• Published:
  • February 21, 2017

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Catching Up [ii]: London in December Catching Up [ii]: London in December

December 6th: Translation Workshop with the Poetry Translation Centre (at the Free Word Centre)

This was a novel experience for me: I’ve never translated poetry before, and I certainly can’t claim to be any kind of expert on the topic. But Erica at the Poetry Translation Centre suggested that this needn’t necessarily disqualify me (and might even, in some ways, be an advantage): I would be producing not proper translations of poems, but very literal cribs that would form the raw material for poet-in-residence Clare Pollard (and the rest of the workshop attendees) to work with.

I chose some pieces by 余幼幼 Yu Youyou, a Sichuanese poet whose work I really enjoyed reading in the Winter 2015 issue of Pathlight (translated by Emily Goedde). I wasn’t sure how much the attendees would know about Chinese literature, so I prepared an introduction to cover some of the key ideas. In the end it turned out to be a fairly diverse linguistic mix, which meant everyone approached the task of translation from a slightly different angle.

You can read two of the poems (in their original forms, with the literal and finished translations, as well as comments from Clare and me) on the PTC website: “people’s central street section two” and “do not fear heights”. Translating Yu Youyou was a fun challenge – I’m looking forward to doing another workshop later this year!

December 12th: Dragonworld – Speed Bookclubbing (at the Free Word Centre)


This was the second speed bookclubbing event organised by Paper Republic. Last time round I took part in the Beijing leg, but this was the first time I got to talk about a story I actually translated: “The Death of Zernik” by 朱岳 Zhu Yue (which we published on Read Paper Republic back in summer 2015). It was one of four stories we chose that had the following common characteristics: they all did something interesting with genre; they all involved a death of some kind; and they all contained some degree of uncertainty about how “real” the events they portrayed might be.

We were lucky enough to have a very enthusiastic crowd, and it was fascinating to discover the different ways in which readers had responded to the stories. You can read some of our reflections on the event over at the Free Word Centre site (which also includes an audio recording of part of the discussion).

8 Dave with Readers

Photo credit: Lirong Yao

(Since then I’ve thought of another comparison for “The Death of Zernik” – a story whose title, various participants in the event observed, contradicts the ostensible events of the narrative, in which – spoiler – Zernik does not, in fact, die…):


The Treachery of Fiction: The death of Zernik = Magritte’s pipe.

December 16th: Schools Workshop – “China Changing” at the South Bank Centre

In the autumn, the Southbank Centre got in touch to see if we would be interested in collaborating on some literary events as part of their new “China Changing” festival, which is set to be an annual happening for the next three years. We eventually ended up organising three events: Nicky Harman did a book club on 韩东 Han Dong‘s “Gu Jieming – A Life” (another of our Read Paper Republic stories); Helen Wang ran a panel discussion with Xiaolu Guo虹影 Hong Ying, and 颜歌 Yan Ge; and I did a translation workshop for schools. Not knowing much about the students who would be participating, it was a challenge to come up with activities that would be sufficiently flexible to accommodate a variety of ages and Chinese proficiency levels. Fortunately, I had an excellent collaborator: poet and workshop facilitator Stephanie Turner. We put together a series of exercises that revolved around The Only Child by 郭婧 Guo Jing – a beautiful Chinese graphic novel that contains no dialogue. And it worked out pretty well!


The overall “China Changing” line-up was an impressive blend of diverse artforms, cultures, and communities – it will be intriguing to see where the festival goes next in 2017.