Poetry judge Matthew Zapruder — poet, translator, academic, and co-editor of Wave Books — wrote the review below. I’m running another of his write-ups tomorrow, as we work our way through the poetry finalists.
The poems in In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu feel strangely connected to our current historical situation. The struggle of this individual poet to find himself, personally and spiritually, through his poems, feels like a contemporary search. Like other T’ang Dynasty poets (Li Po and Tu Fu and many others) Wei Ying-wu writes to his friends, and wonders what he is going to do with his life, why he is living and working the way he is. He is caught between the needs of the world and his spiritual impulses. He wonders and despairs. Yet somehow, even more than Tu Fu and Li Po, whose poems are deservedly beloved in their various translations, Wei Ying-wu in particular feels like our T’ang poet: the one who most directly connects to the spirit of our time, today.
English translations of Chinese poets of the T’ang dynasty period (618-907 A.D.), by Ezra Pound, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, David Hinton, David Young and many others have played a major role in the development of contemporary American poetry. The T’ang was perhaps the greatest era of poetry writing in human history. And the addition of another significant translation would be, in purely historical terms, a major event. The fact that these poems are translated with such clarity, unassuming erudition, good humor, precision and just plain old skill by Red Pine (aka Bill Porter) is unsurprising, given the translator’s previous output, including a translation of the canonical anthology of Chinese Poetry Poems of the Masters, as well as poems by Cold Mountain, several important Sutras, and an edition of the Tao Te Ching. And these new translations are nothing short of a poetic revelation.
As mentioned before, we didn’t announce a poetry longlist mainly because there were only 50-some-odd books eligible for this year’s award, and name-checking half of them would seem to dilute the award . . .
That’s not to say that there weren’t a ton of great collections in translation that came out last year worthy of a little extra attention. In fact, I’m sure the poetry judges could name an addition half-dozen that could’ve made the list in a different year . . .
But anyway, here are the 10 titles that the fantastic people on this year’s poetry panel selected as the finalists:
Nicole Brossard, Selections. Translated from the French by various.1 (Canada, University of California)
René Char, The Brittle Age and Returning Upland. Translated from the French by Gustaf Sobin. (France, Counterpath)
Mahmoud Darwish, If I Were Another. Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah (Palestine, FSG)
Elena Fanailova, The Russian Version. Translated from the Russian by Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler. (Russia, Ugly Duckling Presse)
Hiromi Ito, Killing Kanoko. Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. (Japan, Action Books)
Marcelijus Martinaitis, KB: The Suspect. Translated from the Lithuanian by Laima Vince. (Lithuania, White Pine)
Heeduk Ra, Scale and Stairs. Translated from the Korean by Woo-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill. (Korea, White Pine)
Novica Tadic, Dark Things. Translated from the Serbian by Charles Simic. (Serbia, BOA Editions)
Liliana Ursu, Lightwall. Translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter. (Romania, Zephyr Press)
Wei Ying-wu, In Such Hard Times. Translated from the Chinese by Red Pine. (China, Copper Canyon)
Similar to the fiction longlist, there’s a great deal of country balance here, and a lot of small press love. (Go White Pine and Zephyr!)
Similar to what we did for the fiction titles, starting next week, we’ll be featuring a book a day from this list, with all the write-ups being written by the esteemed panelists (Brandon Holmquest, Jennifer Kronovet, Idra Novey, Kevin Prufer, and Matthew Zapruder).
And as with the BTBA for fiction, the winner will be announced on March 10th at an event that will take place at Idlewild Books.
1 Here’s the complete list, which is really too long to include above without ruining the whole aesthetic of this post: Guy Bennett, David Dea, Barbara Godard, Pierre Joris, Robert Majzels and Erin Moure, Jennifer Moxley, Lucille Nelson, Larry Shouldice, Fred Wah, Lisa Weil, and Anne-Marie Wheeler.
Here, at long last, are the ten poetry finalists for the Best Translated Book of the Year award:
UPDATE: To view or download the official press release, click here.
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To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
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