Wednesday, 2 November 2011
From Yang Lian to Munich
Yang Lian at Pen USA
Yesterday's reading with Yang Lian was a splendid romp. We were both to read a couple of our own poems along with translations of them, plus our translations of others. It was a very hybrid, partly impromptu affair. Lian had tranaslated, and read, two of my poems, I hadn't translated any of his yet - that is to come in Shanghai, later in the month. He is, as many will know, a spirited and expressive reader, full of energy, riding the rhythms and melodic values of his poems in the Chinese. His several translators have done pretty good jobs and one of W N Herbert's translations of Lian's poem A Night in the Purple Tulip Palace (Adagio) struck me as a particularly fine, virtuosic work in itself (that sucked/duct rhyme for example is neatly piched), paralleling, through not sounding like, the original. Antoinette remarked afterwards how deep, sonorous and in fact adagio the original was. It's true that Bill's was set higher, sprightlier, being more tenor than baritone, but that gave no less pleasure.
That leaves a fascinating question hanging about voice, and demonstrates what a wide range of options there is for the translator. Options and responsibilities. At best, I suspect, translation is the meeting point of two auditory imaginations, the receiving imagination's pleasure being to release the appropriate genius of the receiving language in the act of understanding and writing. Because you can't take the writing - the process of writing the translation as a piece of writing - out of the equation. There may be a more adagio version of this poem poem that Lian desribed as 'decadent', to be discovered in translation. What we are reading in Bill's translation is the Yang Lian (W N Herbert) poem. But it's a very good poem. The poem of two very fine poets. There may be - and almost certainly are - more to be found. But I got on very well with this, and my own auditory imagination is better for it.
Off to Munich in a couple of hours.