Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

A Moth Laid Its Eggs in My Armpit, Then Died/His Days Go by the Way Her Years

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

A Moth Laid Its Eggs in My Armpit, Then Died/His Days Go by the Way Her Years

Article excerpt

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Ye Mimi. A Moth Laid Its Eggs in My Armpit, Then Died. Steve Bradbury and Todd Klaiman, trans. Bilingual edition. Poetry. Hong Kong. The Chinese University Press. 2013. 50 pages. $5.00. ISBN 9781939781215

Ye Mimi. His Days Go by the Way Her Years. Steve Bradbury, trans. Bilingual edition. Poetry. Boston. Anomalous Press. 2013. iv + 40 pages. $10.00. ISBN 9789629966294

Ye Mimi startles from the first page- actually, from before the first page, since already the titles of the two chapbooks under review feature her characteristic mix of unusual image and grammatical suspense. It is not surprising to learn that she is a Chicago-trained filmmaker: her poems are a patchwork of sharp cuts, weird close-ups, and tracking shots. Sometimes the reader is given something indisputable to work with in terms of a narrative, but more often must piece something together herself or merely float along in the stream. Whether this produces dreaminess or frustration depends substantially on the reader's tastes.

In addition to her proclivity for image suites, Ye is an enthusiastic player of language games. Parts of speech are constantly confused and melded, subjects absent, grammatical relationships blurred. Sometimes she turns to ideographical whimsy, as when Ye breaks ... ("ugly") up into SÄ, creating a nonce-word made up of one of the Earthly Branches from the traditional lunisolar calendar and the word for "demon," and relates it also to ... ("liquordemon," i.e. "alcoholic"). For this, the titular poem of A Moth-translator Todd Klaiman must resort to including characters and footnotes in his text. Steve Bradbury usually takes a different route in his translations, matching the poet in terms of innovation and daringness. Thus, in tackling the poems collected in His Days Go by the Way Her Years, Bradbury, who has lived, taught, and translated in Taiwan since the 1990s, will turn ... into "Now and then capers across some Cheshire cats without really meaning to"; a single instance of Ш into "sour or sore"; and the Duanwu Festival into "Dragon Boat Festival a.k.a. Poet's Day." Some particularly strong effects happen by turning a noun like "wilderness" into a transitive verb. By checking against the original, one can usually see why Bradbury has done this; but in the near-absence of grammatical inflection in Chinese, the results are often more radical in English than in Chinese, and leaps in the original are sometimes finessed to something more connected. Take, for example, the line ... …

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