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Voices from the “Margins”: Lucy Dougan’s Reflection on the Making of Her Poetry

Last updated:2017-05-10

 On May 5, 2017, Lucy Dougan, an award-winning Australian writer and program director for the China-Australia Writing Center at Curtin University, gave a talk on “ Looking From the Margins: Making & Reflecting on Poetry” in the School of Foreign Languages, hosted by the Sun Yat-sen Unversity Center for English-language Creative Writing. The 23rd book club event also featured a 15-minute bilingual reading by the poet and her translators.

Lucy Dougan started her lecture by sharing the childhood memory of her father who learned sculpturing by himself in his late 40s. His influence on her was that she learned “not to be afraid of losing materials” because “the work will come to you” through unconscious thinking, muse and inspiration. As she grew, she found more inspiration from reading the works of different artists, poets, and writers, and she found a yearning to express herself. She also learned that before a piece of work was presentable to the public, there must be “many many drafts”.

As a poet, Lucy Dougan was keen on seeing the world “differently” by “slowing down time” and “to notice things”. In her view, “the past is always ahead of us” because things changed all the time.

After the talk, she read two of her poems from the collection Wild Estate and her translators, Iris Fan Xing and (Jo) You Chengcheng were invited to the stage to read the Chinese versions. This marked the first bilingual reading in the SYSU Center for Creative Writing, in which the translators’ voices were heard.

One highlight of the lecture was the Q & A Section. With poets, bilingual writers, translators, literary scholars, teachers and students in the audience, questions raised are diversified and generated a dynamic atmosphere. When asked whether the poem just came to her or she went to the poem, professor Dougan said both—“sometimes it came out of the blue but sometimes it’s worked and researched. ” Another question came from her translator Iris Fan Xing, who found that she had the urge to revise her rendering even during the reading on the spot. She wondered whether professor Dougan would want to improve her previous work in one way or another. The reply was that sometimes the work seemed to be “sealed”, “resisting revision”; but sometimes “there is an openness” in a piece, where she kept reconnecting overtime. An interesting question came from a Chinese writer who asked about the “marginal place of poems”. Professor Dougan explained that by this “margin” she meant “freedom from political agenda” which enabled poets to resist “corruption”.

Then a question raised by a translation scholar to the translators provided a platform for the “voice from the margin” to be heard. In response to the question about what challenges they encountered during the translation process, the translators summarized three points: the ambiguity of meaning, the visualization of certain images as well as the music and rhythm of the poem. “What I tried to do was not to decode the ambiguity but render the ambiguity. “ Iris Fan Xin remarked. As to the issue of visualization, Jo You Chengcheng emphasized the importance of actually being where thepoet had been and seeing what the poet had seen.

Professor DAI Fan concluded the event by thanking professor Dougan and her translators for “promoting reading and writing of world literature”, the mission of the SYSU Center for Creative Writing, and invited the audience to attend the following book club event on May 17th by Geraldine Brooks.

Written by Zheng Wei & Li Ling
Photo by Wei Donghua