Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review of Another Pnin

Below is an excerpt from Owen Bullock's review essay, entitled On Contemporary Haibun 13 and published in Haibun Today, 6:3, September 2012 (note: the essay is an in-depth (and lengthy) review written in the historical perspective on haibun writing, worthy of multiple readings)

...and I will quote Chen-ou Liu’s in full:

    Another Pnin

I hate hearing myself speaking English. My voice sounds inhuman . . . mechanical. In the strain of translating a Chinese word into its English equivalent, the spontaneity and natural quality of my speech are lost. I feel that I’m falling out of the tightly-knit fabric of emotional vocabulary into a hole-filled net of linguistic signifiers.

April snow . . .
not a word passes over
my tongue

I find such massive honesty deeply moving. It’s easy for the reader to get over any slight reaction to implied criticism of English, because we know he’s grappling with some big issues. The juxtaposing haiku suggests a sensate snowmelt. I am also in awe of someone who can write so well in a second language, and I would have been extremely proud to have written that last sentence of prose alone.

This haibun leads to me to reflect that if form is not the main original component of a piece then some new revelation or way of conveying ideas might fit the bill. To read any form of poetry in which the writer says something you’ve never read before gives it a huge plus in my eyes.