Denise Saul X Di Zhao

Poet Denise Saul and translator and writer Di Zhao collaborated between English, Mandarin and visual translations.

Watch Denise and Di present their work


Other Flowers

“If we wait in silence for a while, we should see the apples that you talked about,” I say to Eris. She nods. The afternoon does not arrive in the way that I hoped. She points at the tree. Yesterday, and this morning, she kept on repeating the same word but I did not understand why she would mention fruit when the tree was bare. I met Eris at a conversation group last week where she talked about apples. I sit with her on the lawn and watch wood pigeons. “I still can’t see them,” I tell her. I sip a cup of green tea. She talks about persistence, daisies and other flowers.




                                  Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 22.34.47



Explanation of collaboration


Denise Saul is a writer, poet and visual artist. She is a PhD in creative writing researcher at University of Roehampton. Denise is currently poetry pamphlet selector for Poetry Book Society. She is the founder of Silent Room: A Journey of Language, a collaborative video poem project funded by the Arts Council. 

For the first ‘translation as collaboration’ text, Di sent me her untitled poem and also her iconic translation of that poem.  The first poem written in Cantonese ‘mirrored’ its iconic translation, both written by Di. I felt that another translation of these texts ‘from text to text’ or ‘poem to poem’ would create further distance between myself and her poems. My decision to photograph an object, that is, a shoe, allowed me to create a closer relationship between a visual image and Di’s work.  

Di Zhao’s translation of my prose poem, Other Flowers was my first experience of collaborating with a translator. Our collaboration involved a lot of trust as I cannot read or speak Mandarin Chinese. I was interested in Di’s interpretation of my creative work. Her initial response was to create an iconic translation of Other Flowers, a prose poem written in response to my experience of my late mother’s speech disability, aphasia. The new shape of my poem translated by Di, captured the prominent theme of language breakdown as well as the restriction and also freedom of language between the carer and the individual who is cared for. 

I am the founder of Silent Room: A Journey of Language, a collaborative video poem project funded by the Arts Council. I work with filmmaker,  Helmie Stil and  individuals who have the speech disability, aphasia, to create video poems using prompts, writing and hand gestures. So, my creative approach to translation has changed a great deal during my collaboration with Di. For the ‘Translation As Collaboration’ project, using a photograph to translate’ a text or poem was a new experience. 


其他的花(qí tā de huā)is a combination of visual art and poetry, translated from Denise Saul’s Other Flowers.

The original text was a prose poem, whose intention was ambiguous when the context was not given. I decided to literally translate it to preserve all the possible interpretations. Furthermore, since Denise is a visual artist, I chose to reshape the translation to form an image.

The most challenging part was the interpretation of the original text. Her intention was to respond to her late mother’s speech disability. However, I decided not to limit the possibility of other interpretations. It was a very beautiful poem, leaving room for imagination.

The productive part was the combination of visual art and poetry of course. The original text was not a concrete poem, so I chose the image that first popped up in my mind after reading this poem. It was also the most fun part reorganizing the Chinese characters, which was like building a Lego castle.

I had translated several English novels into Chinese, in collaboration with other Chinese translators, but this translation experience was brand new. It was more of a creation rather than rewriting, so I was able to fully express myself instead of hiding my existence.





Author: The Poettrio Experiment

An AHRC funded investigation into poetry translation trios led by Francis Jones, Bill Herbert and Fiona Sampson with Rebecca May Johnson & Sergio Lobejón Santos

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