Ilya Kaminsky was invited to China by the publisher of Dancing in Odessa in Chinese translation. It was the first time that a poet was invited to the Shanghai International Book Fair (always novelists and essayist in the past). People hailed him like a hero in the ancient battle field. People were shocked when listening to his reading. People followed him and were shocked again when listening to him again… I don’t remember how many times he did readings in China, 5? at least, I was coughing everyday due to a bad cold I caught in Qinghai and I lost voice everyday. But he was in high spirit and signed his books whenever and wherever people asked him to. People were shocked by his “Russian” reading and his smile, as Shi Jianfeng wrote in the interview published in East Morning Daily, “we’ve never seen anyone reading like this before, so passionate and so powerful”. I have known Ilya since three years ago but each time I’m touched, not only by how much energy he puts in his reading but also by what’s being read. I listen attentively. Poetry reading is the most beautiful thing in the world. I feel so lucky to be the Chinese translator of Dancing in Odessa that I get to listen more to his extraordinary readings. It was the 10th edition of the Shanghai Book Fair, 3rd edition of the Literature Week, and 1st edition of Shanghai-Bond Poetry Night. Cao Yuanyong not only brought the first poet (and the translator) to the Book Fair but created a poetry festival in Shanghai.
The Chinese version of Dancing in Odessa. Script writer Ming Di; Dancer Xiao Ke
Going to Hangzhou as a side trip was a very nice idea. It’s only 1 hour by train from Shanghai and we got to see the ancient Grand Canal and some of the best poets in the country. It was a lovely afternoon of conversation with the poets and reading and book signing in the evening after a gorgeous dinner (the most unforgettable meal of my one month visit to my homeland China, delicious eggplants and fish). Poets and readers were sincere in Hangzhou. I met Jiang Li for the first time and felt so dear. Cai Tianxin drove us to the hotel after the reading and complained about no driving fee – he was kidding of course, he just didn’t want to be serious. People see each other and say bye right afterwards as if they can run into each other again the next day but most of the time the next day is in 20 years. I don’t know when I would be in Hangzhou again but I just wish I could do something to help take the young poets Quan Zi and Jiang Li to see the outside world one day. Why can’t they do reading and book signing like Ilya? Which reminds me how lucky I am to have Cao Yuanyong as editor and publisher – I hope he will publish the whole series that I’m working on… (photos and notes by MZ)