Tuesday 19 November 2019

Martin Stannard, "The Moon is About 238,855 Miles Away"

Martin Stannard is a poet and critic, and lives in Nottingham. He was the founding editor of joe soap’s canoe (1978-1993), a poetry magazine some people regard as legendary. It can be found archived here. He was also poetry editor of the online art and poetry magazine Decals of Desire. His most recent full-length collection is Poems for the Young at Heart (Leafe Press, 2016). A chapbook, Items, was published by The Red Ceilings Press in 2018. Forthcoming in 2020 are a pamphlet, The Review, from Knives Forks and Spoons, and a full-length collection from Leafe Press that currently has a working title of Reading Moby-Dick and Various Other Matters

In 2007-8 he was the Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at Nottingham Trent University but, that year aside, he taught English, Literature and Culture at a university in China from 2005 until 2018. In spite of having failed to learn to speak Chinese apart from some very basic everyday stuff, such as talking about the weather with cab drivers, translating classic poetry from the Tang dynasty period has occupied him alongside his own poetry for the last five or six years. Shoestring Press have just published The Moon is About 238,855 Miles Away, a collection of these translations / versions. You can see more details about it on the publisher's website here.  

The following is the book’s introductory note that explains the versions / translations:  

From The Moon is About 238,855 Miles Away, by Martin Stannard
The originals of the poems here are from the Tang dynasty (618-907), a time generally regarded as the great period of classical Chinese poetry. The versions here are just that: versions, and not direct translations, hence the “after….” at the beginning of their attributions.

My process has been to create a direct translation, and then rework the poem to some degree, a degree that varies depending upon the individual poem. In some cases I have removed names and/or places, or Chinese idioms or cultural references that either do not usefully translate or that would be meaningless to a reader without the necessary knowledge of Chinese culture. In some cases I have moved things around quite a lot, and in most cases I have also slipped in a phrase or line of my own. Sometimes titles have been changed. In every case I have attempted to create a poem that is able to stand alone, rendered in the English I use in my everyday life and in my own poetry, but which stays as faithful as I know how to the meaning, tone and mood of the original. I am no Sinologist, and purists may object, but so it goes. 

It is worth noting too, I think, that from living and working in China for twelve years I came to learn that many (if not most) of today’s Chinese readers do not fully understand all the subtle references and allusions in China’s classical poems, a fact that has given me the confidence to leave some things out. My ultimate aim has been to make poems that give pleasure and food for thought. One can only try. 

Reading at Sunrise

after 辰诣超师院读禅经 by Liǔ Zōngyuán 

At sunrise the pines are bathed in fog and drip with dew
Bamboo in the courtyard has taken on the colour of moss 

I draw water from the well
Clean my teeth and dust myself down 
I read from scripture as I walk

I’ve been too long in darkness and want to rewrite what I think I am
But it’s all I can do to read quietly to myself

Looking at the Moon

after月夜 by Dù Fǔ 

I imagine you shivering alone in your room
Looking out the window at the moon

You are far away in the capital 
But distance does not separate us

I imagine the fragrance of your hair
And remember the jade bracelet upon your arm

You know I will look at the same moon 
Until I come to clear your tears away with my kisses

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