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Who does not understand a Chinese poet?


A conversation with Miguel Ángel Petrecca, an Argentine translator who lives in Paris. Presents the new expanded edition of A Mental Country, his great collection of contemporary Chinese poetry.

Poet, editor, translator and essayist who currently lives in Paris, where he runs the Cien fuegos bookstore, specializing in Spanish-American literature,

Miguel Ángel Petrecca

is also a scholar of

Chinese literature


From his incipient fascination with the characters and reading of Ezra Pound to his later translation works (

After Mao. Chinese Narrative Today

, Ge Fei's novel

El invisible

, both published by Adriana Hidalgo, the Chinese translation of

The Great salina

, by Ricardo Zelarayán, or his study on the Juan L. Ortiz translator of Chinese poets, included in the recent edition of

En el aura del sauce

, among others), his interest in this language led him to live and study in Beijing in 2008, and to tour part of the country personally meeting some of the poets from a panorama as diverse as it is vast.

A Mental Country

is an expanded edition of the one originally published in Buenos Aires by Gog y Magog in 2011, which adds fifty poems and incorporates representative figures from recent decades.

In this interview, Petrecca gives an account of different aspects of his work in the book that has just been published.

–How did you get interested in the Chinese language and culture, and how did the idea for this book come about?

–The interest arose from reading classical poetry, which even at one point led to a failed translation experiment.

Later it was mainly the interest in language and writing, and there also appeared a curiosity towards contemporary writing.

Then in 2008, I had the chance to live there for a year, traveled a lot, met several of the poets, and began to think about the anthology that came out in 2011. It was a transformative journey for me.

Later, I was able to return several times.

–What does the concept of “contemporary poems” imply, the cut that governs the anthology?

–“Contemporary poetry” has a quite specific meaning here, it covers the period that opens in China from the death of Mao and the beginning of the process of opening and reform, up to the present.

From the point of view of poetry, it is marked by the appearance of a space for autonomous production and distribution, that is, alternatives with respect to what would be the official space, although these spaces are not always or not entirely exclusive.

The first reference in this sense are the so-called "Dark Poets", which were gathered at the end of the 70s around the

Jintian magazine.

(Today) and that generate a whole revolution in China by the introduction of a totally new language and styles.

In Chinese historiography, on the other hand, the concept of "contemporary poetry" is associated with the founding of the People's Republic, it is what comes after 1949.

–Uninitiated readers in these latitudes have a slightly stereotyped vision of Chinese poetry, linked above all to the imagery of the poets of the Tang dynasty.

To what extent do you think that the panorama that your book presents is far from or coincides with said stereotype?

–Without a doubt at first glance, at first reading, for a reader accustomed to classical poetry, what stands out are the differences.

This is the case in China itself, classical poetry is part of the instruction from childhood, everyone knows some poems from the Tang period by heart, and this makes much of modern or contemporary poetry difficult to access, or even has some rejection.

It is not something so different from what would happen with someone who confronted contemporary or avant-garde Latin American poetry from a more traditional background of readings.

–There is a plasticity in your translations that makes the reader feel questioned, close to the poetic voice, and that at the same time manages to preserve the difference, the opacity of that other world.

You work a River Plate slope open enough to sustain that distance.

–A Chinese poet from the 20th century that I really like has a poem called “The organization of distance”, which I think responds in a certain way to what you are saying.

The distance gradation.

That also, in another sense, is a problem that Chinese poetry of the 20th century goes through: how to organize the distance, both with the tradition itself and with respect to the traditions outside.

Having said this, and going to the question of the River Plate native, I would say in any case that he is an imaginary River Plate native.

–Despite the different writing styles and moments, at times I had the feeling of reading the book of a single (and multiple) poet.

I mention it as something positive.

A poetry open to the exterior, colloquial, where interiority is translated into objects, movements.

Also a certain slowness, even in the hustle and bustle of life in the big cities.

–I was formed with an idea of ​​translation, with a tradition, let's say, that of poet-translators, within which it makes a positive sense to be told that the book is read as a single multiple book.

I do not deny that tradition, although I am not interested in some places that it leads or can lead to, that is, to a certain saturation of the figure of the translator.

It's not what I'm aiming for in any case, and I think that, compared to the previous edition, many poets have been incorporated, some from younger generations, greatly expanding the range of voices.

On the other hand, in any selection obviously operates a taste and a look.

Also, in favor of what you say, it is true that those traits you mention are present in much of contemporary Chinese poetry.

Why "a mental country"?

–I keep the name I gave this anthology at the time, more than 10 years ago.

I think that at that time, in my heart of hearts, I was alluding to the idea of ​​China as something desired, read, imagined.

Imagined long before traveling, but also afterwards, in the sense that this imaginary continued to act and shape the experience.

A mental country.

150 Contemporary Chinese Poems


Selection, prologue and translation: Miguel Ángel Petrecca.

Gog and Magog, 332 pp.


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