Heiko Strunk wrote me recently and invited me to write a blog post for on the occasion of UNESCO’s World Poetry Day on March 21. Today is March 1st. There was some sleet when I rode my bicycle to bring our son to Kindergarten. Lyrikline is a great invention. It’s like stepping outside in the little courtyard out back with the garbage cans and old bicycles to look at the sky before you go to sleep. No, it’s more like stepping out onto your spacious balcony seven floors up in an ordinary drab neighbourhood, not yet demolished, and see birds soaring in circles through the morning sky around the high-rise next to the bicycle shelter, both very drab and ordinary in a very ordinarily ingenious way, in the direction of sunset or sunrise. Many balconies and windows and glimpses of people and a general measure of mess around you, comfortable enough. Or is it? Whether you see stars or the moon or just smog or maybe actually a ridge in the distance, there is this sky, this wide open sky, despite all the lines and cables strung criss-cross between the buildings, but you are seven floors up, and you can see both the chess players below, even in the snow, Chinese Chess or Mahjong or announcing, delivering, selling something on a tricycle, despite the guards at the gates, and you can also feel and see and listen to the sky, and smell it, of course. No, Lyrikline is different. I wanted to say that you go there and it’s always inviting, always different, and if you have a little time or peace of mind you can listen, even though you don’t understand, any frame of mind, once you’re there, someone’s hawking rice wine at six in the morning on Sunday, or someone shoveling at two in the morning, or other stuff. No, that’s not Lyrikline. Lyrikline is most often an uplifting sound, like the pigeon’s whistles over the remaining hutongs, or even between taller buildings. Even those were forbidden, no flying at all, no kites, was it 60 years People’s Republic in 2009 or the Olympics in 2008? Lyrikline does have the sounds, of something that’s precious and ordinary and crying and singing and also forbidden. Poetry, and information you might like to have when you listen, some information inviting you to step out again. Translation.

Übersetzung. Über die Arbeit der Übersetzer. Die Arbeit der ÜbersetzerInnen (meist sind es Frauen) ist oft unbezahlt, besonders bei Lyrik. Auch bei Lyrikline. Etwas für LiebhaberInnen. Zur Übung, nebenbei, als Ausgleich zum Brotberuf. Ein gemeinnütziges Projekt. Alle haben etwas davon. Besonders die Dichterinnen und Dichter. Die werden meistens auch nicht bezahlt, soviel ich weiß. Aber sie werden beachtet. Vielleicht kauft jemand ein Buch. Vielleicht erinnert sich jemand an jemanden. Die Poesie steht im Mittelpunkt, sie wird vermittelt, auch von den Übersetzern. Aber durch dieses Medium ist vor allem eine Stimme da, die Stimme der Autorin, des Autors. Das Original ist vorhanden, es steht im Mittelpunkt, und da ist die Stimme, wie bei einer Lesung, einer Performance. Nicht die Stimme der Vermittler. Erst einmal die originale Stimme. Daneben, praktisch als Untertitel, ist sie erreichbar, die Übersetzung, oft in mehreren Sprachen. Diese Gedichte, die Übersetzungen, sind vielleicht auch schon publiziert oder vorgetragen worden.

Translation. The work of translators. The work of translators often goes unpaid, especially with poetry. At Lyrikline, too. Something for amateurs, in the original sense of the word. For practice, as a hobby. A project for the common good. Everybody gains from it. Especially the poets. They don’t get paid either, mostly. But they are noticed. Someone might go and buy their books. Someone might remember you. Poetry is at the centre, introduced by the translators. A voice is there, through this medium, the voice of the author. The original poem is present, the voice of the author, like in a reading, in a performance. Not the voices of the interlocutors. Not at first. There are subtitles, so to speak, translations in several languages. They are also poems. These translations may have been published or recited before.

The notations are available online, if the publishers want it. And even the music, original interpretation, a few selected bites, a virtual opening reception. Every translation is a different performance, in another key. Every poetess is a medium. Every author is an agent. Of other authors, other languages. Of an awareness. Of information, of forms. Play it again, at a different time, with a comparable virtuosity. Maybe. Performing an inter-locution, a communication. Poetry, narration, instruction. Trying to repeat what has been said or written already. Everybody can cook. Everybody can write, right? What about the rat? And the critic? And the garbage boy, the female chef with the Asian features, the paranoid boss. March 8th was Women’s Day, March 21st will be UNESCO World Poetry Day. At the end of his book Rose of Time (Shijian de meigui), Bei Dao calls the last 100 years a golden age of world poetry, of international, global poetic communication. After all the horrors and catastrophes. March 20 will be an international day of solidarity with Liu Xiaobo, by the way. There will be readings in on every continent, in 73 cities in 30 countries, at least. Another project that started in Berlin, just like Lyrikline. Recently, the Berlin daily “taz” printed Liu Xiaobo’s poem Wait For Me With the Dust, on his 55th birthday, in my German translation. Berlin is an international capital of poetry, sometimes. Not just in spring.

Translators – what are they doing? What is translation? One of the oldest professions, probably. Do you have to be very extrovert, especially if you are freelance?Olga Arakelyan ponders this question in a recent Langmates blog post. Also recently I read a review of a book on periodicals in English as historical sources for Shanghai in the first half ot the 20th century. The book described sounds very interesting, because it is about translation “and linguistic effects”, though according to the reviewer, words like “transcultural, translocal, and transnational; translational, translingual, and interlingual; nationalism and stateism” are used a little too frequently. You can read the review at the MCLC Resource Center. Olga’s blog entry is more about the concrete daily business of a translator. You have to know people in different countries and regions, those of your source language (-s) and those of your target language (-s), otherwise how are you going to get any business? On the other hand, especially if you translate poetry and literature, or more in general, if you have some interest in the texts you translate, beyond making money, then you might appear introverted, bookish, eccentric etc., which usually doesn’t help business. Except in a Bourdiesque way, because you could become recognized for your cultural capital and for your global capital, rather than mainly for your economic capital. In the end, for translator’s it’s always a mixture of both cultural and economic factors, as indeed for anybody, you might say. But maybe for translators, your global capital and your cultural capital are pretty much per se always criss-crossed, interdependent.

I was very pleased and proud when I first read the Email from Poetry International in Rotterdam in the first days of March. They want to use one of my translations. Someone must have told them, they must have seen it online, inside my paper on Chinese literature since 2000. Somebody actually has been reading my papers, my virtual papers, my virtuous virtuoso virtual papers. Maybe at Langmates. Or at my WordPress blog. “We would like to use your translation of the poem 23-9-2009 (attached here). The fee we can offer you is 1,11 euro per line. There are 16 lines so the fee is 17,76.” Maybe they use commas instead of dots for decimal numbers in Dutch, just like in German. I got another Email today, from Sinonet, an Email listserv for graduates of Chinese Studies in Vienna. Someone wants to have a letter translated, into Chinese, optionally from German or English, native speaker preferred. It’s a one-page letter, she says. She offers 50 Euro for the translation and 20 for proofreading. Very ordinary request, decent price. For translating novels, biographies etc. from Chinese into German, the current price in Germany and Austria is something around 25 Euro per page. They have a so-called norm page, which has 30 lines of 60 letters (or numbers, punctuation marks and spaces in between). For translating poems I was recently paid 50 U$ per poem, or was it 40, or was it Euros? That was in 2009, I’d have to look it up. It was Taipei Book Fair, they needed some poems by authors from Taiwan translated into German, so they could present them in Germany at the book fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt. Poems by Yang Ze, Zheng Zhouyu, Hung Hung and others. I remember receiving 200 U$ for one set of poems, or was it Euros? Anyway, it wasn’t a lot, but they also liked to have me around at the book fairs, although they couldn’t pay for the trips. Ok, you could argue the poem has been available in translation online for a while, they are not the first to see it, so I should be glad they are willing to pay anything at all.

The poem by Yan Jun translated below is featured in my paper on Chinese literature since 2000, originally published in German (without the poem) as part of the book Culturescapes China, ed. Katharina Schneider-Roos and Stefanie Thiedig, Basel: Christoph Merian 2010. The English version (including the poem) was presented at the EACS (European Association of Chinese Studies) meeting in Riga in July 2010. The article is available online at


I had another look at the poem, changed a few words in the translation and made a German version. See also

Here is the poem, in English and German and in the original Chinese:

Sources: Yan Jun’s blog (, accessed 2011/03, and a Word document received by e-mail.















In English:


(Written for the People’s Republic of China’s 60th anniversary)

At this moment China has no borders, no morning melodies, TV station paralysis, one billion people wake up from under their skin; others enter from a different space;

At this moment there’s no future, ignore the past, future hasn’t ever happened, past’s been swallowed, past belonging to this moment, now the past is born again;

At this moment the weepy news warrior sits down with her dog-faced crew for dinner, and suddenly drops dead, exposed in the light of capitalist democracy, satori on ice cream;

This moment is China without government, the traffic lights instruct my life;

No renovations at this moment, no demolishing this moment, and the past is humiliation, `this the time to drink amnesia, and spit out what was forgotten;

Beijing changes shape this instant, possibility itself;

At this moment the party and the people have nurtured each other, so they are both organic; they have washed each other, hugged and cried in media art;

At this moment you only hear static, the Flying Spaghetti Monster sanctified Tian’anmen;

This moment is a naked guy from antiquity who went to teach in the west, he booked a plane ticket for tomorrow, which got cancelled, so he’s stuck in this moment, becoming a Buddha;

Instantly this land is joyful, Instant Cola, Coke goes bankrupt, we drink water we’re immortal


Tr. MW, July – August 2010, mod. March 2011

(Recited at the Zurich Literature Institute. Maybe my only poem this year with a real title, not just a date. Some magazine abroad asked for a piece on 60 years of PR China, 300 words on China’s past, present and future.) 在苏黎世文学馆朗诵,念了新写的《此刻》,好像是今年惟一标题不是日期的诗。缘起是,某外地报纸约60周年的稿,要写300字,关于中国的过去现在和未来。

Translator’s note: The phrase “ci jian le” from the last line (‘this space is joyful’) comes from the classic Chinese novel Three Kingdoms (San Guo). The captured son of Liu Bei (crown prince of the fallen Han Dynasty) says that he is content in captivity and does not think of his native kingdom Shu any more. In keeping with the New Age tone of Yan Jun’s poem, I could have translated ‘jian’ as ‘space’. This character has two pronunciations in modern Mandarin and a variety of meanings. Instantly this land is joyful. There is a nice rhyme: ‘instant’ and ‘land’. I could try to find the phrase in the novel in English translation. Then again, there is a certain rhythm in the original, and the quote is not indicated, it’s only there if you’re well read, or if you read the poem very closely and want to find out where ‘ci jian’ comes from.

In German:

Im Moment

(60 Jahre Volksrepublik China am 1.Oktober 2009)

Yan Jun 颜峻

In diesem Moment kennt das Land keine Grenzen, keine Morgenmelodien, Fernsehsender sind gelähmt, eine Milliarde Menschen erwachen aus ihrer menschlichen Haut; andere treten hinein, aus einen anderen Raum.
Dieser Moment hat keine Zukunft, ignoriert das Vergangene, Zukunft hat man nie gefunden und Vergangenheit verschluckt, sie gehört zum Augenblick und wird momentan geboren.
In diesem Moment setzt sich die heisse Tränen vergießende Nachrichtenkriegerin mit ihrer hündischen Crew zum Abendmahl nieder; auf einmal stirbt sie und erscheint im Lichte kapitalistischer Demokratie, erleuchtet auf Eiscreme.
Dieser Moment: das anarchische China, Verkehrsampeln haben mich stets unterwiesen.
In diesem Moment wird nicht renoviert und nicht abgerissen; Vergangenheit klingt nach Demütigung, momentan trinkt man Vergessen, alles wird herausgespuckt.
Im Moment verformt sich Peking, wird zur Möglichkeit schlechthin.
In diesem Moment erziehen einander die Partei und das Volk, erhalten einander organisch, umarmen einander und baden einander in Tränen der Medienkunst.
Im Moment hört man nur Lärm, das Fliegende Spaghettimonster segnete Tian’anmen.
In diesem Moment ist ein nackter Mensch aus der Urzeit, der hält Vorlesungen im Westen, hat einen Flug für morgen gebucht, der wurde gestrichen, so hält er inne in diesem Moment und wird auf der Stelle zu Buddha.
Dieses Land macht mich zufrieden, Instant-Cola, Firmenpleite, wir trinken Wasser und werden unsterblich.


Übers. v. MW, 2011-03


  1. Translation « 為世博服務 Says:

    […] It’s like stepping outside in the little courtyard out back with the garbage cans and old bicycles… […]


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