stands in the sky.
An orphan with a huge head
is nailed to the boundless sky in light-blue ink
like a Jesus
without grief on his face, . . .
—from "Night of the Full Moon," by Shen Haobo, translated from Chinese by Liang Yujing (Fall 2017)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I started translating poetry more than ten years ago when I was still in China studying English literature. When I studied Keats and Shelley, I would try to render them in Chinese. Later, I began writing in English and translating from Chinese into English. One of my first attempts, as I remember, was an ancient Chinese poem by Yuan Haowen (1190-1257), telling of the love story between two wild geese. When one of them gets netted, the other commits suicide. That poem was published in Epiphany in 2011.
What are you reading right now?
Right now my reading is primarily related to my PhD research, all about contemporary Chinese poetry in general and Yi Sha in particular. But last year, I read nearly all the poetry books of Kim Addonizio. Great poet. Recently a group of her poems that I translated appeared in Shijie Wenxue (World Literature), a Beijing-based top magazine publishing world literature in Chinese translation, and I received a lot of quite positive feedback.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I always learn from other writers when I read their works. I appreciate Chinese poets like Gu Cheng, Yi Sha and Shen Haobo but the one to whom I’m greatly indebted is my former teacher, Chinese-Australian poet Ouyang Yu, who has kept inspiring me with his originality through the years. Among American poets, I often read E. E. Cummings, Allen Ginsberg and Robert Bly’s translation of Tomas Tranströmer. I’m especially impressed by poets such as Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and, yes, Kim Addonizio.
What other professions have you worked in?
Before coming to New Zealand, I taught English literature in China for seven years. Currently I’m a fulltime PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington. My research focuses on Yi Sha as the representative of Chinese minjian poetry – it’s a tricky term in the context of contemporary Chinese poetry that has multiple meanings such as “folk,” “oral,” “unofficial,” “indigenous,” etc.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I once dreamed of becoming a soccer player but I was not so athletic. I had good skills and a coach wanted me to practice with him. I gave it up because in China, if you choose to receive professional training, you are put in a different educational system set for athletes. Both my parents and I didn’t want that.
What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
"Night of the Full Moon” attracted me among other poems by Shen Haobo with its imagination and religious implication, which is rare in contemporary Chinese poetry. Chinese society is basically a secular one, and most Chinese poets are not religious persons. Shen Haobo, as far as I know, is not a Christian. However, I was surprised by the religious elements in his poetry, including Buddhism and Christianity, which indicates he knows a lot about religion. In this poem, he compares the full moon to a huge-headed orphan nailed to the sky like a Jesus who helplessly watches the miserable world. That’s impressive.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I'm not so sensitive to places. In China, I lived in my hometown, Changde, for eighteen years. Then I studied in Wuhan for six years before moving to Changsha to work. After another seven years (with five months in the US), I came to New Zealand. I don’t know where I’m going in the future but am always anticipating changes. I’ve written about China, America and New Zealand. They are not much different to me. Perhaps there is some holy place in my heart that keeps influencing my writing, but for now, I don’t know.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Editors I submit my work to, for I seldom share my unpublished writing with friends. Sometimes I would post my Chinese work online or in other media and let my fellow poets read and make comments, as in China they generally do not consider work posted online as published. However, this method seems not applicable in the English-speaking world, as most magazines won’t accept stuff that has already appeared online. I have to keep them secret.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I guess it would be calligraphy. I began to learn and practice Chinese calligraphy with a private tutor at the age of six but gave it up after I went to university. I won a number of awards during that period. I quit because I lost interest and wanted to find another art form to express myself. As I grow older, I often reconsider my previous decision. Maybe one day I will do it again.
What are you working on currently?
Currently, apart from my PhD thesis, I’m translating a full collection of Shen Haobo’s poetry, which is exciting. There has been some scholarship on him but his poems are generally not available in English translation. Another Chinese poet I’m translating is Dai Weina, a young, talented poet, whose mesmerizing work is different from most Chinese poets I know. I’m also translating some British, American and New Zealand poets into Chinese, including Sasha Dugdale, Jack Ross and Anna Jackson.
LIANG YUJING grew up in China and is currently a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His poems and translations have appeared in a number of magazines across the world, including Modern Poetry in Translation and Boston Review. He is the Chinese translator of Best New Zealand Poems 2014. His forthcoming books of translation include What Do Women Want: Poems by Kim Addonizio (in China) and Zero Distance: New Poetry from China.