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10 Questions for Yi Zhe

Because of my poor hearing
two old friends think
they can make mischief
in front of me.
—From "I Blacklisted Two Old Friends" by Zuo You, Translated by Yi Zhe, Volume 63, Issue 4 (Winter 2022)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
Zuo You has suffered from a hearing impairment at the age of six. Since then, he has been exploring sounds, eager to hear every day. His hope to communicate with the world has shaped his poetic practice. Zuo You writes with high accuracy to evoke feelings which strike home in the text, and to achieve self-transcendence. At times, his writing is insolent, modern, lyrical, direct, self-ridiculing.

I have been translating Zuo You’s poems about sound, deafness, and fate since 2015, most of which have appeared in western literary journals, such as Modern Poetry in Translation (UK), Westerly (Australia), Poetry New Zealand (NZ), Acumen (UK), The Malahat Review (Canada), Bellevue Literary Review (US), and Two Thirds North (Sweden). In a way, I become his ears and mouth, telling people a story about his soundless world with my own voice—the most challenging but exciting work for me. I hope my translation will make the reader have a different and deep grasp of sound.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I am keen on a published book Zero Distance: New Poetry from China edited and translated by Liang Yujing, a bilingual poet and translator, whose works have appeared in over 60 journals and magazines across the world. This anthology gives the English reader a chance to have a glimpse at what is being written now in China.

What other professions have you worked in?
I have been working for a training center in Changsha, teaching EFL listening online.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be an excellent EFL teacher. My intense interest in English language teaching arises from both my educational experience and teaching practice. Before college, I received the most typical “cramming” mode of education like other ordinary Chinese teenagers. Most of my school days were devoted to rote learning rather than the intellectual skills that capture the virtues of education. Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to meet a caring and inspiring English teacher, Miss Xiong, who taught me the importance of English language skills and the beauty of English as the second language. She not only helped me with my study, but also kindled my enthusiasm for English language teaching, which in turn evolved into an aspiration and a pursuit for a career in this field during my undergraduate studies. Since graduation, I have been engaged in linguistic education, offering English training to Chinese students. It allows me to further contemplate the tremendous influence that teachers can have on students and the significance of aspects such as educational systems, teaching methodologies, and educational values to a teacher’s own development. The longer I work, the more I come to realize that English teaching should be dominated by advanced concepts and assisted by effective teaching strategies, both of which are vitally important for bringing out a greater social role from education. More significantly, teaching English to Chinese speakers is a learning process of self-discovery, self-acknowledgement and self-transformation.

Poet Zuo You

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
I translated Zuo You’s two poems “I Blacklisted Two Old Friends” and “Bluff”, which have been published in the Massachusetts Review, as these two are concerned with the real and poetic life of the physically disabled (the deaf).

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Changsha, my hometown.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Zuo You.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Pop music.

What are you working on currently?
I am working on the translation of contemporary Chinese poems.

What are you reading right now?
I am reading academic journal articles associated with second language acquisition (esp. second language listening) and language testing/assessment.


YI ZHE, an EFL teacher in China, holds an MA in English language education at the University of Reading with distinction. He has published in Modern Poetry in Translation, Westerly, Poetry New Zealand, Acumen, The Malahat Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Two Thirds North.

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