This week for Translation Tuesday, Asymptote is pleased to present the lush poem “Gold Dust’s Sleep (Seven Fragments).” These fragments from Japanese luminary Yonezawa Nobuko revel in the fusion of concept and image in miniature. Inspired by the Symbolist tradition, Yonezawa’s poetry seems to refract the very words that make it up, allowing for subjective particulates to surface from the flow of experience and conspire with the reader. In this skillful translation, the concrete style of the original is maintained, so that the form of the stanzas themselves seem to impress a visual coherence and solidity to the movement of the language. As if struck with an afterthought, the poems end with suspended lines that evoke a response and an elaboration. With movement and the quotidian electrified, they breathe.
Gold Dust’s Sleep (Seven Fragments)
That moment, like the blind,
at full speed,
gold dust was sleeping
faded color of dreams.
just a flower planted in a beaker.
Spotted as if with falling blood,
gladiolus. READ MORE…
The days are opening wide this season, like the pages of a new book: for most of us growing longer and fuller. It’s a good thing, because we’ve got a lot to catch you up on. This week, we’re bringing a full dosage of global literature news with achievements from Hong Kong, rolling publications by Czech talent, and literary commemorations gliding through the literal end of an era in Japan.
Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hong Kong
This spring has been a series of firsts for Hong Kong literature. Continuing from my previous dispatch in March on Xi Xi winning the Newman Prize for Chinese literature, historically awarded to writers from mainland China and Taiwan, World Literature Today is dedicating its first annual city issue to writing from Hong Kong. Sourcing contributions from writers, translators, and academics at the forefront of Hong Kong literature, the issue includes poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction with a focus on food and languages as well as a selection of recommended reading about the city. Xi Xi and Bei Dao are among the list of writers featured in the magazine, as is Wawa—recently showcased in Asymptote’s Winter 2019 issue in an interview with Poupeh Missaghi, our editor-at-large in Iran—and Chris Song, one of the winners of the Fifth Hai Zi Poetry Prize which announced its results a few weeks prior.
To celebrate the launch of the issue, Cha, Hong Kong’s resident online literary journal, is organizing an event on April 27 at Bleak House Books, where eight contributors will be reciting and discussing their works. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, founding co-editor of Cha and the guest editor of World Literature Today’s Hong Kong feature, will also speak about the conception of the special edition.
Juliet Winters Carpenter is an award-winning translator of Japanese poetry and prose noted for promoting contemporary Japanese authors (including Minae Mizumura, Noboru Tsujihara, and Ryōtarō Shiba) to English readers by rendering their distinctive prose into precise yet colloquial English. Pushkin Press reissued her translation of Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary in a beautiful edition last month. Carpenter describes the wry self-awareness that comes across in Tawara’s poetry with a sense of kinship, suggesting that a degree of self-cognizance, in addition to close reading and writing skills, is required from a translator.
Elisa Taber: Kenneth Rexroth famously commented on Japanese poetry and translation, “It is (…) more essentially poetic. Many, especially Japanese, editors and translators have been embarrassed by this intensity and concentration and have labored to explain each poem until it has been explained away.” You seem to encapsulate, rather than expound, the meaning of each verse, by translating the tanka form in three lines rather than the customary five. Were you wary of over-explaining Tawara’s work?