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【開學DayDayBook】Not Written Words

Poetry is notoriously hard to translate. The translation project of Xi Xi's works is particularly challenging and delightful, Jennifer Feeley said.

Xi Xi (also known as Sai Sai; 西西) is one of the most famous writers in Hong Kong. She has published numerous books, articles and poems in the last few decades. But English translation of her work is limited. Not Written Words includes her poems between 1959 and 1999, which are published in English for the first time.

Xi Xi loves to play the language game. This made the translation of her work especially difficult. Jennifer Feeley, the translator of Not Written Words, commented that

This aspect of Xi Xi’s poetry makes it both challenging and delightful to translate. Recreating this tone, sound and texture of her work entails much more than word-for-word translation. Where she creates semantic dissonance, I respond with similarity jarring phrasing such as “an ear of cabbage” or “a flock of scallions”.

For instance, Xi Xi played with the confusion of near-homophones, 美麗 and 美利 in The Merry Building (美麗大廈). The protagonist of this poem failed to receive a letter as the sender mixed up 美麗 and 美利. Feeley translated 美麗 and 美利 into Merry and Murray respectively to avoid significant distortion of Xi Xi's original meaning.

The Merry Building

Another interesting example is the translation of A Striped Tiger in Thicket of Green Grass

The “tiger” in Xi Xi’s original writing is represented by the Chinese character 王, which resembles the stripes on a tiger’s forehead.

Both Chinese and English versions are placed side by side in the book. To a certain extent, such a presentation of Xi Xi's poems helps non-Chinese readers to appreciate Xi Xi's language game. Feeley also encourged readers to reflect on how translations should go beyond conventions and rules. 

Not Written Words
Author / Xi Xi
Translation / Jennifer Feeley
Publisher / Zephyr Press; MCCM Creations 

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