more and more people growing interested in East-West translation and bilingual
poetry, Mississauga poet and translator Anna Yin compiled her translations of
39 poets writing in English and 20 poets writing in Chinese. This resulted in
the bilingual collection Mirrors & Windows. The last section, “Poems
Inspired By Translations” consists of 7 poems, each in English and Chinese, by
began in an ancient legend that said that one can find truth in mirrors. I
discovered my true self in my early thirties when I began writing poetry.
Similar things happen to other poets. Poetry not only becomes our windows to
see outward but also our mirrors to see inwardly. Later, I was invited to
translate poems for some poetry magazines. By helping them, I found translation
also serves both as a window and as a mirror. It amazes me that we are all so
different, yet also alike. Each poem can lead to another interesting world. And
these worlds call us to enter, to explore and to exchange.”— Anna Yin, “Why
Mirrors and Windows?”
this interview, we discuss what makes a successful translation, working on
poetry and translation in tandem, Chinese poetry recommendations, and
Anna van Valkenburg: Mirrors and Windows is
an ambitious (and expansive!) project which brings Chinese poets to
English-speaking readers and English-speaking poets to Chinese readers. Can you
speak about your mission in writing this book, as well as how you chose the poems
which would appear in it?
Anna Yin: In Mirrors and Windows, following George
introduction, I wrote “Why Mirrors and Windows?” I think It evolved through a long period of time. At first, I seemed to
write and translate poetry for myself. However, after my poem “Toronto, No More Weeping” won
an award and CBC Radio broadcasted it in 2005, I recognized that what I wrote
could be used for a good cause. Soon I was asked to translate this poem for a
Chinese radio station. Then more editors and poets invited me to translate
poems for them, the more I started to see cultural-bridging impacts. Three
years ago, I noticed I have translated more than 40 poets’ works, I began to compile them in book form. I
retranslated most of them and added 20 new works. The new ones are mostly in
Part 2 (From Chinese to English) and Part 3 (Poems inspired by translations). I
did hope that I could add more, but I was just too busy with my IT full-time
job, writing and poetry alive workshops.
fascinated with the translation process, as there’s so much involved— the crib
or literal translation; but also the tone of the poem, the language, the
imagery. What makes a good translation? How do you know when you’ve translated
AY: Well, these are the same questions I have asked myself. Translating
poetry is very challenging, especially with two very different languages
(Chinese and English). I find writing my own much easier and sometimes I wish
to alter the original to make the task easier. There are so many translators
but good ones are rare. We need good translators, especially for poetry as “poetry is what gets lost in
process is an open, engaging, and learning process, a journey of collaboration
of words mapping, discoursing, exploring, and restoring. I was lucky that I
could directly communicate with most of the poets in Mirrors and Windows
to discuss their poems. I also researched the culture, history, and politics
behind the poems to try to grasp a deeper understanding of them.
I made some
mistakes in my earlier translation works and re-translated the works and put
the new versions in Mirrors and Windows. In fact, when my first poetry
collection Wings Toward Sunlight (Mosaic Press 2011) was published, it
was suggested that the book be published in both Chinese and English. I was not
confident enough for this and wanted to wait. In 2019, My fifth poetry
collection Love’s Lighthouse was published
in Taiwan in both Chinese and English. Yet when I introduced it, I hesitated to
say it is a book of translations. You see, even with my own work, the original
and the translation are slightly different. Sometimes, I trust my need to make
Yes. as you
mentioned, there is so much involved- the tone, the language, the imagery, with
different cultures, histories, and languages, all are different. So, I try to
find the right words, images, metaphors in the other language to transport and
transfer the “truth” and the
essence of the poem, meanwhile I hope to win native readers’
acceptance and appreciation. I believe a good
translation should be faithful and close to the meaning of the original, but
also be accessible, acceptable, and appreciated in the language of translation.
At poetry and translation workshops, I summarize the translation process as “Make it new”, “Make it known” and “Make it real”. So, if in the translation language world, readers regard my
translation as a good poem, and the messages and merits in the original are
retained, then I know the translation is successful.
AV: In this book, you translate both
from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English. Did you find that one
was easier than the other? Are there any aspects of Chinese or English that
made translating it particularly challenging?
AY: For me
translating from English to Chinese is easier. But, it depends on the poem.
Anything closely tied to culture and history, such as allusions, idioms and
puns, are very challenging. I often struggle to decide what to keep or whether
to use footnotes.
and Windows, the most challenging works were works by George Elliott Clarke
and C.D. Wright. George’s are not
difficult to understand, but he is the master who often playfully uses various
allusions, idioms, dialects and linguistic skills which make translation very
C.D.Wright’s poetry is like abstract paintings or dreams with
mystery prophecies. I was perplexed. I read and re-read and believe I found
some clues, unfortunately, when the poet was still alive, I had not confirmed
these with her.
AV: How does translation work fit into your life as a
poet? Does it propel your own work or hinder it?
AY: I have not
completed a lot of translations yet. This is my first anthology of
translations, as John Robert Colombo hopes, I too hope it is not my last one. I
think translation will fit my life as a poet more in the future. I see the
advantage as a poet who writes in both Chinese and English. I also see a great
need for people with the ability to be both a poet and a translator. I remember
in 2015 I was invited to read at Tree Reading Series and met a lot of wonderful
poets in Ottawa. If there will be more anthologies by me coming, for sure I
need to include more Ottawa poets’ work and
indigenous people’s work.
poetry is for me a loyal love involving a consumption of great time and labor,
but I have learned a lot from it to help my own writing; that is the reason I
added a unique part III: Poems inspired by translations to the book. I hope it
illustrates my journey: Every Step Was into a New World (Al. Moritz)
AV: How does Canadian and Chinese poetry differ? Did
you find any similarities as you were translating?
AY: Well, Anna,
you ask me a tricky question, I am afraid. What do I know about Canadian
poetry? How to define it? I see Canadian
poetry is very diverse, inclusive, and dynamic.
Like any artistic form, everything is changing and evolving. And nowadays, Chinese poetry has also
developed many schools and different trends. I only can speak from my own
impression with limited resources. I have read a lot but randomly, so allow me
to be wrong. I think initially the difference is like ink painting versus oil
painting, Chinese poetry is compact and condense with sparse images… messages and emotions are blended in, and what is left
unsaid in fact is the most important…. But now, the difference is less since global exchange and evolution.
All poets seek to be unique in voice and style. Translation is a kind of
rendering of a new poem --without losing the commonly-recognized beauty and the
original qualities: make it new, make it known, make it real.
AV: If you could recommend one Chinese poet to Canadian readers, who would
AY: I would recommend Luo Fu (1928-2018), a great poet of modern Chinese
poetry. He was born in Hunan, China, the same province I was born in, so please
allow me to be proud! In 1954, he founded the Epoch Poetry Quarterly in Taiwan
with Zhang Mo and Ya Xian, and served as the chief editor for many years. He
authored 37 collections of poems, and his works have been translated into
English, French, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Swedish and etc. His masterpieces are
“Death of the Stone Chamber,” “The Wound of Time”
and “Driftwood”. The most
impressive thing was he kept writing into his 90s. His long poem “Driftwood” was written at
the age of 72, it has 3000 lines. It contains metaphysical reflections on his
view of life and death, and on the overall Chinese reality and culture.
AV: What are you working on right now?
AY: Beside my IT
full-time job, I started my own small press providing editing, translating, and
publishing services, I also continue poetry alive workshops and organize poetry
I am working
on Truth in Slant, a new poetry collection, which I began in 2016. I
hope to pick it up and finish it next year.
Anna Yin was Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet
Laureate (2015-2017) and has authored five poetry collections. Her
poems/translations have appeared in Arc Poetry Magazine, The New York
Times, China Daily, CBC Radio, World Journal and
others. Anna won several poetry awards and teaches Poetry Alive in both English
Anna van Valkenburg is the author of Queen
and Carcass (Anvil Press, A Feed Dog Book... 2020) and the associate
publisher at Guernica Editions. Her poetry and reviews have been featured in The
Puritan, Prism International, december magazine, The Rusty
Toque, and elsewhere. She was born in Konin, Poland, and currently lives in