Wang Ping Reviewed in Rain Taxi

tenthousandwavesAndreas Weiland in Rain Taxi reviews Wang Ping’s Ten Thousand Waves (Wings Press). Here’s an excerpt:

The last lines of the poem tell us that she realizes the consequences of her formality when she is back in the States, looking at the “trophy” acquired for nine yuan during her visit to the motherland. She understands suddenly how she has internalized way too much of the new culture she has immersed herself in, after leaving China many years ago.

I put away my victory in a trunk,
never give it a second thought
until I’m pulled out of the line
at Minneapolis custom, maggot fingers
prodding socks, underwear, wrapped gifts,
and there it is—my bargain
red and loud like thunderclaps:
“You saved a dime, fool,
but lost your soul.”

The presence of the voices of the Others—Chinese persons who have not left China, but some of whom dream of going to America—complicates the poems, turning what might be mere narrative into a dialogue, an exchange of standpoints, worldviews, sometimes a collision. In modern poetry, particularly in China between 1919 and 1949, this was a preferred poetic device that would render a social contrast more visible to readers. Wang Ping has used this device sensitively while transposing the modernist literary heritage of China’s great epic poets into a contemporary American English diction.

Click on the image for the full review.

Petition to Macalester College in Support of Wang Ping

Following last week’s post on Wang Ping’s grievance against Macalester College, here is a petition saying, simply:

For more background and to sign the petition, click the image above. The beginning of the explanation reads:

Wang Ping is an internationally renowned poet and professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has published ten books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. As an academic advisor, her students have gone on to become award-winning authors and even professors themselves. Macalester should be proud to have such a brilliant woman teaching at their institution.

But they’re not.

Wang Ping’s Statement on her suit with Macalester College

Wang Ping teaches creative writing in the English department. Photo: Macalester College /Sara RubinsteinThe following is an open letter from Chinese / American poet Wang Ping. For more information on the case, see this article.

Dear Friends, this statement serves the following purposes:

1. Clarify my litigation with Macalester to prevent misunderstandings.
2. Macalester is investigating my work, teaching, service, education and employment history, medical, criminal and tax records since my childhood, including everything I’ve done with the Kinship of Rivers project. This involves hundreds of people. I just want to inform you that we have done nothing illegal. Kinship of Rivers project promotes arts and cultural exchanges between China and USA. My applications for promotion, appeal for the denial, and my complaint to the Human Rights Department about the discrimination and retaliations are my right as a legal alien.
3. Please hang onto your emails, blogs, photos…as Macalester has requested everything, every word and document in every possible form related to the above subjects, and since I know I don’t have everything (some forgotten, some deleted in the past), please go through my answers to Macalester’s interrogatories and forward your additional information.
4. Transform the destructive force into something more constructive so that we can all work together to achieve Macalester’s mission as well as mine: multiculturalism, internationalism and service to society, and most importantly, the focus on justice and human rights.

Here’s a quick outline of what happened.

1. In 2010, I applied for the promotion and was denied, even though I had 10 published books, and met all the requirements for excellent teaching and service according to the college Handbooks, especially in comparison to my colleague who applied for an early promotion, who had less credentials.
2. I appealed to the college.
3. The Appeal Committee found several procedural errors (breach of academic freedom as one of them) and recommended President Rosenberg to correct the errors.
4. President Rosenberg denied the appeal.
5. I started experiencing retaliations to prevent me from doing my research and then teaching.
6. I filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2011.
7. EEOC found strong discriminating evidences and investigated Macalester, and then dismissed my case in 2012. I was told they did find that I was disadvantaged by unequal treatments, but they couldn’t find the direct link to the discrimination. EEOC gave me 90 days the right to sue. (Dec. 3, 2012)
8. My attorney contacted Macalester, via phone and email, for a reconcile meeting, in November 2012. We made it clear that it was not about money, but about better work relationship with the administrators.
9. The administrators ignored my request for such a meeting.
10. On December 3, 2012. My attorney served Macalester the lawsuit for the ongoing retaliation I’d been experiencing since my internal faculty appeal in 2010, which include the funding cuts for teaching, student publications and classroom work, and denial of support for my major scholarly work, the Kinship of Rivers project.
11. On 12-21-2012, Macalester answered it by filing the suit with the court and thus brought the case into the public sphere.
12. Fagre & Benson (Macalester’s law firm) requested every name of the people I have talked/written to about the promotion, denial, retaliation, and Kinship of Rivers project (phone, email, blog, Facebook, twitter, diaries, videos, and any other medium of communications). They also requested all of my legal, tax and medical history, everything about the Kinship of Rivers project, the promotion and my complaints.
13. Fagre & Benson set 2/15/13 to depose me.
14. I asked to postpone the deposition because it was during the Chinese New Year.
15. Fagre used a British teaching kit for kindergartens to repute that Chinese New Year is not religious or cultural, therefore my request is “opportunistic,” and I need to “swear under oath” that Chinese New Year is religious or cultural” for the postpone request.
16. 2-1-2013, Fagre & Benson declared that mediation is impossible at this stage and asked the judge to set the trial date in court 1/14/14, then requested us to comply by Feb. 22, 2013. (See the informational statement)

Since 12-21-2012, I have been working day and night to answer their interrogations and gather the materials they demanded. I have no sleep, just naps between the labor; no holidays (Christmas and New Year), no spending time with my children, canceled my trip to take my children to Wisconsin Dells (no money or time), and of course, no more time to complete the manuscript my publisher has been waiting for. (I am on half-pay sabbatical to complete the book.)

The materials I’ve gathered filled up a 32 GB flash drive. Since it contains only a small portion of what they want, Macalester will come to my home and office to get the materials, which include the 2000 river flags made by 2000 people along the entire Mississippi, the St. Croix, the Minnesota, the Fraser, the San Antonio, and other rivers. These flags are our gifts to the Yangtze River when we travel to China in July and August.

Macalester also demanded me to pay its legal fees. Their law firm is the most expensive one, and they are using many hours to push for a trial.

“This is very, very punishing,” said a civil rights lawyer from NYC.

Everyone I talked to, lawyers, friends, colleagues, is confused. Why is Macalester so punitive, so unwilling to consider a better work relation?

I can’t answer. All I know is that I kicked the hornet’s nest by complaining about the administrator’s unequal treatments and retaliation.

I always know that as a woman and a Chinese immigrant, I have to work harder and achieve more in every aspect: scholarship, teaching and service, in order to survive the academia, especially at Macalester with its record of high minority faculty turnover

I was confident I could survive when I started teaching at Macalester in 1999. I knew how to work hard and efficiently, especially when I do what I love: writing, teaching, and doing good things for the community. I loved Macalester’s mission for multiculturalism, internationalism and civic engagement, especially its focus on justice and human rights; I loved the students, loved my colleagues, and loved the communities. I had already published five books with awards and national fellowships. So as long I kept my mouth shut, I should be able to make it.

Thus I began my life with Macalester, three weeks after I gave birth to my second son through a difficult labor with surgery. I could barely walk when I started my full teaching loads, Monday Wednesday and Friday, from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. I asked for a later schedule, because it was too stressful, emotionally and mentally, to break away from my three-week-old newborn in the early mornings. My kind-hearted department chair told me I should “endure” it. I understood he was trying to protect me from being marked as a “trouble maker,” as he had protected me as my chair during my first six years at Macalester. He even tried to protect me in 2010 after his retirement, advising me not to complain to EEOC because it would definitely mark me as a “trouble maker.”

So I endured and gave everything I had to Macalester, teaching, advising, researching, and serving on committees. I published ten books, gave hundreds of readings and lectures at Macalester and around the world, helped expand the creative writing program from a single tenured position into four tenured positions, worked with Asian Studies to build a thriving Chinese program, created many interdisciplinary courses that combine writing with immigration, environment, rivers, justice, public health, spirituality, and science. I spent hundreds of hours writing grants to take students on canoe trips along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and Lake Itasca, introducing the students to Minnesota’s forgotten history and living nature. I also spent many hours (fund raising and logistics) to bring 43 nationally and internationally renowned poets, writers and artists to Macalester, including the Nobel Prize finalist Bei Dao, Pulitzer-winner Yusef Komunyakaa, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, explorer and environmentalist Will Steger, great poets and writers from China, from Native American communities, and the park rangers from the National Park Service. My efforts have been used as examples of Macalester’s mission. My classes, trips and interviews appeared constantly on Macalester’s web homepage, news and journals. My students became Rhode Scholars, best-selling authors with major literary awards, professors, and one is among the top 3 candidates for a tenure tracked position for fiction at Macalester.

President Rosenberg (the same president who denied me in 2010) praised in my 2005 promotion letter that my teaching “is well-suited to Macalester’s focus on internationalism,” that “as an exceptionally gifted poet, writer and theorist,” I had “already accomplished more than a lifetime’s work,” and finally, in addition to my “teaching and…scholarly and creative productivity,” my “service brings honor to Macalester College” (Wang Ping’s 2005 FPC promotion letter).

People always ask: How did you get all these things done? Did you ever sleep?

“Because I’m doing what I love,” I reply with a smile. It’s the truth. At the same time, deep down in my heart, I know I’ve been stacking up my credentials so I could prove to Macalester that I am good enough, that I could stand next to my colleagues as an equal.

When I applied for the promotion in 2009, everyone believed it should be straightforward. I added 3 more books to my “lifetime work,” (10 in total), had won more book awards and fellowships (including McKnight Award, Minnesota Book Award, etc.), won Mellon Grants to create 3 more interdisciplinary courses that the college used as samples of Macalester’s mission, served on various committees for Macalester and ACTC and other literary communities at a loss of my own salary (I was doing so much service that I had to take a course reduction at 1/5 of salary cut). I traveled to different cities as Macalester’s “Road Scholar.” My photos decorated the college’s admission office as well as President Rosenberg’s office and hallway as a showcase for Macalester’s internationalism.

One can imagine the shock and confusion when the Provost called me into her office and told me I was denied the promotion because I was a poor teacher and didn’t do enough for Macalester. She told me I must not compare myself to my colleague who got his second early promotion with 2 books, must not tell the denial to anyone, must not apply again for years to come.

I appealed; the appeal committee found the denial violated the academic freedom and Macalester’s handbook rules. President Rosenberg refused to correct the errors.

January 2011, I filed the discrimination claim to the Human Rights Department and EEOC.

When the case was dismissed in 2012, I had two options: 1) to let it go; 2) to bring the issues to the court.

By then, I had applied for the promotion again. Thanks to the support from my students, colleagues and friends from Macalester, the Twin Cities and the nation, and through many efforts to force the administrators to correct the errors that would have jeopardized my second application (please see details in “Ping’s legal timeline with Macalester”), I was finally granted the promotion. I wanted to devote my energy to teaching, writing, and service, and devote more time to my growing children. I was willing to let it go even though I had been experiencing more and more difficulties teaching and researching at Macalester: the cut of my department fund to bring visitors, field trips, and making photocopies of students writing (I had to pay some of the teaching cost out of my own pocket), the President and Provost’s refusal to allow Macalester to sponsor the Kinship of Rivers project as its fiscal agent when a museum showed interest in giving the seed fund, and the grant officers telling me clearly that they are not allowed to help me in any possible way with my project.

But I still hoped for one thing: to have a better work relationship with the administrators so that I could teach, research and serve better at Macalester.

So my lawyer contacted Macalester for reconciliation. When we got no answer, we served a complaint to Macalester on 12-03-2012.

The administrators responded by filing in court on 12-21-2012, setting up a deposition and trial date, pushing this into the public arena.

The legal process is arduous, expensive, and destructive, for both sides. A single face-to-face meeting, a gesture of mutual respect, a kind word from the President, could have averted this suit…

My life is shattered, of course. Worst of all, so many of my friends and colleagues are dragged into this mess, thousands of dollars will be spent, more ill feelings, misunderstandings and isolation generated, morale destroyed…

“How much more does a woman have to do to be an equal to a man?” asked my colleague, weeping when she heard I had been denied promotion.

“How much more does a MINORITY WOMAN have to do to be an equal?” I ask.

This is the question I have been asking myself every day since the Provost told me that I didn’t do enough service, even though I sacrificed my own salary to serve Macalester and the communities, that I had failed to teach good criticism and techniques even though I had every student’s writing to prove them otherwise…

I came to America with $26 in my pocket, with a dream for a better life in a country where one would not fear to be harassed, terrorized, or arrested for speaking truths, where one had the freedom for creative, individual and spiritual expressions, where everyone was treated as an equal. In America, I thrived, earning my PhD, becoming a teacher, author, photographer, judge for literary communities, a public speaker, and director of the Kinship of Rivers project that brings the two greatest rivers together through poetry, art, music, dance, food…I do all these as my gratitude to the two cultures that raised and nurtured me, to the people from the two countries who believed in me.

I ask to be treated as an equal to my colleagues despite my gender, religion, and nationality. I ask for reconciliation, peace and harmony. I know my teaching and scholarship and service have brought only honors to Macalester, and will bring more to Macalester and our communities.

There is no need to punish and drag a hard working Chinese immigrant to ruins. We, immigrants, women, and minorities are also humans. We have the right to be treated equally, to stand up for ourselves when we feel wronged. We work hard to contribute to American culture and economy. We are part of the American Dream. Please don’t shatter it.

I’m still hoping to sit down face to face with the administrators for a conversation, to acknowledge and understand each other’s needs, to transform this into something positive, collaborative, and beneficial to everyone in the community. Again, it’s not about money, but about working together to make Macalester truly live up to its standards.

During the intense month of gathering evidences for Macalester’s discovery on me, I have rediscovered myself and the communities where I have thrived. Without your support and inspirations, I could not have arrived where I am now. So thank you, my students, friends, colleagues, and all the communities who have worked with me and supported me through the journey. I want to assure you that you’re safe. Everything we’ve done together only adds beauty and goodness to the communities. I want to thank my two children who have endured my “work habits.” I promise that as soon as the tangle is over, I’ll take you on a well-deserved vacation. I am especially proud of Macalester, its students, faculty and staff I’ve worked with so closely and spiritually in the past decade. I have always believed, and still believe, that Macalester is truly dedicated to justice and human rights, to “its high standards for scholarship and its special emphasis on internationalism, multiculturalism, and service to society.”

Let this be our truth and harmony. Let this be our daily deed.

List of References and Documents
(Please email for all the documents listed here. You can also find them at the Ramsey Court)

1. Macalester’s court filing on Wang Ping 12/21/2012 (with the 1st set of interrogatories, document requests, and deposition of Wang Ping)
2. Wang Ping’s court filing on Macalester 1/9/2013
3. Wang Ping’s answers to Macalester’s interrogatories
4. Informational statement-Macalester
5. Wang Ping’s Timeline at Macalester
6. Wang Ping’s legal timeline at Macalester (all the names are in initials, except for Wang Ping)
7. Wang Ping’s appeal letter to the Appeal Committee
8. The Appeal Committee’s letter to President Rosenberg
9. President Rosenberg’s denial to the appeal
10. Wang Ping’s post denial meeting with the Provost and FPC chair
11. 2005 FPC consensus letter for Wang Ping’s tenure promotion
12. 2010 English Department CRC letter for Wang Ping
13. 2010 FPC consensus letter for Wang Ping’s full professor denial
14. 2012 FPC consensus letter for Wang Ping’s full professor promotion

Xi Chuan on Poetryeater

The website Poetryeater has uploaded a Xi Chuan poem under the title of “Misfortune A 000000.” They don’t credit the translator, but it looks like it’s Wang Ping‘s translation with Alex Lemon published in the literary journal Grain in 2009. Here’s how it begins:

He never looks back, yet knows I am lurking.

He shouts: “Stop on the edge of the cliff, or your body won’t withstand the anger.”

He turns, sees the purple aura rising above me. He shakes his head, and the sun sinks into the trees.

Fact-checking Translations

A new book whose provocations seem to be helping it make the rounds is The Lifespan of a Fact, by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal (click here for a critical NYTimes review), where D’Agata argues that facts are often irrelevant in the pursuit of art, and that “nonfiction”

essentially means ‘not art,’ since the word fiction is derived from the Latin fictio, which itself means ‘to form, to shape, to arrange’ — a pretty fundamental activity in art.

I agree with NYTimes reviewer Jennifer McDonald about the bogusness of this argument–not only does it fall for the “etymological fallacy,” it’s also an ethnocentric claim that has no time for other cultures and their definitions of art from yesterday or today. According to Stephen Owen, for instance, while Euro / American poetry in the 19th and 20th centuries would be considered fictional, pre-modern Chinese poetry was taken as factually true.

Discussions about the nuances of such statements aside, the role of fact-checking in poetry and translation is a complex one (see here for another moment in which I ponder accountability to reality in Chinese poetry and translation). I noticed this recently when I posted Wang Ping’s translation of Xi Chuan’s “Books” 书籍. A couplet in her translation reads,

“All books are the same book,”
pale Mallarmé said with confidence.

But Xi Chuan’s Chinese lines read,


or what I would translate as “‘All books are one book,’ / an effiminate Shelley almost said.” Perhaps Xi Chuan changed his original between its first printing and the time Wang Ping translated it. Or perhaps Wang Ping found out that Shelley didn’t say this at all, that it was in fact Mallarmé (I’ve searched online to see if either one of them said it, but all my hits end up pointing me back here!). But this raises a question: when translating, is the translator accountable to reality, or to the original poem? If the fact-checker doesn’t have a role in editing the original poem, does he or she have a role in editing the translation? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to these questions.

Xi Chuan’s “Books”

Looking at the tumblr posts in which Xi Chuan has been mentioned, I noticed an often-repeated, and re-tweeted, quote:

The lofty bookshelves sag
Under thousands of sleeping souls
Silence, hopeful—
Every time I open a book, a soul is awakened.

(It even shows up in Spanish, as well as German, above). It’s beautiful, and takes on a special weight in age of e-books–perhaps, ironically, why it has been spread so readily on the internet–and yet, interestingly, I could not place the quote. I knew it was not my translation (despite the fact that Goodreads thinks that it comes from my Tinfish chapbook Yours Truly & Other Poems), which means that Xi Chuan and I had not selected it for inclusion in Notes on the Mosquito, and I couln’t find it in Michael Day’s translations on the DACHS archive… so where did it come from, and how was it phrased in Xi Chuan’s Chinese?

 A bit more googling turned up the quote again as an epigraph to a chapter in Inkspell, by German  children’s author Cornelia Funke, which attributed the quote to “New Generation“–more than a hint that it might be from the Wang Ping-edited anthology, New Generation: Poems from China Today (Hanging Loose Press, 1999). And indeed, on pp. 145 – 146, in the poem “Books” 书籍, I found the source, as translated by Wang with Murat Nemet-Nejat.

And yet the quote as it’s been disseminated is not completely accurate–between lines two and three of the section another couplet is missing, which to my mind separate two moments of high lyricism and rescue the poem from overstated melodrama. At any rate, here is the poem in full as it appears in New Generation (click here for the poem in Chinese):


Books should be illuminated by torches,
just as the Incas illuminated their city.

Torches shone on its
woven fabric, pears, gold and silver utensils–

objects that time uses to express itself
from opposition to unity, revealing the secret of fate,

like Hercules and Plato
attracted by the same spring bee.

“All books are the same book,”
pale Mallarmé said with confidence.

All mistakes are the same mistake,
like Ptolemy’s research into earth and stars,

his precise calculations
that only led him to absurd conclusions.

Books create a space larger than books.
The life of fire ends in its own flame.

Emperor Qin Shi haunted the library hallway
and Aldous Huxley,

robbed of the past by a fire,
clarified the rest of his life in a single lecture.

I see a rose
covered with dust; what else can death do?

The lofty bookshelves sag
under thousands of sleeping souls.

We live together,
hiding beneath the spirit’s torch.

Silence, hopeful–
every time I open a book, a soul is awakened.

A strange woman walks
in a city I’ve never seen.

A funeral is taking place
in a dusk I’ve never entered.

Othello’s anger, Hamlet’s conscience,
Truth spoken at will, muffled bells.

I read a family prophecy.
The pains I’ve seen are no more than the pains themselves.

History records only a few people’s deeds:
The rest is silence.