Friday, 25 September 2020

Translation goes in both directions

Nicky Harman writes: It seems obvious that there is literary translation from English into Chinese, as well as from Chinese into English, but very little has been written in English about what travels in that direction, and what impact it has on Chinese readers. It is a subject that fascinates me. So I was delighted when I got the chance to interview Wang Bang.


Wang Bang has translated Peter Hughes’s Behoven poems (Oystercatcher Press, 2009) for Professor He Ping, a well-known critic, author and professor at the College of Arts at Nanjing Normal University. Readers can explore them on this bilingual page here. I asked her to tell me more about this project.

N: How did you come across Peter Hughes and Oystercatcher Press, and what do you like about his poetry? 

W: The first time I bumped into ‘oystercatchers’, they were not those waders with red beaks, dressed in black cloaks, they were well printed pamphlets with abstract, geometric, mostly hand-painted covers, the kind of visual vocabulary that recalled me to Abstract Expressionism. I soon learnt that they were poetry pamphlets produced by the poet Peter Hughes, who also used his own paintings for the covers. I was immediately intrigued and was hoping to write an article about Peter. I asked David Rushmer, my husband, who is also a poet and had been published by Oystercatcher Press, to introduce me to Peter. A week later, we were in Norfolk, walking against the brisk wind, the oystercatchers rising swiftly from the waves, whilst Peter narrated his early life stories to me from his house on the coast; his surreal adventures working as a translator for the Italian Army and how he endeavored to make sense of the instructions on Russian landmines. I then wrote a story titled ‘The Poet Who lives next to the Lighthouse’; it was surprisingly well received and hit over 600 likes overnight. I thought it could be a great opportunity to introduce Peter’s work to Chinese readers, so I started work translating a small section of his poems. His work is not easy to digest at all but I found them fascinating, it’s like playing with a Rubik’s cube, I have to solve one word (normally a verb) first, before I can rotate to the next layer, and the magic is dark, sensory, musical, dreamy, imaginative and philosophical. 

 

N: How did Professor He Ping get involved?

W: I thought it would be great if I could persuade someone to publish a pamphlet of Peter’s work, a duplication of Oystercatcher Press in both Chinese and English. And an independent publisher in China had agreed to publish the pamphlet. I sent off the work, which is a small part of ‘Behoven’, kindly chosen by Peter and waited, but nothing was certain with the unsettled publishing rules in China. Bored of waiting I sent the manuscript to Professor He Ping, and amazingly he published it right away on a literary journal ‘A Flower to You’ run by his MA students. 

 

N: Which is your favourite poem in the selection published here? 

W: Sonata 1 in F minor, op.2, no. 1, Sonata in A major, op. 10.no.2 and the bears in Sonata in A major, op. 10.no.2.

N: Could you say something about the challenges of translating them?

W: The hidden cultural references, the metaphors, they really did my head in. For instance, the phrase

 “even if it is called a patio”. What is special about a patio? Is it because it’s a posh word from Spanish? Or, because of its overly ornamental design by the English? 

Some sentences seemed to be more straightforward, but can still require a lot of cultural understanding.

“when strangers 

         with sledge-hammers 

       & shorts passed

    the whole piano 

through a bangle”

I had to peep through a keyhole of time to understand that he is talking about “Piano Smashing Contests” in England in the bonkers 1950s!

N: Did you listen to Beethoven while you were translating?

W: No, I really needed to concentrate! 

N: Anything else you'd like to say about the special challenges of translating poetry?

W: Poetry often takes liberties that prose would not. Poetry by its nature is often very compact and can include a duplicity of meaning in a single word or phrase which is very difficult to reproduce in another language. I wish I were a poet, it would be easier for me to undertake such an impossible task. I would love to see more work being translated from both languages, work from my generation, and from new emerging writers.

 Here is my article about Peter and his press, with some beautiful pictures: The Poet Who lives next to the Lighthouse, in Chinese with a selection of the poems in English.


 

N: I'm fascinated by which English writers have an impact in China and in Chinese, so He Ping's project seems particularly interesting.

W: This is from Professor He Ping on why he published my translations. I think his response is great: “I am interested in what British writers, including poets, are writing recently. All literature today, regardless of nationality or mother tongue, is part of world literature. And of course, it is also out of friendship with Wang Bang and my trust in her judgment, that I promoted the works of these two poets [Richard Berengarten and Peter Hughes] on my graduate students’ WeChat public account. Modern Chinese literature has always had strong links with British English writing, so I am keen to promote contemporary British writers, poets and their writing wherever possible, in any Chinese literary media where I have some influence.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Danton Remoto Chats With Elaine Chiew About His Novel Riverrun: Proudly Gay, Proudly Filipino

 

Credit: PRH SEA

Bio:

Danton Remoto was educated at Ateneo de Manila University, Rutgers University, University of Stirling and the University of the Philippines. He has worked as a publishing director at Ateneo, head of communications at United Nations Development Programme, TV and radio host at TV5 and Radyo 5, president of Manila Times College and, most recently, as head of school and professor of English at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. He has published a baker’s dozen of books in English. His work is cited in The Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Literature, The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics, and The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Postcolonial Literature.

 





Synopsis:

Riverrun, A Novel, deals with Danilo Cruz, a young gay man growing up in a colourful and chaotic military dictatorship in the Philippines. The form of the novel is that of a memoir, told through flash fiction, vignettes, a recipe for shark meat, feature articles, poems and vivid songs. The setting ranges from provincial barrio to cosmopolitan London. The grimness and the violence are leavened by the sly wit and wicked humour. Riot.com, the biggest independent platform for the publishing industry in the USA, has called this novel “one of the five most anticipated books by an Asian author in 2020.”

 

EC: Welcome to Asian Books Blog, Danton. Congratulations on Riverrun, a delightful and poetic read, lightly trodden but deeply impactful; and indeed, as intended, it reads like a personal, intimate memoir. Why did you decide on having this ‘memoirish’ cant?

 

DR: Thank you, Elaine. I really intended it to be written lightly, as it were, since the topic is the grimness and violence of a military dictatorship in the Philippines. The narrative form is that of a memoir, which is influenced by James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the stories in Dubliners. Even the title of my novel comes from Ulysses by Joyce. A memoir allows for a more personal, chatty tone, and the genre itself connotes memories. Talk is one of the things banned in a military dictatorship, so I tried to capture the hidden talk, whispered conversations, snide remarks and seemingly unintended jokes cracked in a dictatorship. I also experimented with Filipino English in this novel, trying to capture the way educated Filipinos spoke in English. I had written books of poetry and essays before I wrote the first draft of Riverrun at Hawthornden Castle, an old castle haunted by ghosts, in Scotland. This influenced the way the novel is written—lyrical in some parts, chatty in others. I wrote in longhand, on yellow pad paper, and I wrote from 9 AM to 5 PM, stopping only for lunch break or to take a walk around the chilly woods that April of 1993. When I found out the voice I would use – a slightly older and more cynical person recalling his bittersweet past – the words seemed to fall into place. 


Friday, 11 September 2020

New Japanese short fiction: One Love Chigusa

Soji Shimada is one of Japan’s best selling mystery writers. His latest work One Love Chigusa has been published in English as part of the Red Circle Minis collection. The collection, which began in 2018, includes short works from contemporary Japanese authors that have not yet been published in Japanese. This novel approach adds an interesting layer to the reading experience; literary criticism on the original texts is not yet available. 

The strange title One Love Chigusa is fitting for a novella that is indeed strange throughout. This strangeness slowly builds, reaches a crescendo in the final chapter, and then in the very last scenes recedes with the revelation of certain vital information. The bizarre array of characters and events that make up the work contribute to the disconcerting yet wonderful experience of reading One Love.

The story is set in Beijing, although it is easy to forget this as spatial descriptions are often very dream-like and dystopian. Surroundings are described to us from the perspective of the main character, Xie Hoyu. Xie has had half of his brain and body replaced by machinery, and this has fundamentally altered the way he experiences the physical world. People and objects often morph into more disturbing or mechanical versions of themselves. For example, when Xie has been wandering the city, we are given his observations: “the letters of the displays and the neon signs scattered on the walls and rooftops would suddenly start to change to numerals. Some changed slowly; some fluctuated violently... Were they stock prices?” Here, the hallucination itself questions the solidity of our linguistic system, while Xie’s question about stock prices points to the all-pervasive presence of financial motivation in our society. This extract thus evokes feelings of disorientation and instability, and conveys a cynical view of civilisation.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening

The 1980s was a period of rapid change and economic growth for China. In 1979, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping opened special economic zones in southern China, experimenting with market capitalism. Dori Jones Yang, a reporter for BusinessWeek, saw China’s rise in the 1980s and has recorded it for her memoir When The Red Gates Opened.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Tsundoku #13 - September 2020

Autumn, cooler weather (perhaps, depending on where you are?) - back to school, back to work, back to some sort of new normal for most of us...and bookshops are open again all over. September is also a bumper month for new books - so many novels held back from spring and summer releases so let's get going....fiction first as ever which is the bulk of this month's new books...