Hsia Yü & Steve Bradbury

A Creative “Mis-Translation”
of Hsia Yü’s Pink Noise

[by Steve Bradbury]

Born in Taiwan, Hsia Yü 夏宇
(sometimes spelled Xia Yu) is one of the most exciting and innovative poets writing in Chinese today. Her sumptuous fusion of high-brow poetics and low-kitsch genres and the novelty and sensuous materiality of her books, which she designs and publishes herself, often at considerable expense, have helped make her that rara avis—a cutting-edge poet with a popular following. Her newest venture, a bilingual artist’s book titled Pink Noise (粉紅色噪音), is perhaps her most innovative work to date, for it is—as far as I know—the world's first transparent book of poetry and the first creative collaboration between a Chinese poet and a machine translator. Hsia Yü composed the poems in English (and in one case French) by culling words and phrases from the Internet, and then had her machine translator, the now retired but not forgotten Apple Macintosh web and search program called Sherlock, render them into Chinese, which Sherlock dutifully did but not without reinventing the Chinese language as we know it. There is hardly a line in the Chinese version that is not estranged from its source text, so much so that one could argue that the real poetry in this volume lies in the dífference between the two versions. Here’s one my favorites, which I’ll provide with a back translation for the benefit of those who cannot read Chinese, along with a few photos of Pink Noise:

Pink Noise, cover photo

Pink Noise, interior photo


I am an expert
in nothing
[original English poem by Hsia Yü]

Yes, please send me a biweekly
Newsletter filled with diets
Workouts and weight loss
Secrets, yes, please send me
Special offers, promotions
Coupons and free
Samples from the sponsors
Yes, I’ll answer the questions below
To determine my eligibility for this
Study, if I’m not searching
For myself I’ll answer these questions
On behalf of the person
For whom I’m searching
All information that I enter will remain
Private I’ll want to give it time
To brew
Yes, technology
Is a beautiful thing


[Chinese translation by “Sherlock”]

是, 請寄發我雙週
秘密, 是, 請寄發我
特價優待, 促銷
是, 我將答覆問題如下
研究, 如果我不尋找
專用, 您將想要給它時刻
是, 技術

I am an expert concerning
it’s nothing
[Back translation by Steve Bradbury]

Right, please dispatch my fortnight
Current affairs loaded with food and drink
Forge and deduct heavy
Secrets, right, please dispatch me
Perks, promotions
Coupons moreover free
From sponsors sample
Right, I will reply question as follows
Confirm my usability for this
Research, if I don’t forage
I myself I will reply these questions
Representative staff
I forage
All data I enter will keep back
For a special purpose, I will want to give it moment
Right, technique
Is a beautiful thing