

But what if the translations are bad?  Picasso claimed, “You don’t need the masterpiece to get the idea,” but is this true of translations?

Historically, mistranslations have contributed in signal ways to literary movements. The supposedly newly discovered poems of third-century warrior-poet Ossian—in translations forged by Scot prankster-poet James MacPherson and then really translated into German—fueled Johann von Herder’s Romantic re-conception of German poetics in the 18th century.

And like von Herder, American poet Ezra Pound helped launch a literary movement stimulated, in part, by translations based on a mistaken interpretation of the nature of the Chinese writing system. Ernst Fenollosa, Pound’s source, was studying Chinese grammar in Japan with Japanese linguistic scholars.

Many of the Chinese poets included in Push Open the Window, the new anthology from Copper Canyon, cut their teeth on bad translations of American poetry. Somehow, they were sufficient for them to get “the idea.”  Or, more importantly for their own work, not necessarily “the” idea but “an” idea.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s in China, better translations– Yunte Huang’s version of Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos, for instance, Zheng Min’s pioneering Contemporary American Poetry, and Zhao Yiheng’s Modern American Poetry anthology– began to appear. But poets like Bei Dao, who says he looked abroad for models, and Yang Lian, whose book Concentric Circles is strongly influenced by Pound’s Cantos, had already forged their signature styles. A somewhat younger poet, Yu Jian, discovered translations of Whitman while working in a factory and went on to write poems that reference important but less celebrated American poets like Ron Padgett. Xi Chuan, who straddles two named factions of poets (the Misty and the New Generation Poets), studied English Romantic poetry and wrote a dissertation on Ezra Pound. The post-Mao-generation poets Hu Xudong, who cites Mark Strand and Robert Hass as influences, and Zhou Zan, who translates from English and cites among her influences Denise Levertov and Adrienne Rich, came of age as internet translations of American poetry exploded in China. Both Zhou Zan and Hu Xudong came to study in America, Hu Xudong at the International Writing Program in Iowa and Zhou Zan at Columbia University. Zhai Yongming, also included in Push Open the Window, speaks little English but wrote a whole book documenting her road trips through the deserts and mountains of the American west.

Just this year, at a literary conference in Wuhan, Chinese scholars offered papers on Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, and ecopoetry, all that remarkable variety squeezed between twenty panels devoted to the work of Charles Bernstein.

My colleague at Brown University, John Cayley, himself a translator and a publisher of Chinese poetry in translation, notes that historically, English-language translations of Chinese poetry offered to American readers a literature that was “culturally distinct from the poetry of its host language” however much it might be read with “intense pleasure….”

But that, too, has begun to change and more culturally contextualized poetics and better English translations are revising America’s engagement with Chinese poetry. In the United States, the mid-1980s saw the publication of Eliot Weinberger’s essay “A Few Don’ts for Chinese Poets” and his classic translation study 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. More recently, several major anthologies, Michelle Yeh’s Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry, Zhang Er’s Another Kind of Nation: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Writing, Arthur Sze’s Chinese Writers on Writing,  Qingping Wang’s Push Open the Window, and The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry have indeed unlatched the shutters and pushed open the window.

The China-born Ha Jin, mostly known in the United States as a fiction writer who writes in English, says that if he wrote in Chinese now, he would write poetry, not fiction, because “at this moment, poetry is more promising. It can do more for the language.”

Given the explosive richness of contemporary poetry in America now, I would suggest that here too, in this historical moment, poetry offers the most to literature in English.  The early 21st century is one of the most turbulent and critical times for poetry in the cultures of both countries.

Just as American poet Marilyn Chin shuffles fragments, for example, from John Berryman with her own nervy colloquial precision, and unsplices the resonant emotional and political implications of immigrant narratives within American mythologies and vice versa, the Chinese poet Xi Chuan considers China’s past through the lens of a modernized West; he shuffles antique dictions with colloquial ones; he braids the analytical essay with the ode to things. But though he wrote a dissertation on Pound’s Chinese cantos, his work seems most influenced by European philosophy and literature, Kafka, I’d guess, and Nietszche. Chinese poet Zhou Zan, whose poetry often focuses on the process of creation, sometimes writes in short parabolic descriptive sentences and at other times juxtaposes paratactic clauses in stanzas that incorporate multiple voices and windmilling social and personal observations. Well-known American poet Li-young Lee animates his own family memories with a famously sensual palette.

In the writing of Marilyn Chin and Li-young Lee, the entanglement of cultures and languages collaborates with theme and style. Other American poets, notably Charles Wright, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Jeffrey Yang, have found in Chinese poetry a renewable source of inspiration. But with regard to the influence of American poetry on contemporary Chinese poetry, the connections may be hard to specify.  European and Hollywood films, French literary theory, Continental philosophy and increasing opportunities for travel abroad have thoroughly affected contemporary Chinese poetry. As you listen tonight to poems by American poets and translations into English of recent Chinese poems, you may hear indications of influence. But be wary. As Xi Chuan writes in Lucas Klein’s translation of Notes on the Mosquito, coming out next year from New Directions, “No one can tell the difference between the place where a mosquito has landed and a place where a mosquito has not landed…”

Push Open the Window

My copy of Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China (edited by Wang Qingping, with Howard Goldblatt & Sylvia Li-chun Lin as translation editors) arrived today, & I can’t wait to read through it. One thing I didn’t realize was that the title comes from my translation of “A Poem Written on an Overcast Day” 阴天写下的一首诗 (pp. 104 – 107) by Qing Ping 清平, who so happens to be the editor of the volume, writing under a sneaky pen-name.

The book looks and feels great, showcasing the work of not only an excellent array of contemporary poets from the PRC but also the skills of one of the finest groupings of translators from the Chinese I’ve ever seen (and I’m not just saying that because so many of them are friends of mine). And in addition to the editor’s intro. and the translation co-editors’ preface, it’s also got a forward from renowned internationalist poet and translator Forrest Gander. My only quibble with the book so far is that, while everything is printed with Chinese and English en face, for some reason the Chinese characters of none of the poets’ names made it into the book. So if you want to know whether the poet called Shu Cai is 蔬菜 (vegetable) or 树才, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Here’s the first page of my Xi Chuan 西川 translations, which include “Notes on the Mosquito” 蚊子志 (the title of the forthcoming New Directions volume), “Exercises in Thought” 思想练习, and “Ode to Skin” 皮肤颂:

“Contemporary Poetry from China” at the Library of Congress

The last stop for Xi Chuan & Zhou Zan’s reading tour of the US will be The Library of Congress for “Contemporary Poetry from China: A Reading and Discussion,” which will start at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

Details here.

Xi Chuan & Zhou Zan US Reading Tour for Copper Canyon Press

Xi Chuan will be reading with Zhou Zan 周瓒 to promote the publication of the NEA Anthology Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China (featuring my translations of three Xi Chuan pieces, as well as some by Qing Ping 清平).

Event Dates:

September 29, 7:00 p.m.
Seattle, WA: Seattle Asian Art Museum

October 1, 7:00 p.m.
Port Townsend, WA: Wheeler Theater, Fort Worden

October 4, 7:00 p.m.
Chicago, IL: Poetry Foundation, 61 West Superior Street
Reading with Li-Young Lee and Maurice Kilwein Guevara

October 6, 8:00 p.m.
Iowa City, IA: Shambaugh House, International Writing Program, University of Iowa

October 10, 8:15 p.m.
New York, NY: Unterberg Poetry Center at 92nd Street Y
Reading with Marilyn Chin and Li-Young Lee; hosted by Forrest Gander

October 12, 7:00 p.m.
Washington D.C.: Library of Congress
Reading followed by discussion with Michael Wiegers