Xi Chuan’s “January 2011 in Egypt” in Kenyon Review

Cover image of Nov/Dec 2019 Issue
The Nov/Dec 2019 Kenyon Review , the “Literary Activism” issue, featuring Xi Chuan’s “January 2011 in Egypt”

The new issue of the Kenyon Review has just launched, a special feature on “Literary Activism,” coedited by Rita Dove and John Kinsella–and in it, Xi Chuan’s poem “January 2011 in Egypt” 2011年1月埃及纪事 in the online edition. Here are some lines:

Eight thousand years after its founding the people are in a backwater earning too little always hearing about others making too much.

The piss stench of mules drifts through the alleys. Trash covers the wilderness.

Corrupt politics can’t manage the trash covering the wilderness; it can only keep the grand hall clean.

The midlevel official making E£500 a month and the doctor making E£150 a month demand change.

The youths banding together to vent their anger and despair don’t know each other. Vent first, then we’ll see.

So the smoke from burning tires rises from three sides of the temple,
choking the gods inside—they proclaim themselves to be aliens so they should get respect and protection.

Anxious foreigners are smoking in the airport waiting area and no one cares.

The Romanian girl who worried about having nowhere to put her feet later disappears in the chaos of the crowd.

Yana, where are you?

Among the rioters looting the flower shop may be one who wants a rose for his beloved.

Whether you can be his beloved depends entirely on whether you’re lucky enough to survive.

开国八千年后人民在一团死水中挣得太少但总听说别人挣得太多。

骡马的尿骚味沿街巷飘荡。垃圾遍及旷野。

腐败的政治顾不到垃圾遍及旷野,只把厅堂收拾干净。

月工资500埃镑的中层官吏、月工资150埃镑的医生要求变革。

抱团发泄愤怒和绝望的青年互不相识。发泄了再说。

于是焚烧轮胎的黑烟升起于神庙的三面,

神庙里的诸神呛了嗓子,声称自己是外星人理应受到保护和尊敬。

惴惴不安的外国人在候机厅里吸烟没人管。

飞机上担心没处落脚的罗马尼亚姑娘后来消失于慌乱的人群。

雅娜,你在哪里?

洗劫花店的暴徒中或有一位想把玫瑰花献给心上人。

你能否成为他的心上人全看你活下来的运气如何。

The whole looks great. In addition to Xi Chuan, there’s new work by Anne Carson, Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, and others online, and in the print edition new work by Brenda Hillman, Nathaniel Mackey, and more.

Click here for the feature, starting with the introductions by Dove and Kinsella.

“Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature at Cha

Announcing the June/July issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, the “Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature, edited by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Lucas Klein, along with a special feature of poems by and in mourning of Meng Lang 孟浪.

The following CONTRIBUTORS have generously allowed us to showcase their work:

❀ REMEMBRANCES
Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, Gregory Lee, Ding Zilin (translated by Kevin Carrico), Andréa Worden, Shuyu Kong (with translations of poems by Colin Hawes), Ai Li Ke, Anna Wang, and Sara Tung

❀ POETRY
Bei Dao (translated by Eliot Weinberger), Duo Duo (translated by Lucas Klein), Liu Xiaobo (translated by Ming Di), Xi Chuan (translated by Lucas Klein), Yang Lian (translated by Brian Holton), Xi Xi (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Meng Lang (translated by Anne Henochowicz), Lin Zhao (translated by Chris Song), Liu Waitong (translated by Lucas Klein), Chan Lai Kuen (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Mei Kwan Ng (translated by the author), Yibing Huang (translated by the author), Ming Di (translated by the author), Anthony Tao, Aiden Heung, Kate Rogers, Ken Chau, Ilaria Maria Sala, Ian Heffernan, Reid Mitchell, Lorenzo Andolfatto, Joseph T. Salazar

❀ ESSAYS
Scott Savitt, Wang Dan (translated by Karl Lund), Hoi Leung, Louisa Lim, Jeff Wasserstrom, Lian-Hee Wee, Jed Lea-Henry, Jason G. Coe, and Guo Ting

❀ INTERVIEW
Han Dongfang and Lucas Klein

❀ FICTION
Boshun Chan (translated by Garfield Chow, Stephanie Leung and Felix Lo) and Christopher New

❀ PHOTOGRAPHY & ART
Daniel Garrett and Anonymous

❀ MENG LANG
Denis Mair, Meng Lang (translated by Denis Mair), Liu Waitong (translated by Lucas Klein), Jacky Yuen (translated by Nick Admussen), Tang Siu Wa (translated by Jennifer Feeley), Kwan Tin Lam (translated by Eleanor Goodman)

Click on the link above to read the issue in full.

Shaw on Haizi

As part of their poetry month feature, Tristan Shaw wrote for SupChina on Haizi 海子:

Between 1984 and his death, Hai Zi is estimated to have written two million words worth of work, spanning lyrics, epics, and verse dramas. For all his output, however, Hai Zi’s poems attracted little attention from his contemporaries. There is still debate today over his mental state, and why he decided to commit suicide, but one theory might have been his lack of success. Some have pinned his suicide on an idealization of death; others believe, as his final notes indicate, that he suffered from delusions. Another factor might have been a meeting with his former student; Hai Zi was greatly upset when he learned that his old flame was married and planning to move to the United States.

At any rate, in the aftermath of Hai Zi’s suicide, his friends Luo Yihe 骆一禾 and Xi Chuan 西川 helped to spread his work. Posthumous publications of Hai Zi’s work in the 1990s earned him a cult following, with some fans considering him a martyr to poetry. Critics embraced him, scholars studied him, and foreigners translated him. In 1990, Xi Chuan prophesied that “the death of Haizi the poet will become one of the myths of our time.” For his young Chinese fans, who still follow in his path and makes pilgrimages to the places connected to him, Hai Zi has become a mystical, legendary figure.

Click through to read the article in full.

India-China Dialogues on Almost Island

The Monsoon 2019 issue of Almost Island is here, and with it a feature of poetry and prose from last October’s India-China dialogues in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Almost Island writes, announcing the feature:

This issue continues our dialogue with leading Chinese poets and novelists, ongoing since 2009. The dialogue was begun by Chinese poet Bei Dao [北岛] and Indian novelist and poet Sharmistha Mohanty. The most recent meeting between Indian and Chinese writers, curated by Almost Island and the Chinese journal Jintian [今天], took place in October 2018 in Hong Kong and Hangzhou.

Scholar Lydia H. Liu, in her essay The Gift of a Living Past, a tribute to Ashis Nandy, which we publish here, says:

“Confucius traveled from state to state—across many warring states before the unification in BCE 221—offering advice to the heads of states and attempting to counsel them, but everywhere he went, Confucius’s ideas were met with indifference and rejection. With his noble aspirations getting nowhere, Confucius gained the reputation of a homeless dog. The astonishing thing is that not only did the Master not mind being called homeless dog but he found the epithet to be a suitable description of his plight. I suspect that the story tells us something interesting about the defeat and survival of rootless intellectuals, and this story is the polar opposite of what you get from the official discourse of Confucianism in China.

Like Confucius, all rootless intellectuals are, in a sense, homeless dogs. This story lives on in our midst, like a gift to the present. As we share more of each other’s stories, the Chinese and Indian writers are essentially building a transnational literary alliance based on our melancholy knowledge of the living pasts. That our friendship can grow and form a lasting bond is owing to the fact that, in Nandy’s words, ‘India and China are both in some fundamental sense societies which negotiate the past and the future similarly despite all differences. This similarity lies in the fact that in both countries the past is as open as the future.’”

This openness of time speaks through Bei Dao’s new book length poem, from which we have excerpts here, translated by Eliot Weinberger and seen for the first time in English in this issue.

Ouyang Jianghe [欧阳江河] follows Sufis and drifters in his poems in which “A screw and a flower embrace, tightening time.” The luminous translations are by Lucas Klein.

The poems of Xi Chuan are hard, sharp and brilliant, diamond like. Once again Lucas Klein achieves this in English.

Zhai Yongming [翟永明] has, on the surface, a seemingly lighter touch, but underneath she walks the razor’s edge. Andrea Lingenfelter renders this deftly into English.

We have an excerpt from novelist Han Shaogong’s [韩少功] deeply original A Dictionary of Maqiao, written in fact in the form of dictionary entries, each entry looking closely at different aspects of the village of Maqiao during the Cultural Revolution. Translator Julia Lovell catches the extraordinary within the ordinary in Shaogong’s prose.

And Ashis Nandy’s opening talk at the last India-China Dialogues held in Hong Kong and Hangzhou, Oct. 2018, where in his inimitable way he pries open the twentieth century to find that its most lasting legacy is genocide.

Click the highlighted links to download the .pdf files and begin reading!

Xi Chuan wins Sweden’s Cikada Prize

The Cikada Prize 2018 is awarded to the Chinese poet Xi Chuan!

Founded in 2004 to commemorate the 100th birthday of Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Harry Martinson, the Cikada Prize is given to East Asian poets whose work “defend the inviolability of life.” They write:

This year’s winner is Xi Chuan (official name Liu Jun), poet, essayist, translator, born in the city of Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, in 1963. Xi Chuan studied English literature at Beijing University from 1981 to 1985, and was a visiting scholar to the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa in 2002, and Orion Scholar to the University of Victoria, Canada in 2009. He is currently teaching Classical Chinese Literature at the School of Liberal Arts, Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

The prize was handed out during a prize ceremony in Beijing, arranged in close cooperation with the Swedish Embassy.

Click here for more information.

New Klein Translation / Translation Studies Publications

Mail to Hong Kong from North America can be slow, so even though the current issue of Metamorphoses, a double issue on literature in Chinese, guest-edited by Sujane Wu, has been on the stands for some weeks, I only received my copy today.

The issue includes two new translations I’ve done of poessays 诗文 by Xi Chuan, “On Fan Kuan’s Monumental Landscape Scroll Travelers among Mountains and Streams” 题范宽巨障山水《溪山行旅图》 and “Once More on Fan Kuan’s Travelers among Mountains and Streams” 再题范宽《溪山行旅图》.

It also includes a short essay titled “Our Daily Bread“:

Chinese steamed buns, or mantou 饅頭 “are, indeed, just bread.” The statement is by Harvard professor of medieval Chinese literature Stephen Owen, elaborating on his earlier comments on world literature, where he had said that in the“international poetry” he was looking at, “most of these poems translate themselves.” Is mantou just bread? And what does this assertion have to do with translation?


From there, I go on to discuss Walter Benjamin on pain and Brot, and Eliot Weinberger on pumpernickel and Wonder Bread (and steamed buns). Of all the articles of mine that have been published, this is probably my favorite.

Take a look!


Lucas Klein Talking Translation with Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

As a follow-up to Xi Chuan’s being October 2018 author-of-the-month at the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, the Centre is now hosting a Talking Translation interview with me!

They ask, and I answer:

Do you have any advice for readers new to Xi Chuan about where best to begin or how to approach his poetry?

My advice to new readers of Xi Chuan would be different depending on what those readers are used to reading, because he made a pretty big stylistic change in the early nineties. If you like well-crafted lyrical poems, calm and deep, then start with his earliest publications at the beginning of Notes on the Mosquito and work your way through the whole book. If you like more expansive prose poems, long sequences, and the poetics of knowledge with a good sense of humor, then maybe skip Xi Chuan’s earliest work and start with his prose poetry—or what he calls “poessays”—coming back to his earlier lyrics later.

Click the link above for the full interview.