Chen Ko Hua is a poet, essayist, and ophthalmologist with a degree from Taipei Medical University and Harvard Medical School. He has written more than twenty books of poetry in Mandarin, and this fall he was a resident writer with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
Every year, the program invites about 35 writers to live in Iowa City for a few months and attend readings, panels, classes, with the chance to interact with writers from around the globe. This year’s group included a surrealist fiction writer from Bulgaria, a flash fiction writer from the Philippines, a spoken-word poet from Botswana…
After my International Literature Today class, in which he presented his work, I asked him if he might provide some insight on my project. He followed up by sending me an entire signed book of his poetry, along with tens of essays and poetry he had written about the environment, climate change, weather patterns, etc.
My parents and I sat down, going line-by-line through each stanza and together we translated this poem. I brought the newly birthed “Call to El Nino” to him, then I sat down to see what he thought.
El Nino refers to a weather phenomenon where abnormally high or low sea temperatures and ocean current changes create unstable rain patterns in the east Pacific region, causing extreme rainfall or droughts at times.
“I wrote this poem maybe last year,” Chen said, “Maybe I’m paranoid, but also I’m a Buddhist. In the Buddhist manuscript, they also describe the end of the human world that’s pretty similar. It’s called “huo” which is a fire, “huo da” means the fire will be destroy everything. So that’s pretty similar with the temperatures getting higher and higher. And as a poet we can imagine that it’s a warming of nature, or telling people that we really have changed too many things, we twist or we are just too greedy so we change nature. Nature will change us and change the world. Sometimes I will worry about this.”
I would not call myself a poet, perhaps just a partial poet. But the value of any actual person as a translator is especially noteworthy when you compare their work to the results from a “Google Translator.”
We already call the baby
The baby ‘s ghost has arrived. Rainstorm
The morning sunset
We live in high places
You can see a brilliant purple gold edge of the evil cloud
My Translation: As you read through the rest, pay close attention to the line rhythm, the word choice, and the punctuation/word capitalization in the poem.
Call to El Niño
We beckon to El Niño.
Its spirit has already arrived
with the morning sunset’s downpour.
We live safely, high above the ground
watching the brilliant purple golden clouds
its ominous edges
soaring across the sky
like a UFO.
By the window, a pot of withering plant —
within the skyscraper made
of steel and iron bones,
the humans are locked inside doors,
Though it wants to travel, it wants to visit from thousands of miles away
together, we keep El Nino outside —
We wait for the sun to once again kiss the earth,
when the breeze is soft and sunshine is tender.
We poke our heads out
only to discover El Niño
at every door
has left a perfumed