Type into google the name Fan Wu and you are, at present, presented with an image of a woman, well dressed, of whom we are told was born in China and is a Chinese-American novelist. I have never read Fan Wu, and perhaps never will. On the other hand, I have read Fan Wu. In fact, I met him a few nights ago at the monthly Hamilton based reading Moon Milk where he was the featured reader. I will not describe Fan Wu, except to say he was kind and seemed a sensitive listener, which is to say something, but nearly nothing at all. If Fan Wu was an asshole I would still write, probably, this. No, if he was an asshole I would not write that he’s kind, but instead that his writing is good–very good. So, Fan Wu is not an asshole–and his writing is good–very good.

I believe it was, at the very least, a month ago, but more likely two or three months back, that I picked up a beautifully crafted chapbook entitled Hoarfrost & Solace (espresso, 2016) by one Fan Wu. While I was attracted by the quality and beauty of the publication in and of itself, it was the high recommendation from James McDonald, owner of The Printed Word book shop, that ultimately propelled me to buy the chapbook. That is what a good book shop owner can do–and does (unlike my experience today in Hunter Street Books in Peterborough, where the employee seemed oblivious to names and titles).l

Having purchased the book, I took it home and put it on a shelf. Then, when the right time presented itself, I read it. James recommends good books.

In Hoarfrost and Solace, Fan Wu translates a number of Chinese poems written by Tang poets, such as Li Bai (Li Po) and Wang Wei. But this is no ordinary translation. It is said that poetry cannot be translated, to which I would add that if much is lost from one romantic language to another, much more is lost from an Asian language into a romantic one, i.e. Chinese to English. And so, Fan Wu uses the original Chinese poems (given, in the book, in Chinese, so do your research) as a site of departure, expanding on each poem, introducing improvisation into translation–to re-present the texts, perhaps with a greater fidelity than a straight forward translation. Each of the original Tang poems are expanded into sets of three English pieces each. Not three versions, mind you–each translation comes out a triptych, to be painterly about it.

I cannot read the Chinese poems, but I was able to find more or less standard translations of each of them online which I could use as reference. In retrospect, they were unnecessary. The point is, to my mind, that, re-presented as they are in Hoarfrost and Solace, perhaps we can arrive.


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