Fiona Sze-Lorrain writes and translates in English, French, and Chinese. Most recently, she is the translator of Yi Lu’s Sea Summit, a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award in 2016. Sze-Lorrain is also the author of The Ruined Elegance, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, as well as My Funeral Gondola and Water the Moon. An editor at Cerise Press and co-director of Vif Éditions, an independent French publishing house in Paris, Sze-Lorrain is also an acclaimed zheng harpist.
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Books translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Author Q & A
How do you see yourself as an artist—as a poet, translator, and musician?
Translation is a meaningful form of resistance: beyond the necessary literary challenges, the experience of living with the work—during and after the translation process—[it] is a test of harmony between my own poems and the engagement of the other. I think of a poem as a secret about a secret, to paraphrase Diane Arbus. In this sense, the act of translating a poem legitimizes a zone where secrets are mobile, and [are] made more present without being visible. I don't have a specific writing ritual. The same goes for translation. However, I need to work in a room and alone. It seems possible for me to write poems while translating on the side, but not vice versa. I try to honor the experience as best as the work allows. I listen to music to ease the transition from one to the other. [Read more at Lantern Review]
Tell me about your poetic influences.
I am embarrassed to confess that I read more prose and plays—probably music, too—than poetry. I read Proust every year and am still reading the same Bach sinfonias as when I was nine. Preferences also include various translations of Buddhist scriptures and Latin texts. I recently read Hammarskjöld (in Auden’s translation) and Elfriede Jelinek’s Princess Plays. (Jackie, which is part of Jelinek’s Princess Plays, was on show at Théâtre Gérald-Philipe this April. It is now playing off-Broadway in New York, as a Women’s Project production.) But to answer your question, here are some of my poetic likes: Bashō, Milosz, Lorca, Miron Białoszewski, Eugenio Montale, Emily Dickinson, Tao Yuanming . . .
[Read more on TriQuarterly]
Are there Chinese, French, and English/American poets who have influenced you?
Other than the ones mentioned above—Joan Mitchell. She is a painter, but her work taught me how to approach writing as an expression and a form of expressiveness. Her paintings introduce me to colors, the outbursts of energy and stilled visual scenes in poetry from a different dynamics. So much passion and sincerity lives in her art. I like poetry that isn’t a mental conception or “something that just takes place in the head.” Perhaps my failing—but I can’t believe in “imagination” when it happens as a choice of nonengagement with experience or the real. It is a question of ethics. The real has nothing to do with the limits of autobiography, but the unreal—surprise!—can be a manifestation of autobiographical maskings. Poetic imagination seems to travel further when it is a search, as opposed to being a result. Not the absolute truth but a practice in truthfulness. Please do not accept these as facts. They are just my thoughts, a work in progress. In French literature, I revisit Rimbaud and Victor Hugo. They are my literary heroes. They write the way they live—not the other way round. [Read more at TriQuarterly]