These poems are versions of versions of
versions of translations done by Burton Watson and David M. Gordon. I
love how Lu Yu gets translated by Watson in this straightforward pretty
way and by Gordon in this strange and stilted way, and reading the two
of them together makes me want to rewrite them in a flagrantly
self-gratifying way that probably has very little to do with the actual
poems of Lu Yu. So they're not really mine but they're not really his
but they're not translations either. I don't know. The brilliant poet
and translator Michael O'Brien (who has a gorgeous version of an
oft-translated Lu Yu poem in his book Sleeping and Waking
) is also an influence.
Robert Lowell, whose Imitations
might be a kind of forefather to this work, said he created his
versions of great foreign poems during dry spells in his regular
writing process. What relationship has this project had to your writing
poems that are less complicatedly your own?
Lowell's relationship, exactly. I mess with Lu Yu's poems (and no one
else's, for some reason; it's something to do with how he in particular
gets translated) when I don't have any traction in poems that are, as
you nicely put, less complicatedly my own. It's the pleasure of
procedural work, I guess, except I have no real procedure. But the
principle's (roughly) the same.