Peuple inhabité / Population void by Yves Préfontaine

This entry is part 24 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Yves PréfontaineQuite a challenge, this one. It’s always a delicate balance that has to be maintained between ‘translation’ and ‘version’ so I shall be interested in any feedback from other Francophones.

I found a brief biog of Yves Préfontaine at the Electronic Poetry Centre (which, incidentally, opened for business way back in the mid ‘90s when there was virtually no poetry presence on the internet at all).

Born in 1937 in Montréal, poet Yves Préfontaine is an anthropologist by training. He published his first poems at the age of fifteen and released his first collection at twenty. At eighteen, he began his career as radio script writer at Radio-Canada, with some incursions into television. He organized, amongst other things, a series of fourteen shows with Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist – who was also originally from Montréal. In 1959, he co-founded the journals Situations and Le Québec libre; later he joined the editorial board of Liberté, of which he was the editor-in-chief from 1961 to 1962. […] His poems have been translated into English, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, and Croatian.

Read the rest.


Population void

I live in a region where the cold has beaten down the grass, where grey gloom lies heavy over the ghostly trees.

I live in silence amongst a dormant population, shivering under the frost of their words. I live amongst a people who have lost all words both fragile and forceful.

I live inside an all-embracing cry –
Speechless stone –
Sudden clifftops –
Naked blade in my chest in winter.

A snowdrift of exhaustion gently stifles this land in which I live.

And I prevail within the fog.
And I persist in speaking out.
And from my pain no echo returns.

A people’s language is their bread.
A small substance amongst the rotting wheat.

I live amongst an uprooted people.
And the spreading fields of their joy wither beneath this endless tundra
This great disowned abundance.
I live inside a cry powerless now to pierce, to strike, to knock through
these barriers of spittle and masks.
I live amongst a phantom people cast out like an ugly daughter.
And my footsteps mark a circle in this desert. A tirade of furious white faces surrounds me.

The land that I inhabit is a marble tableau under ice.
And this land empty of the men of light whispers in my blood
like a lover.
But I fight against this absence between my teeth, a poverty of words
that scintillate and then are lost.

:::

Peuple inhabité

J’habite un espace où le froid triomphe de l’herbe, où la grisaille règne
en lourdeur sur des fantômes d’arbres.

J’habite en silence un peuple qui sommeille, frileux sous le givre de ses mots. J’habite un peuple dont se tarit la parole frêle et brusque.

J’habite un cri tout alentour de moi –
Pierre sans verbe –
Falaise abrupte –
Lame nue dans ma poitrine l’hiver.

Une neige de fatigue étrangle avec douceur le pays que j’habite.

Et je persiste en des fumées.
Et je m’acharne à parler.
Et la blessure n’a point d’écho.

Le pain d’un peuple est sa parole.
Mais point de clarté dans le blé qui pourrit.

J’habite un peuple qui ne s’habite plus.
Et les champs entiers de la joie se flétrissent sous tant de sécheresse
Et tant de gerbes reniées.
J’habite un cri qui n’en peut plus de heurter, de cogner, d’abattre
Ces parois de crachats et de masques.
J’habite le spectre d’un peuple renié comme fille sans faste.
Et mes pas font un cercle en ce désert. Une pluie de visages blancs
Me cerne de fureur.

Le pays que j’habite est un marbre sous la glace.
Et ce pays sans hommes de lumière glisse dans mes veines comme
Femme que j’aime.
Or je sévis contre l’absence avec entre les dents, une pauvreté de mots
Qui brillent et se perdent.

Series Navigation← Repetición de mi mismo / Repeating Myself by Ricardo MazóRetrouvailles / Reunions by Anne Brunelle →
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Initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15. Work has been published in a number of magazines, print and online, including Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Rattlesnake and Ouroboros Review. In 2010 Dick received a Pushcart nomination for his poem "Sea Of Stars" and his first collection, Ancient Lights, was published by Phoenicia Publishing in 2012. His translation of Blaise Cendrars’ iconoclastic epic poem "La Prose du Transsibérien…", illustrated by Natalie d’Arbeloff, was published in a specialist edition by The Old Stile Press in 2015. For fun and modest profit he plays bass guitar in blues roots-and-shoots trio Broke Down Engine and in song-writing trio Moorby Jones.

2 Comments


  1. I love this. Profound and subtle, and I think your translation does it justice.

    Reply

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