◉ Translator’s Foreword
◉ Five Poems
◉ Short Tongue @ Sea Breeze Books
by Daryl Lim Wei Jie
I first encountered the poetry of Wang Mun Kiat 黄文杰 when I translated some of his poems for a special issue of the Australian journal Cordite. The editors of the issue, Alvin Pang and Joshua Ip, took a novel and, in retrospect, necessary approach, deciding to feature only non-English poetry from Singapore—in English translation. Readers, who might have been more familiar with the English poetry scene in Singapore, were presented with an unexpected and different view of Singaporean poetry, a rich landscape that went beyond the other three official languages (Malay, Chinese and Tamil).
This breathtaking vista contributed to my own growing realisation that, despite being a wildly polyglot society, Singaporean literature has tended to operate within language boundaries, with a few notable exceptions. As a Singapore poet writing in English, I knew next to nothing about what had been happening in the other scenes. The three short poems of Wang’s I translated, along with a wonderful poetic sequence by Chua Chim Kang, provided me with a little window into this other world. Wang’s wry playfulness and pithy sardonic humour surprised and delighted me; his poems reminded me of the kind of unexpectedly incisive quip one might receive from an observant brooding uncle at a family gathering.
Thus, when I found out that Wang’s collection, Short Tongue 短舌, was coming out from TrendLit Publishing, I suggested to the editors, possibly in a state of slight inebriation, that they might consider releasing a dual-language edition of the book. I had in mind two groups of readers: the first, the reader with no knowledge of Chinese; the second, the all-too-common Singapore reader with a limited, occasionally functional competence in Chinese (the “need hanyu pinyin to read Chinese kind of Chinese”, to quote singers Benjamin Kheng and Annette Lee from their hit song, ‘We Are……’). The English would serve as an aid to comprehension, but also open the reader to the possibilities of contemporary Chinese poetry in Singapore. Perhaps a whole generation, scarred by encounters with their Chinese textbooks, might find out for themselves, belatedly, that Chinese could be a language of play and delight. (I include myself, of course.)
That foolhardy suggestion has somehow become reality. It’s been quite the journey getting here. Not being a professional translator, I have approached the poems in the only way I know how—that is to say, as a poet. That is also to say that I have no real method, nor can I really explain myself. But perhaps the closest approximation is this: that I tried as best I could to inhale and internalise the spirit of each poem, and then to breathe it out, an expression that is undoubtedly embedded in my own sense of the poetic. (To go further, I think any successful translation has to alter, even slightly, the translator and their relationship with the languages they work with. For this reason I have found translation deeply meaningful and provocative. It has loosened the sometimes too-tight grip the English language has had on me, opening up the space for new poetry.)
The difficulties I faced were two-fold. As I discussed the poems and their translations with the editors at TrendLit, the full range of specific allusions and references that Wang was making began to emerge more clearly. But I also realised that it would have been too onerous to fully annotate them, and thus have opted for a lighter annotative approach that provides critical context, but otherwise tries to retain a poetic reading experience relatively unencumbered by explanation. The other problem, which was far more difficult to resolve, was that of tone. Sardonic humour in Chinese when translated, sometimes comes across as just plain corny. This then involved an attempt to map that humour to a kind of wryness in English, a process that took a rewiring of my own sense of what was funny and what wasn’t. Finally, after discussion with the TrendLit team, we decided to publish a selection that would showcase the more successful examples of translations, taking out some of the translations which had not quite managed to make that leap between the languages. (Meaning, reader, that I failed. Translation is, I have learned, an exercise in repeated failure.)
To speak of the author for a moment: in these poems, we can glimpse that quiet avuncular figure I spoke of, brooding and observing the absurdities of the contemporary world. This sense of absurdity is sharpened by a bitterness that derives from the position of Chinese culture and literature in contemporary Singapore, as a somewhat sidelined vernacular alongside English. But it is a bitterness relieved by humour, and at some points, a laughing at oneself. One of the poems I struggled the most with is “Count Me Out” and it perhaps best captures the diffidence that is an intrinsic part of Wang’s poetic voice:
The kind of demeanour that thrives on whoops and cheers—count me out
The kind of solemn and dignified distance that ever increases—count me out
The kind of resounding self-confidence that shakes the heavens—count me out
The kind of chest-out arrogance that takes wide, confident strides—count me out
The kind of exultation that glitters, dazzles and blooms—count me out
It is this diffidence, this self-negation, as well as the persona’s desire to have fun indulging flights of imagination, that I have found most attractive as I have worked on these poems. I hope you will have fun too.
林伟杰 | 译者: 汪来昇
初与黄文杰的诗邂逅，那时我正在为澳洲的英文线上文艺期刊《火药》（Cordite）的特辑翻译文杰的作品。回想起当时为该刊组稿的（新加坡）编辑，冯啟明（Alvin Pang）与小叶子（Joshua Ip）决定做个创新但必要的尝试：即通过翻译，选用新加坡“非英文”诗作。对于熟知新加坡英文诗作的读者来说，这或许是个出乎意料又截然不同的视角，并希望能在这个多元风貌的地域上，呈现出有别于英文——其他三个官方语文（马来文、华文、淡米尔文）的丰富景象。
当我后来发现文杰的诗集《短舌》（繁体版）即将由“新文潮出版社”出版时，我便在“半醉”的情况下向编辑们提议，出版一本“双语版”。我脑海里想着两批读者：其一，对华文没有任何认知的读者；其二，就是（英语）歌手金文明（Benjamin Kheng）及李安（Annette Lee）的《我们是……》（We Are…）里提及的那些华文勉强只能在必要场合下吱吱唔唔，然后需要汉语拼音的读者。若有英文作为辅助，则能为这两批读者开启更多理解新加坡华文现代诗的可能性。或许，一整个因与华文课本的“邂逅”而产生“阴影”的整代人，会发现华文的“俏皮”与“美妙”之处。（当然，这也包括我自己。）
回到诗人本身：这些诗中，我们可以瞥见一位我（早前）所说的“沉静”长辈的形象。他正在沉思与洞悉这个世界的各种荒谬。而这种荒谬被一种生活的“苦涩感”加剧，而这种“苦涩”源自华文文化与文学在现代化新加坡的“地位”——与英文相较下，遭受了“边缘化”。但这样的“苦涩”，则通过“揶揄”或某种程度上的“自嘲”给带过了。其中一首诗《缺席了》（Count Me Out），我翻译时最为挣扎的，因为它捕捉了文杰诗中最内在诗“不得志的声音”：
Daryl Lim Wei Jie (translator) is a poet, translator, and literary critic from Singapore. His latest collection of poetry is Anything but Human (2021), which was shortlisted for the 2022 Singapore Literature Prize. His poetry won him the Golden Point Award for English Poetry in 2015. His work has been featured in POETRY Magazine, Poetry Daily, The Southwest Review and elsewhere.
林伟杰，是新加坡（英语）诗人、译者与文学评论者。最新诗集《Anything but Human》（除了人，2021）入选2022年新加坡文学奖；曾获2015年新加坡金笔奖（英文诗歌组）。作品刊登于《POETRY》（诗歌）杂志、《Poetry Daily》（诗歌日志），及《The Southwest Review》（西南评论季刊）等。
Wang Mun Kiat (poet) is a Singaporean writer born in 1967. He is currently an engineer and lives in Bangkok, Thailand. He was exposed to contemporary poetry and started writing in the 1980s. His works have mostly been published in Singapore’s literary journals and the Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao. He was awarded the Golden Point Award in 2013, and was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014. His poetry collections include Not Yet Midnight and Short Tongue.