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robertogreco : pierrenepveu   1

Why the Book I'm About to Publish Will Be Ignored — Partisan
"Given that English speakers share a country with such a vital and little understood literary market, and given how rarely these translations occur—and given that the poetry collections being rendered into English are some of the most outstanding and representative books from that territory—you would think their appearance would be regarded as a cause for celebration (or at least cause for copy). But beyond the staples of Émile Nelligan and, maybe, Saint-Denys Garneau, and outside of living poets like Nicole Brossard, Québécois poetry barely registers. And Quebec isn’t alone. There are Francophone poetry communities throughout the country—in Manitoba or New Brunswick—that exist in almost total isolation from English-Canadian reviewers, critics, and academics. I often joke that the easiest way to confound an English-Canadian poet is to tell them there are major Canadian poets who don’t write in English."



"One group gets it—Quebec’s English poets. Almost everything Canada knows about Québécois poetry is thanks to them. The McGill Movement is where it started. Led by F.R. Scott,, and active during the forties and fifties, this group was the first to demonstrate an interest in contemporary French-language verse. It was a period, according to Scott, when many “lively interchanges” were struck up among the French and English poets he invited to his home. (“I remember Louis Portugais,” Scott writes, “then editor of Hexagone publications, after reading T.S. Eliot’s translation of Saint-John Perse’s Anabase, looking up and saying to me, ‘It’s very bad’”). The McGill Movement’s importance, however, resides chiefly in its belief that translation wasn’t merely bridge-gapping tokenism but creative opportunity. Scott and his coterie sought authoritative and adventurous English equivalents—high-quality renditions that were poems in their own right."



"Anglo-Quebec poets are the only group that still seek out the invigorating surplus of these exchanges. Not surprisingly, they also appear to have harvested its considerable linguistic benefits—they write English, as Gail Scott has said of herself, “with the sound of French” in their ear. As a result, their best work not only carries a percentage of the genius of Québécois poetry, but something new: a Babelian sense of living between competing origins and tongues. For Eric Ormsby, this can lead to a phenomenon called a “shadow language.” Using the example of Basil Bunting’s familiarity with Latin or Geoffrey Hill’s knowledge of German, Ormsby argues that foreign idioms and phrases lurking below native speech can compel poets to “nuance and complicate the sound-patterns of their verse.” 

This shadow language enriches many of the English poems written in Montreal, poems marked by doubletalk and euphemism, polyphonic wordplay and impurities of diction. A. M. Klein was the first Anglo-Quebec poet to idiomatically emulsify his phrasings, to allow French to infiltrate and float inside his lines (“Mollified by the parle of French / Bilinguefact your air!”). But moments just as mesmerizing occur in poems by John Glassco, D.G. Jones, and Peter Van Toorn, as well as younger figures like Bruce Taylor, Asa Boxer, Oana Avasilichioaei, and Linda Besner.

A shadow language’s impact isn’t just linguisitic. Among Montreal poets, it can create the feeling of being set apart or cut adrift, of existing as an outsider. “I am nobody: / that is how I will enter you” is the way Michael Harris once addressed a room of imaginary readers. Or take Robyn Sarah: “I am the blip on the screen, / the cold spot, the dark area you see / with indefinite borders.” More exhilaratingly, it can contribute to a “several selves” state: life defined not only by the reality it inhabits, but also the potential—and sometimes fantastical—existences it did not fulfill. David Solway’s most notorious book, Saracen Island, features faux translations from a fictional Greek poet (he has since tried his hand at “Englishing” poems from Turkish and Domenican). And Asa Boxer’s long poem “Primer to the New World” reinvents Canada’s discovery as a Medieval travel narrative, packed with fabulous beasts and holy objects.

Anglo-Quebec poets are also the only group to successfully reconcile the century-old bicultural quarrel. The “two solitudes” have become what Solway calls the “two solicitudes.” What was once a sense of division is now a feeling of concern for the other’s well-being. Solway—who once declared Québécois poetry “the most powerful, the most interesting and the most vital poetic tradition in all of Canada”—has himself been an excellent conduit for that concern. He used to contribute a monthly translation of a French poem to the now-defunct Books in Canada (since gathered into a lovely anthology called Demilunes: Little Windows on Quebec), enjoys a fervent relationship with many francophone poets, and is the first English writer to win the Grand Prix du livre de Montréal.

It should be said such transactions aren’t exclusively between English and French. In her study Translating Montreal, Sherry Simon calls the city one of the world’s few “contact zones,” a place where languages mingle and intersect. This means poets can avail themselves of shadowy accents from a large palette of foreign vernaculars. Antonio D'Alfonso’s early collections sometimes mixed English, French, and Italian. Erin Mouré has creatively repurposed (or "transelated") Portuguese and Spanish poems into outrightly exotic dialects. Nonetheless, the shift of solitudes into solicitudes is the tale of an exploited double heritage, of poets embracing the acoustic advantage of living inside the French language and taking pleasure from its music. The self-centeredness of English dissolves in such a climate, forcing poets to acknowledge that larger soundscape.

Of course, that also means acknowledging the existence of singular talents like Nepveu. And that, in turn, means acknowledging a version of Canadian poetry found only in translation, in the sympathetic resonances between foreign words. Those of us committed to engaging with—and making available—literary worlds not our own can feel like that English radio station, discussed in Translating Montreal, that advertised delivering the “news to nous.” But “news to nous” isn’t always news that stays news. Fact is, it’s news to which Canada is now deaf."
poems  poetry  translation  french  english  canada  2015  language  languages  carminestarnino  quebec  spanish  español  portuguese  italian  mcgillmovement  ericormsby  amklein  johnglassco  dgjones  petervantoorn  brucetaylor  asaboxer  ooanaavasilichioaei  lindabesner  robynsarah  davidsolway  sherrysimon  erinmouré  pierrenepveu  gastonmiron  robertmelançon  pierremorency  michelgarneau  yvesboisvert  michaelhofmann  pashamalla  donaldwinkler  raymondbock  nellaarcan  hélènedorion  paulmuldoon  marcplourde  jacquesbrault  saint-denys-garneau 
june 2015 by robertogreco

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