[FEATURE] Six Poems by Duo Duo and Translated by Lucas Klein in ๐‘Š๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘‘๐‘  ๐‘Ž๐‘  ๐บ๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘–๐‘›

Translation Editor Lucas Klein‘s note: On the 9th or 10th of July, depending on where you are in the world, Cha hosted โ€œThe Force of Forging Words: A Translation Conversationโ€ to launch my translation of Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems by Duo Duo ๅคšๅคš, published as part of The Cecile and Theodore Margellos World Republic of Letters by Yale University Press. Moderated by Chaโ€™s editor-in-chief Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, the event put me in conversation with my fellow poetry translators Nick Admussen, Chris Song, and Jami Proctor Xu. They had been prepped with the following prompt for discussion:

In โ€œThe Force of Forging Words,โ€ Duo Duo writes: โ€œoutside force, continuing on / from enough, is insufficient hallucination // โ€ฆ // this is rationaleโ€™s wasteland / but the ethics of poetry.โ€

What are the ethics of poetry? Is poetry the wasteland of the rationale, or of the rational? Is translation a kind of hallucination, and is it sufficient? What care needs to be taken to translate such poetry? Our speakers will discuss these questions with the translator to celebrate the publication of Words as Grain.

With apologies for the clichรฉ, I was blown away by both the warmth and wisdom of what Nick, Chris, and Jami had to say in response to these questions and my translations, and by Tammyโ€™s follow-up questions, as well. The following suite of poems are those that we read during the event.

I began the event by reading โ€œThe Force of Forging Words,โ€ as it served as the title poem for our event. I chose it because the poem best defines for me some of Duo Duoโ€™s literary philosophy. As part of his speech, Nick read โ€œWriting That Can’t Let Go of Its Grief Examines the Cotton Field,โ€ which he described in a tweet, “One of those poems that touches and incites me in a way far afield from its denotation, but well inside its design.” This was followed by Chris reading โ€œWordsโ€โ€”in part to disagree with what he saw implied by Duo Duoโ€™s poem; you can read his rundown of what he said in โ€œEntering a State of No-Self: Some Thoughts on Poetry and Translation.โ€ After that, Jami read โ€œThe Sunlight at the Art Studioโ€ as part of her contribution. Later I read โ€œPromise,โ€ a poem I find atypical for Duo Duo for being so accessible, though at the same time it is characteristically Duo Duo in its linguistic sensuality. I also read โ€œAmsterdamโ€™s River,โ€ a poem I discuss in the introduction for how it demonstrates the active choices the translator must make.

Hopefully these poems will go some of the way to present and also recapture the warmth and wisdom of what was said during the Translation Conversation. The poems span much of Duo Duoโ€™s literary career, and they offer, I think, an excellent entryway into the work presented in Words as Grain. That, too, is a force from the forging of words.


outside force, continuing on
from enough, is insufficient hallucination

light vanishes with feathers
stillness cannot be forfended

candles stuck with wings know only to advance
whatโ€™s most loved is dark and quiet

this is rationaleโ€™s wasteland
but the ethics of poetry

dream and the boat on the shore must join forces
if words can spill from their own bounds

only there, to test the hearing of the end




ๆฒ‰ๅฏ‚ๆ˜ฏๆ— ๆณ•้˜ฒๅพก็š„







bronze has exiled the witnessโ€™s tongue
grass relates the incompetence of words

after hearing the family leave with their antibodies
the ripping left by the twig fence is unheard

river and riverbed in endless litigation
the bitter woman has kneeled the embankment white and clean

see the bowl-holding statue standing forever
driving out locusts with collective pacing

the river engages once again in the explanation of blood
the weak who despise the journey will have only mileage



they are autonomous
clambering together
to resist their own meanings
read them and they murder at point-blank
every morning I get angry at these things
I hate these things that as soon as theyโ€™re
written are his writing

the dreams Iโ€™ve had
are gas leaked from his head
a composure behind having
plucked the last good tooth
quivering on his face
like a patient whoโ€™s forgotten to get a blood transfusion
he rushes out the door
heโ€™s looked down on himself for a long time.



illuminate the bygone things
in the locked-up dimness of the distant past
you cannot see the hand that guides details
gods are absent

light is conserving its shine
and does not suspect amid crooked color
those points of highlight, which yet invite
the small jar on the scale, a little honey
and insect chirps, to enter together
the pupil of expanding evensong

within, more spacious than a battlefield
within, things are vanquished by emptiness

in this illumination where loss has hit its limit
see the beauty of the hand that wipes the tears
the beauty of the hand that shatters the dish

there is still tragedy, but then there is still the landscape



I love, love that my shadow
is a parrot, that I love to eat
what it loves to eat, that I love to give you what I donโ€™t have
I love asking, do you still love me
I love your auriculae, that they love to hear: I love adventure

I love aroused rooms inviting us to lie down as their roof
I love lying on my side, casting a shadow for a straight line
casting a string of villages for a voluptuous body
I want the mole nearest your lip
to know, this is my promise

I love that the intelligence in my dreams is an ambitious groom
I love eating raw meat, staring straight at hell
but I still love secretly playing the violin in your embrace
I love putting out the lights early, and waiting
for your body to relight the room

I love that when I go to sleep, the pillow is covered in plums
and that when I wake, the plums go back to their branches
I love that the waves attract the forward deck all night long
I love to shout: youโ€™ll be back
I love tormenting the port like this, and tormenting words

I love controlling myself before the table
I love sticking my hand in the sea
I love spreading my five fingers out at once
to grab tightly to the edge of the wheat field
I love that my five fingers are still your five boyfriends

I love that memory is a life a bit less
but still more than what a woman misses when
walking toward me, as if that girl with the violin case
thirty years ago, on the street, in the dusk
were still smiling at me for no reason

and I love even more that we are still a pair of torpedoes
waiting for someone to shoot us again
I love joining with you in the depths of the sea, that you
are mine, only mine, I still
love to say it, love to sing my promiseโ€”



in the November nightfall city
there is only Amsterdamโ€™s river


the tangerines on my tree at home
shake in the autumn wind

I close the window, but no use
the river flows upstream, but no use
that sun inlaid with pearls, rising

no use
pigeons disperse like iron filings
and the streets with no boys suddenly seem so spacious

after autumn rain
the roof thatโ€™s crawling with snails
โ€”my country

slowly floats by, on Amsterdamโ€™s river



Lucas Klein has lived on three continents, in five US states, and in the capital, in internationally unrecognised, and in special administrative regions of China. He has been a radio DJ, a union organiser, and a factotum for a literary journal whose editor later died a day after losing a congressional election. He earned a PEN/Heim grant for his translations ofย Duo Duoโ€™s ๐‘Š๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘‘๐‘  ๐‘Ž๐‘  ๐บ๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘–๐‘›ย (Yale University Press, 2021), and has also published translations ofย Xi Chuanย (New Directions, 2012, 2023),ย Mang Keย (Zephyr, 2018), andย Li Shangyinย (NYRB, 2018), and is executive editor ofย the Hsu-Tang Library of Classical Chinese Literatureย (Oxford). He has two kids and teaches at Arizona State University. (Photograph of Lucas ยฉ Zhai Yongming.)

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