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And a few notes on Chinese poet Xi Chuan

Chinese-language translator Lucas Klein recently gave an interview titled “Translators of the World, Unite!” with Patty Nash for Asymptote Journal.  Klein discusses the challenges of translation work in today’s marketplace, from the invisibility of the translator to difficulties in receiving fair compensation.  He also addresses “translation and translation studies as a social movement” and the effects of the internet on translation.

Certainly the Internet complicates the situation for translators… Buzzfeed, for instance, has decided that it wants to internationalize, but not if it means paying translators to be part of the process. So they’ve contracted with Duolingo to have language-learners, unpaid and presumably inexperienced, translate Buzzfeed content as part of their language-learning process. I try to avoid clicking onto Buzzfeed pages because of this, by the way.

— Lucas Klein

Klein is the translator for one of my favorite poetry collections, Notes on the Mosquito by Xi Chuan. I had the pleasure of hearing Xi Chuan speak on a panel about translation at AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) last year. I believe Klein was scheduled to speak as well, but was either delayed or absent.

The panel was one of the more interesting discussions I attended during the conference, even though I personally cannot read or speak any Chinese languages. The mechanics and intricacies of translation to/from Chinese are, well, foreign to me, but I could still understand the struggle to capture the nuance of the original poetry. I could feel the intimacy the poets and translators had with the languages they worked in.

I also learned that Xi Chuan had translated two of my favorite poets — Gary Snyder and Czesław Miłosz — into Chinese. I asked Xi Chuan about the process, pleasures and challenges of translating these authors. He responded eloquently, I remember. He also added, regarding Miłosz, “I don’t speak Polish. So I made two Polish friends.”

I found that humorous, although I don’t know why.  Of course, to do a good job, Xi Chuan would need to consult with some native Polish speakers.  But I love that Miłosz is being translated into Chinese, and that Xi Chuan is being translated into English.