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In our latest contributor interview, we're delighted to welcome poet Ko Hua Chen 陳克華 to tell us a bit more about his work. His poem 'Celestial Nirvana - Written By the Curiosity Rover Upon Landing on Mars' 星球湼槃─為好奇號登陸火星而寫  was featured in our inaugural issue, translated by Annie Sheng, and can be read here in Chinese, and here in English translation.

您學過醫學, 現在是眼科醫生, 這樣的背景對寫作有何種影響?

You trained as a doctor and now work as an ophthalmologist – in what ways does this background influence your writing?

我很難去分析自己的創作。尤其要我去辨別醫學背景對我寫作的影響。我不曉得是否有人問過威廉.卡洛.威廉(William Carlos Williams) 類似的問題。有讀者認為我的詩中曾經出現大量醫學,科學名詞及器官名稱,是受了我的醫學背景的影響。但我不這樣認為。只要是具備普通常識的作者,都可以寫出類似風格的作品。我惟一能想到的,是我的詩還蠻注重邏輯性,我不太能忍受太天馬行空,隨意揮灑的作品。

It’s very hard for me to analyse my own work, especially if I try to work out what influence my medical back ground has had on my writing. I don’t know if anyone asked William Carlos Williams this kind of question. There are readers who think that when a large number of medical and scientific terms, or the names of organs, appear in my poems, that it’s the influence of my medical background. But I don’t think so - any writer equipped with an ordinary level of general knowledge could write this kind of work. The only real influence I can think of is that I pay close attention to logic in my poems - I can’t really get on with writing that is too over-the-top or that lacks thought.

您的寫作主題比較寬泛, 涉及特殊性取向群體, 科學發展和佛教等; 您認為採取一種 「speculative」方式會有助您更深層, 更自由地探討這些主題嗎?

Your work deals with LGBTQ issues, developments in science, Buddhist themes, and much more – do you feel that a 'speculative' approach allows you to explore these themes in more depth and more freedom?

我無法寫我沒有感覺的題材。因此我對「speculative」這個字眼略感不安。我受過完整的眼科專科醫生訓練,我在哈佛大學醫學院做角膜的細胞生物學研究,我是個虔誠的佛教徒,我同時也是個公開出櫃的同志。所有我的創作主題,都和我的生命內容相呼應,雖然,我一直以為詩比較需要的是想像,靈視和靈感,而和其他文類相比,比較不需要實際經驗。

I’ve no way of writing about topics which I feel nothing for. So I feel a bit uneasy about the term ‘speculative’. I’ve received comprehensive training in ophthalmology; I undertook research into the cell biology of the cornea at Harvard Medical School; I’m a devout Buddhist, and I’m openly gay. All of the themes of my writing have a correlation to my own life, even though I’ve always thought that what poetry needs is imagination, insight and inspiration, and rather less practical experience than other forms of literature.

您是否可以更詳細地介紹一下這首詩? 好奇號探索火星是如何吸引您創作這首詩的?

Can you tell us a bit more about this poem? What was it about the Mars Curiosity Rover that drew you to write the poem?

人類在好奇號登上火星之前,對於火星有許多不確定的想像和期待,其中不乏浪漫和詩意。但好奇號將人類的視野由幾張模糊遙遠的火星照片擴展為真實的「身歷其境」,打破了許多原先的推測,卻也引發更深一層的思考。包括人類終究孤獨的處境,以及「太空殖民」可行性的幻滅。好奇號在火星上的所見,其實是人類對自身文明最佳的反省和對照。而好奇號登上火星的那一瞬,有如人類的㐧三隻眼被打開,開悟的剎那...

Before humanity went to Mars by means of the Curiosity Rover there were a lot of uncertain imaginings and expectations - many of them romanticised and poetic. Yet Curiosity broadened out humanity’s vision of Mars from a few distant and indistinct photos to a genuine ‘personal encounter’, smashing many earlier conjectures but leading to a much deeper level of reflection; one that included disillusionment with the possibility of ‘space colonisation’, and having to face up to humanity’s ultimate solitude. What Curiosity saw on Mars was actually one of the best reflections and comparisons of our own civilisation. And in the time that Curiosity was on Mars, it was as if humanity’s third eye had opened, and in an instant we became enlightened.

您創作過歌詞, 散文和戲劇, 並且也從事過攝影和藝術,這些不同形式的創作對彼此有何種影響? 是什麼促使您游走於它們之間?

You've also written song lyrics, prose, drama and worked in photography and art – how do all these different forms feed into one another? What draws you to move between them?

歌詞,散文,戲劇和視覺藝術,其實在「詩」裡,早就已經各別獨立存在。而彼此又相互含攝包容。我不過是在成為詩人之後,又接續將詩中的每個元素獨立出來,分別完全他們而已。每一種藝術形式之間,其實並非如我們所想像的那般涇渭分明。而是什麼促使我遊走於這些形式之間?我想也同樣是「好奇」吧!

Actually, lyrics, essays, drama and visual art have each long existed within poetry itself, and each can assimilate the other. But all I did after becoming a poet was to separate and follow each independent element. The difference between art forms is actually not as distinct as we imagine. But what compels me to wander between them? - Curiosity!

您的作品曾被翻譯成日文和英文。看到作品被翻譯或閱讀翻譯後的版本, 作為作者本人, 您有什麼感想?

Your work has been translated into both Japanese and English – what is the experience of having your work translated, or reading it in translation, for you as an author?

我曾試過自己翻譯一小部分作品為英文。翻譯詩是非常困難的一件事情,難怪有人認為詩是不能翻譯的文類,名詩人艾略特就說:詩正是在翻譯當中失去的那個東西。當然知道有不懂中文的讀者能透過讀英文或日文而欣賞自己的詩,還是很興奮的。我本人不懂日文,讀自己的詩的英譯卻總是又高興又困惑,又擔心:懷疑真的詩的意思「到位」了?又氣惱:自己為什麼不能直接用英文寫作?總之,看自己的作品被翻譯心情是很複雜的,五味雜陳。

I once tried to translate a small number of works into English. Translating poetry is incredibly difficult - no wonder there are people who believe that poetry is a form of literature which can’t be translated. T.S.Eliot said, ‘Poetry is what is lost in translation’. Of course, I know there are readers who can’t read Chinese but who can appreciate my poems through the English or Japanese translation, which makes me very happy. I can’t read Japanese, but reading my own poems in English makes me at once happy, perplexed and worried, wondering whether the ‘true meaning’ has come through. And it also makes me annoyed; why can’t I use English to write directly? In short, my feelings on reading my own work in translation are complex and mixed.

 

English-Chinese translation by Peng Ying, Chinese-English by Sarah Dodd.



Ko Hua Chen (poet, fiction writer; Taiwan) studied at Tapei Medical University and Harvard Medical School, and now practices as an ophthalmologist at the Taipei General Veterans’ Hospital. He is the author of more than twenty volumes of poetry; his collection Tears of Ignorance was recently translated into Japanese and published. Ko Hua Chen is also a seminal figure in scifi poetry in Taiwan. As a practicing ophthalmologist and writer, he pioneered imagery drawing from the cosmos and extrapolations from scientific literacy, while imbuing Buddhist motifs into his poems. His recent works also address LGBTQ issues.
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