red pine

Red Pine’s “Dancing with the Dead” on translation

My “Dancing with Words” profile of Red Pine/Bill Porter in The Kyoto Journal

Here’s a clip below from Bill Porter, who uses the name Red Pine for his clear-headed translations of Buddhist poetry and philosophy:

Dancing with the Dead: The Art of Translation

Every time I translate a book of poems, I learn a new way of dancing. The people with whom I dance, though, are the dead, not the recently departed, but people who have been dead a long time. A thousand years or so seems about right. And the music has to be Chinese. It’s the only music I’ve learned to dance to. I’m not sure what led me to this conclusion, that translation is like dancing. Buddhist meditation. Language theory. Cognitive psychology. Drugs. Sex. Rock and Roll. My ruminations on the subject go back more than twenty-five years to when I was first living in Taiwan. One day I was browsing through the pirated editions at Caves Bookstore in Taipei, and I picked up a copy of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. It was like trying to make sense of hieroglyphics. I put it back down and looked for something else. Then a friend loaned me a video of Ginsberg reading Howl. What a difference. In Ginsberg’s voice, I heard the energy and rhythm, the sound and the silence, the vision, the poetry. The same thing happened when I read some of Gary Snyder’s poems then heard him read. The words on a page, I concluded, are not the poem. They are the recipe, not the meal, steps drawn on a dance floor, not the dance.

This ties in nicely with the post below of D.T. Suzuki’s note fragment on poetry and religion. We’ve stepped into the infinite here, a place beyond our battered world. See the underlined link above for Red Pine’s full article in Cipher Journal.


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