“I am that man and that man is unaware
Others are also unaware (but regarding these you’d best ask Borges)”
Jorge Luis Borges has been reincarnated as a radical poet from Taipei, and Salsa invites you to her personal hell. In Hsia Yü’s most recently translated book of poems, we come face-to-face with an inferno of identity crises.
Salsa was first published in 1999, but this new bilingual edition, put out last month by Zephyr Press, features the original Chinese text and Steve Bradbury’s revised English translation. Bradbury admits his rendition may leave “many readers befuddled” due to his unwillingness to “narrow the semantic space or resolve syntactical ambiguities.” But Bradbury’s translation often opens up the poems, providing them room to grow in a manner reminiscent of Stephen Mitchell’s renditions of Rilke. Chinese poetry translated into English often reads as spare, solid kernels of thought, most likely due to the Imagist influence of Ezra Pound’s translations in Cathay. Pound’s relationship to Chinese poetry in English has been firmly established; Bradbury, however, following Hsia Yü’s lead, is more interested in breaking new linguistic ground.  Bradbury’s English no doubt embellishes on Hsia Yü’s Chinese, as it allows for more vernacular wandering than Karen An-hwei Lee’s atmospheric and sparse treatment of Hsia Yü, as specifically seen in Lee’s version of “To Be Elsewhere.”  Bradbury’s style loosens up Hsia Yü’s work, and her poems exhibit a conversational playfulness even when dealing with individuality, revolution, and death.
These poems, in Bradbury’s rich versions, take rigid philosophical language and cast it in the mold of interpersonal relationships. They read as if someone wrote a break-up letter to being itself:
“The part of you I am in love with includes the part of you I am not
And strangely enough this only seems to have
‘Returned me to myself’ so much so
I’ve even come to understand the you which has yet to understand
The part of me that understands you”
(from “In the Beginning Was the Written Word”) 
The translation isn’t so befuddling as Bradbury bashfully claims, though Hsia Yü’s language constantly folds into a nest of meta-emotions, acting as a multi-limbed chimera or an ouroboros eating its own tail. What draws the speaker to her lover is a fragment of the lover she isn’t, which allows her “self” to return to her, so that she begins to realize that a fragment of her lover doesn’t understand the fragment of the speaker that does understand the lover. I found the experience of reading many of these verses like a lyric ping-pong match.
August 1st, 2014 / 10:00 am