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The Reciprocal Translation Project
by Sun Dong & James Sherry

The Reciprocal Translation Project showcases the work of twelve leading innovators in poetry, six writing in English and six in Chinese. These poets combine many methods of translation to open up new possibilities for trans-cultural literature. Each poem is first literally translated by a bilingual translator and then poetically translated by three poets of the other language. Instead of a single translation, The Reciprocal Translation Project gives readers one literal translation and three poetic translations for each piece, acting in concert and conversation. In this collection, one reads these twelve writers as both poets and translators, as they blur the boundaries between conventional categories.

The poets include leading writers from China and the US:

雷伊艾尔曼特罗特 / Rae Armantrout
白萱华 / Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
布兰登布朗 / Brandon Brown
车前子 / Che Qianzi
娜达高登 / Nada Gordon
黄梵 / Huang Fan
蓝蓝 / Lan Lan
弗雷德莫顿 / Fred Moten
娜夜 / Na Ye
鲍勃帕里曼 / Bob Perelman
王小妮 / Wang Xiaoni
西川 / Xi Chuan

The collaborative approach of this translation replaces “the hagiography of imaginative translation with a social process.” The project resists paring down the multiple facets of a poem into a single talismanic translation in the impossible quest for perfect accuracy. Instead, this group of poets reinvents translation, generating a rich network of language and languages, an ecosystem of understanding. The Reciprocal Translation Project not only destabilizes the hierarchy of original author over an anonymous translator, but also emphasizes “greater trust in readers.” The conversation opens up and reaches out.

This distinctive book disentangles the reductive binaries of East/West, original/translation, and similarity/difference extending an invitation to the poets of both cultures. Linguistics, cultural histories, and aesthetics reverberate within the diversity of styles, voices, and poetic strategies. The Reciprocal Translation Project ignites a conversation that puts all the players involved on equal footing. It raises the stakes in international poetics as much as it does for international politics.

The result is a kaleidoscopic body of work that unseats the authority of a one-to-one translation of the “original” text, offering both an alternative model and ethics of translation, along with poems that are “insistently various.” The Reciprocal Translation Project refracts issues of form, politics, and sociality that lie within each poem through a chorus of translating and conversing voices—a radical model that expands the possibilities for international reading and writing practices, as well as for politics and policy.

201 pages
ISBN: 978-1-931824-72-9
Publication date: November 2017


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