people’s central street section two


Translation Notes

Yu Youyou is from the Sichuan area, and we were very lucky to have a workshop attendee from Sichuan who could read this poem out loud for us in the correct accent. Our literal translator Dave Haysom also told us that it is about the street Yu Youyou lives on, and that the place name is very ordinary. It is a deceptively simple poem about an everyday epiphany that actually proved difficult to translate due to its blurriness and fluidity. Different interpretations ebbed and flowed – was the speaker looking at the street sign in a puddle; through an umbrella’s water? What is magnified, what is reflected? In the end, opening the umbrella seems to break the spell of the moment – we chose the verb ‘rolling’ rather than falling, partly because it reminded one of our workshop participants of tears.

people’s central street section two

When working on this poem there was a noticeable divide between those members of the workshop who were able to read the original and those who weren’t. However, it was the latter group who were the most active in constructing potential interpretations, while the Chinese readers and I were reduced to being apologetically destructive: “I can’t say exactly what this bit means… but it definitely doesn’t exactly mean that.” I think we could have carried on tweaking our translation for hours, but eventually we ran out of time (and wine) and had to put down our pens.

Dave Haysom