Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Muse: New Chinese Poetry Anthology

Copper Canyon Press, the prestigious nonprofit independent publisher, released earlier this month a bilingual anthology, Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China, featuring more than 100 poems by 49 poets born after 1945. Chinese editor Qingping Wang, editor of poetry and fiction at the People's Republic of China Literature Publishing House, made the selections and wrote the Editor's Introduction. In the United States, Chinese literature scholars and award-winning translators Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin assisted the publishing project and contribute the Preface. According to the publisher, many of the poems in the anthology are appearing in English for the first time. 

Among the poets whose work is represented in the collection are Shu Cai, Gu Cheng, Bai Hua, Mang KeYu Jian, Zhang Shuguang, Zhai Yongming, Shu Ting, Wang Xiaoni,  Xi Chuan, and Zhou Zan. Biographical sketches are included for all.

The poets' work, arranged chronologically in the anthology (beginning with Shi Zhi, born in 1948, and ending with Wang Ao, born in 1976), was translated into English by more than 40 preeminent translators from around the world, including Joseph R. Allen, John Balcom, Shelley Wing Chan, Nick Kaldis, Richard King, Steve Riep, and Michelle Yeh. A brief collection of translators' notes is included.

Forrest Gander, recipient of the 14th annual Witter Bynner Poetry Fellowship*, contributed the Foreword, "Open Wide". He describes the anthology as "a thrilling slice of Chinese poetry in the Age of Globalization." The featured poets, he writes, "are making Chinese poetry new."

The publication has a number of sponsors, including International Literary Exchanges of the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports U.S.-based presses in publishing and promoting contemporary anthologies in translation, and the General Administration of Press and Publication, People's Republic of China, which concurrently published the anthology.

To celebrate the anthology's publication, poets Xi Chuan, founder of the literary magazine Qingxiang (Tendency) and editor of Dangdai Gouji Shitan (Contemporary Poetry International), and Zhou Zan, editor of Wings, a journal on contemporary Chinese poetry by women, embarked on a six-city reading tour that began September 29 in Seattle, Washington, at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and ended at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on October 12. The stops in-between were Port Townsend, Washington; Chicago, Illinois, where Li-Young Lee and Maurice Kilwein Guevara joined the reading; Iowa City, Iowa; and New York City, where Marilyn Chin and Li-Young Lee also read at the event hosted at the Unterberg Poetry Center at 92nd Street Y by Forrest Gander.

Here is the English translation by Steve Riep of an excerpt of Zhou Zan's poem "Wings":

[. . .] When wings are full, the bodies will feel
a kind of ease and freedom, like a ball-shaped buoy
that comes from within and swells outward;
thus, the fins of a swimming fish
are by no means retrogressive ornaments, but merely imply that
the heart's freedom must be symmetrical to the flow of the water.

Following are the first five lines of Xi Chuan's marvelous "Ode to Skin", translated by Lucas Klein:

The creases of the pillow press into the skin. The claws of
the insect leave their mark on the skin. Acupressure
cupping glasses cup up blood spots from beneath the skin.
Poisonous blood spots.

Skin. My silent surface. [. . .]

This excerpt from "Sky" by Mang Ke, translated by Yibing Huang and Jonathan Stalling, shows how diverse the voices and poetic sensibilities are:


The sun rises
The sky is blood-soaked
Like a shield


Bring your warmth
Bring your love
And use your green boat
To carry me far away

The anthology is available through Copper Canyon, Amazon, SPD Books, and other booksellers. I'm delighted to own a copy!

* The Witter Bynner Fellowship is provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry in conjunction with the Library of Congress. In 2011, Gander, whose collections include Core Samples from the World and Science & Steepleflower, and Robert Bringhurst, a poet, book designer, typographer, historian, and linguist, received $7,500 awards. They were chosen by former United States Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin.

Copper Canyon Press on FaceBook

Chinese Poets Visit Six U.S. Cities on Reading Tour, FaceBook

Of Interest

"Art Talk with Chinese Poet Zhou Zan", NEA Art Works Blog, October 12, 2011

Free Verse - Poems from Push Open the Window (Included here are brief bios of both poets and translators. The anthology includes sketches and profiles of both poets and translators.)

Lucas Klein, "Xi Chuan: Poetry of the Anti-lyric", Cerise Press, Vol. 3, No. 7, Summer 2011

Asian Division, Library of Congress, which holds more than 2.8 million books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, an electronic media from Asia

Poetry and Literature Center, Library of Congress


Joyce Wycoff said...

I love ...
Bring your warmth
Bring your love
And use your green boat
To carry me far away

Thanks for carrying me far away to hear voices that speak the universal language of the heart in a different melody.

S. Etole said...

Such diversity ...

Lucas said...

An informative piece! For more on contemporary Chinese poetry, and my translations of Xi Chuan--whose selected poems will be out from New Directions next year as Notes on the Mosquito--see I'll be linking to this write-up tomorrow!


Louise Gallagher said...

What gorgeous poetry!

Thank you.

Ruth said...

One of the many, many things I enjoy here at your resourceful pages is to browse book covers, something I am happily obsessed with as I work on my book project. Thank you for these riches you supply.