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This poem is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

‘Eight Taiwanese Poems: A Collaboration’ Shengchi Hsu and Evan Jones
On collaboration, Evan Jones writes:
The notion of translation is suspect, I know. The tongues of the reader – of the language into which the work is translated – and the bilingual expert roll along as if seeking out inconsistencies. And inconsistency is where a good translator of poetry lives, maintaining the impossible balancing of form, music, meaning. What is least obvious is that form travels a straight line pretty much between languages and cultures. Form is often the easy part of translation. Music requires ability and understanding of tradition as well as the workings of a language. But meaning struggles. How do I translate something like ‘Waterloo’, which in European languages takes the reader to a place with historical significance – without saying and explaining Napoleon? And when footnotes are the worst thing that can happen to a poem?

When Lín Zīxiū writes that soldiers are pounding their oars against their boats, he is referring to a historical event, documented in a Tang Dynasty document, the Book of Jin. Soldiers, en route to a battle, beat their oars, vowing to reclaim lost territory. The phrase means ‘unabashed determination’, recognisable to readers of classical Chinese. I have aimed in scenarios like this to stay with the image, and to allow the image to work. Shengchi Hsu sent me incredible documents full of hyperlinks that offered literal translation, homophonic readings, visual and oral explanations, from which I have worked to make poems in English. We talked through the documents and the time difference between Manchester and Taichung, Shengchi responding to my questions with detailed answers. Though these are cast as co-translations, I’d prefer to think of them as collaborations between us. Shengchi has carried the heavier load.


Song of the Tigers in the Taiwan Mountains

by Qiū Féngjiã (1864–1912)

According to official histories,
there never were tigers in the mountains.
Now there are. But how?
Their existence defies imperial edict
and the laws of the Nine Heavens.
They range the mountains like jackals
or wolves, hunting and eating among
abandoned farmsteads and orchards.
These plots of land are overgrown
and uncared for. So-called savages had
settled there, building lives determined
not by the emperor but by belief –
...


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