Anna Yin on Translating More than 50 Poems for Guernica's Innovative English-Chinese Collection, Mirrors and Windows
Bringing together 59 poets is no small task. But Anna Yin, Mississauga's inaugural Poet Laureate (2015-2017), has managed it in the new collection Mirrors and Windows (Guernica Editions), a book of poems that represents what A.F. Moritz glowingly refers to as "Yin's work of years to translate English-language poets into Chinese and contemporary Chinese poets into English."
With English renderings of acclaimed modern Chinese poets and translations of English poems from Canada, the US, and the UK, Mirrors and Windows is a tapestry of contemporary poetry that blurs origin and language and constructs a universal celebration of poetic energy.
Anna joins us today to discuss both her own journey as a poet and the complex process of assembling the work that became Mirrors and Windows. She tells us about the Dickinson quote that informs her attitude to poetry, about the experience of translating writers like Al Moritz, Molly Peacock, and George Elliott Clarke, and how her own poems in the collection act as a response to her "translation journey".
Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?
The experience of reciting Classical Chinese poetry has contributed to my becoming a poet. Although no one foretold this childhood experience would influence my later life. After immigrating to Canada and living abroad, I often felt loneliness and rootlessness. Poetry found me and I started writing. It filled my emptiness and let me find myself besides being an IT professional, a wife, and a mother. My poems in English often blend daily life experience and the imagery and romance from Classical Chinese poetry. I was glad that this style gained wider readership and opened a new door for me to explore more possibilities.
Do you write poems individually and begin assembling collections from stand-alone pieces, or do you write with a view to putting together a collection from the beginning?
I write poem individually. Sometimes I feel poems come to me and I am just the lucky receiver. I believe “The soul should always stand ajar and ready to welcome the ecstatic experience” (Emily Dickinson) For several years, every week, I wrote a poem or two.
After a while, I found there were some similar themes. So I selected the better ones and polished them and combined them together. But when I planned to apply for grants, I would think of new themes and skills, then wrote with a view to putting together a collection.
Mirrors and Windows is a book of translations. Over ten years I translated many poems. Three years ago, I noticed I had a wide spectrum of poems by a great diversity of poets, so I began to compile them in book form.
What is the best thing about being a poet... and what is the worst?
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Being a poet is to be both rich and poor. A poet’s life can be enriched by words and explore limitless freedom figuratively speaking. On the other hand, poets are often short of money and need to keep a day-job to survive.
I believe with poetry I retain nine lives and I hope I can fully use them to write to my last breath.
What do you hope readers will take away from these pieces, after having read them all? Is there a question you set out to address or delve into through these works?
Mirrors and Windows contains 59 poets’ work with my translations (from Chinese to English, From English to Chinese) of total 280 pages. It is a challenging book. To fully appreciate it, readers need to know both Chinese and English well. But if they only know one language, they still can enjoy the book as John Robert Colombo does.
As my recent essay “On Poetry Translation: Where Can We Detour?” says: I hope with Mirrors and Windows I have fulfilled the role as both a poet and a translator. Yet I have deliberately left a few “flaws” or unsolved “slipups”, I hope readers will pause, detour, and uncover them, then they begin to debate: “Am I alive or lost in translation?”
Are there any writers you discovered through this project? What, if anything, surprised you about the writers whose work you came to through this book?
Yes. For Mirrors and Windows, I needed to discuss with poets about their poems. I also researched the culture, history, and politics behind the poems. In 2020, I hosted one-on-one Poetry and Translation discussions with Al Moritz, Molly Peacock, Alice Major, and George Elliott Clarke. I discovered that Al Moritz also is a translator for several books (Spanish), Alice co-translated with a Japanese friend, and George’s wisdom about translation in a wider concept, then Molly Peacock’s life story and her work on other people’s life stories. All of these made my work on Mirrors and Windows, the labor of love, much more rewarding.
How did you approach incorporating your own work in the overall project?
There are many collections of poetry translation. But there are few anthologies with both Chinese and English texts. Also, I have never seen such a collection with two-ways Chinese-English translations with works by the editor/translator.
Mirrors and Windows is my first collection of translations of East and West poems. I asked myself in which way I could not only prove that I know how to translate and how to write in both languages but also make this book more interesting and special. Thus I added a unique part to the book: my own poems inspired by translations in both languages. It not only speaks to poets in the book, but also illustrates my translation journey as Al Moritz writes: "Every Step Was into a New World".
What are you working on next?
I have two collections of poetry, one in English: Truth in Slant, started in 2016, now half completed. Another started two years ago, the poems are rendering 24 Chinese Solar terms into a poetic chronicle of nature and life experience evolving emotion. I plan to write such a collection in both Chinese and English.
Anna Yin, an IT professional, immigrated to Canada in 1999. She authored five poetry collections and Mirrors and Windows (Guernica Editions) in 2021. Anna won the 2005 Ted Plantos Memorial Award, two MARTYs, two scholarships from the USA, and three grants from the Ontario Arts Council. Anna was appointed to be Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet Laureate in 2015. Her poems/translations have appeared at Queen’s Quarterly, ARC Poetry, New York Times, China Daily, CBC Radio, and World Journal. She has performed on Parliament Hill, at the Austin International Poetry Festival, the Edmonton Poetry Festival, and at universities in China, the USA, and Bangladesh. She also teaches Poetry Alive.