A! Magazine for the Arts

Contemporary Chinese Poetry for U.S. Audiences

November 7, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), literary translator Charlotte Mandell said, "Imagine our literary canon without Proust or Flaubert or Balzac in English -- how much poorer we would be culturally and intellectually."

Expanding the availability of foreign literature to English-speaking audiences is a priority of the NEA and, in 2006, the Arts Endowment introduced a new program, International Literary Exchanges. Five years later the NEA, in partnership with the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) in the People's Republic of China, is launching the publication Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China, the last in a series of six anthologies of literature from countries including Mexico, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, and Russia.

With a focus on contemporary literature, International Literary Exchanges not only bring foreign literature to U.S. audiences, but also the work of U.S. writers to foreign readers. NEA International Literary Exchanges require partnerships with foreign governments -- the NEA funds the publication of an anthology of work by writers of the foreign country and the partner country publishes a corresponding anthology of translated contemporary U.S. writing for their citizens.

Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China is published by Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, Washington) and edited by Qingping Wang. The bilingual anthology includes poetry by 49 of China's finest poets born after 1945, with many of the poems never before translated into English.

In the introduction to the anthology, Wang writes, "Regrettably, most people have little or no appreciation of the best of today's Chinese poets and their work. Much of the poetry collected in this volume will, at the very least, reveal to the readers of poetry in two countries ... the true features of China's fine contemporary verse." The project was coordinated in the United States by noted translators Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin. The companion publication, Contemporary American Poems, edited by David Mason, will be published in China by the end of 2011.

Each anthology supported by the NEA includes substantial public outreach to bring writers and audiences together for a deeper understanding of the literary work and its culture. Two of the poets included in Push Open the Window, Xi Chuan and Zhou Zan, have traveled to six U.S. cities in September and October for readings and outreach activities.