Intersections: reading, translation, writing

This entry is part 29 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Jacques BraultBelow is a short translation of an extract from Visitation, a long poem in French by the Quebecois poet, essayist, novelist and translator Jacques Brault. The trajectory of his work has a particular resonance for a translator and for readers in translation. Born (1933) and raised in Montreal in both financial poverty and what he experienced as linguistic poverty and disenfranchisement, he militantly embraced the cause of a separatist, francophone Quebec, but the output of his long writing life also reflects a journey first into the riches of his own language and thence into a broader, cosmopolitan consciousness, which has involved him in translation and transnational/translingual collaborations. A recurring image in his poetry is that of the street corner, the intersection of writing and other art forms, of life and language, language and language, self and others.*

I’ve been reading Jacques Brault’s work while trying to formulate a few thoughts about the pleasure of translating some poetry for the Poetry from the Other Americas project. And about my surprise, because I’d only rarely written poetry myself and had stoutly maintained that only poets should translate it. Even greater surprise that it led to writing a few poems of my own: the patient exercise of translating a poem mobilises the relevant muscles, I suppose. Like many, I’m often too speedy and compulsive a reader to fully appreciate poetry, fret against slowing down enough, going deep enough. Translation is an exceptionally close kind of reading. It makes you slow down a lot, read and re-read a poem over a considerable time. This concentrated, fierce encounter with words is rewarding, and I’d encourage fellow sceptics to have a go. If you don’t think of yourself as someone who writes poetry, but do know more than one language, translation might prove to be a way in. It might even lead you to the puzzling, scary but alluring place Jacques Brault describes here:

 

          But I don’t know don’t know any more if I should speak or keep silent let the waters flow or plunge myself into them forget myself in the moment of turning down this street or inhabit myself down to the bone down to the cry

          Tell me do you know you who listen to me watch me do you know what it is that I don’t say won’t ever say so there it is between us like a night falling and hiding us in darkness

          In a low voice lower your voice I beg you come closer let your breath touch my ear it makes a sound I had forgotten the human voice

          Or je ne sais pas je ne sais plus s’il faut parler ou me taire laisser les eaux couler ou me rouler en elles m’oublier dans l’instant qui tourne le coin de la rue ou m’habiter jusqu’à l’os jusqu’au cri

          Dis le sais-tu toi qui m’écoutes et me regardes le sais-tu ce que c’est que je ne dis pas que je ne dirai jamais et c’est là entre nous comme un soir qui tombe et nous oscurcit

          À voix basse baisse la voix je t’en prie approche et que ton souffle me touche à l’oreille cela fait un bruit que j’avais oublié la parole humaine

 

* I found out about Jacques Brault from Sherry Simon’s absorbing book, Translating Montreal.

Series Navigation← Emily Dickinson by Michel GarneauNameless as the rain: two poems by Jacques Brault →

3 Comments


  1. I’m delighted that these elegant, well-judged & sensitive translations have loosened the stays in respect of writing your own verse, Jean. Vas-y!

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  2. Dick, your metaphor is a good one – yikes, imagine discarding a corset for the first time as I enter my sixties…

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