Matt Turner

Between the Devil and God

Li Zhimin’s 'Zhongalish'

Photo of Li Zhimin (right) courtesy of the Kelly Writers House.

Best known in China for his translations of J. H. Prynne into Chinese, poet and scholar Li Zhimin is known in the US primarily as a fixture at Chinese American Association of Poetry and Poetics conferences and as an editor of the poetics journal Espians. In his English-language book of poems, Zhongalish: Think and Feel Globally, Li continues his cross-cultural work by exploring the lyric subject as a linguistic construct, as well as examining the mutual influence of Chinese and American “avant” poetry practices generally.

Translating difficulty

On Ouyang Jianghe

Ouyang Jianghe’s poetry presents to any translator the difficult decision of whether or not to pursue his work as a language artifact to be translated as close to literally as possible, or whether to amplify its implicit beliefs, and its abstractions — through a historical lens, or otherwise. But since he is said by translator Austin Woerner to be known as the “most hermetic of the Chinese hermetic poets,” we can expect a pronounced “cryptic language” that doesn’t easily yield access to, as Woerner describes it, “the poem’s mystery.”[2] In such a case, translating in a straightforward manner may be an unproductive task. So, in Woerner’s case, he decides to “show only enough [of the original] to tempt the imagination, inviting the reader to see in it what she wishes,” using the poem as “a tool for contemplation, a mandala or maze among whose many turnings the reader can pick her own path” (23).

[I]f there are strong ambiguities in the original poem, there’s no need to select only one possible sense and then translate that: instead, translate one ambiguity into another! Don’t try to solve the problem: translate it! — J. H. Prynne[1] 

The visions and worlds of Hagiwara Sakutaro

Photo of Hagiwara Sakutaro (right) from Wikimedia Commons.

You may smash a fly but the fly’s “thing in itself” will not die. You’d simply have smashed the phenomenon called the fly. — Schopenhauer

So says the epigraph to Hagiwara Sakutaro’s “roman in the style of a prose poem,” Cat Town (1935) — in the eponymous volume which also includes his collections Howling at the Moon (1917) and Blue Cat (1923), as well as a selection of other poems.

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