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Rexroth and jazz at The Cellar in San Francisco in 1957

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Kenneth Rexroth Feature:
Mark Lamoureux
On Kenneth Rexroth’s
100 Poems from the Chinese

Around the time I came across Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese in college, I also came across a book by Stephen Owen called Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics: Omen of the World. In this text, Owen writes the following about translation:

“The great poet-translators are not subversive: their independent merits teach us to read their translations in a special way. We seek in them less the authentic original than one voice, one strong voice working through another.” [Note 1]

What matters most in translation is empathy. Rexroth, the great translator, brings us the words of poets remote from us in time and space, but he invokes them in the manner of one recounting the words of an absent friend, attuned to the audience, but speaking with the same heart as the poets who came before. What is most clear in Rexroth’s translations is not some paradigm of rendering, Rexroth is loose or fastidious as according to the individual poem’s nature; in particular, the translates place names, the names of constellations and cultural particularities variously. What is most clear is a vast empathy through which the poets he translates speak in harmony with his own voice.

[Note 1] — Stephen Owen, Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics: Omen of the World, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. p.123.

Mark Lamoureux’s chapbook City/ Temple was published by Ugly Duckling Press in the autumn of 2003. Another chapbook, 29 Cheeseburgers, is due out from Boston’s Pressed Wafer in early 2004. His work has appeared in Lungfull!, Jubilat, Fulcrum, Art New England, Shampoo, and other publications. He lives in Allston, MA.

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Photo, top: Kenneth Rexroth reading his work to a jazz accompaniment
at The Cellar in San Francisco in 1957.

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