Poems come welling out of silence

The title of this monthly magazine of Chinese poetry is taken from a poem by Yuan Mei: the poem beneath it on our first issue’s cover  is by the great contemporary American poet and essayist Gary Snyder. It’s certainly not a translation in any common sense of the word, but the poem that wells from the silence whence this one has come was, surely, deeply influenced by Gary Snyder’s enduring interest in Zen, and in East Asian cultures as well. Gary Snyder’s most famous translation appeared in 1958 when he introduced China’s Bodhisattva hermit poet Han Shan to Americans in his book Rip-Rap and Cold Mountain Poems. In all his work he shows Lao Tzu’s “high quality information”, giving a contemporary direction to us to do the best we can to provide only that kind of information in the form of new translations of Classical Chinese poetry and comments on translation by contemporary working translators in the pages of this on-line magazine.

The Warrior/Scholar constellation guarding Gary Snyder’s poem is K’uei Hsing, a scholar raised to the status of stellar constellation, and God, or at least Patron Saint, of Poetry,  protector of all honest scholar poets. You can link to one version of his story in the reference section of Ocean of Poetry ??,  a grand edifice of traditional Chinese architecture (if your imagination is up to it today), a soaring hall spread over time as well as space. Both the image and the Gary Snyder poem also previously appeared on the cover of the Summer 1989 issue of The Literary Review, an all-Chinese poetry issue upon which our library will draw freely.

While will provide an ever growing library of poems and a variety of reference works, “poems come welling out of silence” will bring you new material every month from contemporary translators of Chinese, offering not just the poems, but the translators’ comments on their own work and, sometimes, on the process of translating.  From our point of view what a translator of poetry has to make, finally, before he or she is done, is always a poem,  a poem, not a prose explanation, an array of footnotes, or a formal “deconstruction”.  But there are also occasions when a poem that “can’t be translated” or even a phrase or a line that is difficult to render can offer a translator the chance to talk about translation as an art and a craft.  It may even occasionally offer a chance to write about Chinese poetry itself, or, about Chinese culture in general. We hope that any of this kind of writing that is found here will be as entertaining as it is informative.

We pray to K’uei Hsing, and to Bodhisattvas like Han Shan (himself the Buddhist Patron Saint of Literature), for guidance when we blunder as we work toward a fuller understanding of what can be done with a vehicle like this one. Speaking as first time magazine editors, we are pretty sure that our success depends on you, coming back to read brand new translations fresh from the great list of  English language translators we already have lined up, and to read essays (like the one scheduled from David Hinton for this coming Summer, to be drawn from his upcoming book, Hunger Mountain, a Fieldguide to Mind and Landscape, an intellectual offshoot of his Chinese translation. Of course there will be discussions of translation (like the one upcoming in issue #2 by Red Pine) by the same people whose poem translations will fill the magazine. We also are likely to publish interviews of and by our translator contributors, with an “interview” about co-laboritive translation done collaboratively by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping coming soon. Aside from this great variety of issue by issue contributions, the magazine will have several regular departments. Right now, take note that we are offering you the first of the several departments we envision, already up and running, WORDs. It’s a WORD-FOR-WORD translation with explanatory prose attached to every word-for-word line.  You are invited to make your own translations from these working notes, and submit them for discussion and possible publication. The first word-for-word is mine, of a poem you will probably already know.  Other poet-translators, including, we hope the Canadian Jan Walls will regularly do guest shots here, adding to your store of works to translate.

We will also promote and support any and all efforts at “experimental” translation, wherever that may mean. Send us finished work or just ideas. Poems set to music, poems chanted, sets of still photographs as ways of capturing the imagistic language of many quatrains?  Multi-media creations? The Chinese writing system makes many Chinese poems a sort of multi-media creation, at least relative to a poem created in any alphabetically rendered language. We’ll see what we shall see, and we promise to view your experiments with open minds.

It’s definitely on our list to try a couple of ways of teaching Chinese character recognition, of teaching you enough characters to begin to read Chinese poetry for yourself. Writing and speaking are separate problems, and, in fact, there are a couple of very good programs to teach you to speak modern spoken standard Chinese. But right now we have plans to teach committed learners five hundred to a thousand characters; and with that many you can readily get the “piths and gists” of short poems, and access at least  English/Chinese  dictionaries.  If you read my essay “Once More on the Empty Mountain” in our library, reading the parts relevant to characters several times, you just might find yourself learning ten or twenty characters.  We know you’ll learn three.

The magazine will give you access to new poems in English as they are being created from the original Chinese by American poet-translators. We are proud to be giving you a chance to see new poems first, usually before their first publication.  To put it simply, this whole site is being constructed, filled and refilled, by people who love poetry for people who love poetry. Explore it, and let us know what you think.  Take a look at the magazine, have a browse in The Ocean of Poetry. You are here at the beginning:  you can watch it grow. You can help it grow.

Peace, your editors
J.P.Seaton (Poems Come Welling Out of Silence?
Stuart Carduner (Ocean of Poetry ??)