Steve Bradbury

Steve Bradbury’s work with contemporary Chinese-language poetry has been described by Erica Mena of Anomalous Press as “concerned with that demon of translation, fidelity, to the original.” In Bradbury’s own words, his translations lend themselves to “imaginative readings.” Paper Republic, the forum for Chinese literature in translation, points not only to Bradbury’s strong sense of poetics but to his translation work as “an example not only of what translation can achieve, but also of how art wings its independence by forcing us to change the way we read.” His translations read both as poems that “allow the English to be beautiful after its own unique fashion,” and experimental renderings that recreate the transformative linguistic innovations of his subjects. The poets he chooses to translate often defy linguistic and cultural categorization­­–as the critic Leza Lowitz puts it, these are poets “from the edge of the new world, where East and West no longer matter as poetic distinctions.” Bradbury’s translations stand on their own as English-language poems–vibrant, electric work, even for readers who don’t know Chinese and haven’t heard of the poets he translates.

Bradbury’s most recent book-length translation, Hsia Yü’s Salsa (2014), was shortlisted for the Lucien Stryk Prize. Hsia Yü, a noted poet, songwriter, book designer, and magazine editor, is one of the most innovative and popular poets of the Chinese-speaking world and the first Chinese-language poet of the postwar era to write candidly about sex and gender politics. Bradbury has also translated Fusion Kitsch: Poems from the Chinese of Hsia Yü (2001), and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship to support his current project, Hsia Yü’s Poems, Sixty of Them.

According to Bradbury, his translations express an unwillingness to “narrow the semantic space of resolve syntactical ambiguities,” allowing readers the “freedom to engage” with poetry “in ways that please them.” This approach has been compared to Stephen Mitchell’s renditions of Rilke–what Paper Republic describes as having “successfully created and re-created poetry across a linguistic boundary.”

A long-standing member of the American Literary Translators Association, Bradbury lived for many years in Taipei, where he was a professor of English at National Central University and edited Full Tilt: a journal of East-Asian poetry, translation, and the arts. He has been awarded a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant, two Henry Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry & Translation Fellowships, and his translation of Ye Mimi’s chapbook His Days Go by the Way Her Years was a finalist for both the Lucien Stryk Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. Bradbury’s other volumes of translation include Poems from the Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh (2003), and Feelings Above Sea Level: Prose Poems from the Chinese of Shang Qin (2006). He has also translated the works of Hung Hung, Yang Li, Yu Jian, and Yin Lichuan. His poems, essays and translations have appeared in Asymptote, Granta, Jacket Magazine, and Poetry International, among others. Bradbury earned his PhD and MA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He lives in Ft. White, Florida.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 2017 

Ye Mimi is a young Taiwanese poet and award-winning maker of poetry films. A 2009 graduate of the Chicago Art Institute Film Studio Program, she is the author of several volumes of poetry, most recently With/out a Hitch (2015). Steve Bradbury’s translation of her chapbook His Days Go by the Way Her Years was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award in poetry in 2014. 

His Days Go by the Way Her Years

He smells like bottled root beer

her pie in the sky allays his hunger and his days go by the way her years

he is a lonely plural

her door-latch is sour or sore

the au contraire of plentiful is he

(won’t they help her build her tower of basil?)

she hairs his chest he heartens her sweetheart

one day every living soul will turn to soil

he ocean fleets a vessel

she mountain passes a night

Wednesday likes the rain

by rain were they woven into angelfish

eyes unfolded into riddles

yet he steals beneath her iron skin

and leaning on the chair-back of time

gradually invents a kind of knock

the more he is the sun the more she is the moon

from HIS DAYS GO BY THE WAY HER YEARS (Anomalous Press, 2014)
Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

Yang Li is a prominent blog-poet associated with the Sichuan-based “Not-Not” Poetic Project, which the scholar-translator Maghiel van Crevel has characterized as “deadly serious and flippant at the same time.” In addition to several collections of poetry and a blog full of occasional verse, he is the author of a gossipy, photo-rich 621-page chronicle of the “third-generation poets” who came up in the late eighties and early nineties, entitled Glorious. Yang’s poetry is a frequent target of the Chinese Internet police. This translation of “Albania” originally appeared in Guernica: A Magazine of Art and Politics.


Back in our day there wasn’t anyone who didn’t know Albania
who didn’t know it was the bright light of European Socialism
or that the other bright light was us. Back then
from Beijing to Tirana, we could all sing
A bosom friend afar brings distance near … It wasn’t till much later that
I learned these words were by Wang Bo of the Tang
He died a long time ago and was never in Tirana.
I doubt he’d ever heard of the place, much less that it was very, very small.
A pal of ours named Wei Guo once said to us rather cryptically: all
Albania is just like the little upstart kingdom of Yelang.
I remember, I swear: it was the summer of ’74.
We had just turned 12 and thought what he’d said outrageously reactionary.

Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

Hsia Yü grew up in Taiwan but has spent many years abroad, first in New York and later in France. Cofounder of the Taipei-based journal Poetry Now, Hsia Yü is the author of seven volumes of ground-breaking verse, most recently First Person (2016), a book-length bilingual photo poem, samples of which are up in the October 2016 issue of Asymptote.


The Ripest Rankest Juiciest Summer Ever

Summer sinks into the clock-face of the cat’s eye
Sinks into chestnut colored limbs

A 17-franc basket of peaches
Day four and already summer has run from ripe to rank

All spring long we dined as if we had all the time in the world
Followed with interest the color, light and atmosphere

Observed the shadows of the grapevines advancing to this
Last evening of the postimpressionists

Dabs of light thicken on the hammock
Grow thin on the windblown curtain

Each stroke acquiring definition
Until the last stroke bursts grape skin

Must be August
Ripe for the Fauvists

Never again will mere light so delight us
And O how we weary of atmosphere

Our words runneth over like vines in the arbor
Of this ripest rankest juiciest summer ever

And O how we weary of style
Does style after all exist

So like the snow
Defiled at the merest touch

Though the snow does not exist
The hammock is more manifest than ever

More than April irises or an anisette at six
Though compared to soccer broadcast live hardly anything exists

Our guest, a student of ancient Chinese architecture, says
In our day and age only armed revolution is so laden with tragic implication

And then there is soccer
O how we dine as if we had all the time in the world

Smoked salmon, crab and lobster
And will you look at the size of this oyster

If we could but find the proper venues
To release our leftist tendencies

1906, Cezanne, caught in a storm, returns to his studio
Removes his hat and coat and lies down by the window

Taking stock of the table, the toppled basket of apples
The apples and their shadows, the three skulls

The wardrobe, the pitcher, the crock
The half-opened drawer, the clock

It occurs to him proportion is hardly worth the fuss
And could care even less if the table were askew

As he dies
His eyelids trace a line pointing straight to three o’clock

Still, there is something wanting in all this
Must be time for Matisse

From SALSA (Zephyr Press, 2014)
Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury