Poetry, Translation

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming introduces:

Not Written Words 不是文字
By Xi Xi 西西, translated by Jennifer Feeley

In her introduction to Not Written Words, a collection of poems by Xi Xi translated from the Chinese into English, Jennifer Feeley, the translator, notes that the poet “consistently uses plain and understated language, yet her poetry is nevertheless provocative and philosophical. Her early poems are light, whimsical, and abundant in musicality and wordplay” (p. xxi). This is all true. Xi Xi’s poems are also highly socially engaged and reflect working class life in Hong Kong. Reading her poems sometimes offers a transformative experience, as one reads not only for the meaning but also the very brilliance and boundless possibilities of the language itself. When translating Xi Xi’s poems, Feeley is sometimes delightfully inventive—introducing rhymes, wordplay, puns—as straightforward translations would deprive the originals of some of their discernible wittiness and playfulness. Although admitting her inability to “capture the full range of meanings” in one of the poems (p. 147), Feeley makes up for these very occasional lapses with her thoughtful decisions made in translating many of the poems in the collection. This is what I call the paradox of faithfulness in translation—the translator has to be somewhat unfaithful in order to achieve faithfulness to the spirit and linguistic sparks of the original poems.

Zephyr Press and MCCM Creations, 2016