by Joe Rosenblatt. Illustrated by Michel Christensen
Le Perroquet FGcheux
by Joe Rosenblatt Translated by AndrTe Christensen and Jacques Flamand Illustrated by Michel Christensen
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|A Feathery Terrorist as Muse
by Anne Cimon
After nearly forty years of writing and publishing, internationally known Canadian writer Joe Rosenblatt knows something about the creative process. And in his latest book of poetry, Parrot Fever, and its bilingual edition, Le Perroquet FGcheux/Parrot Fever Rosenblatt generously shares with us the evolution of this fabulous work, this "surrealist fable."
In the past, Rosenblatt has illustrated some of his books, most recently the 1996 coffee table edition, The Voluptuous Gardener, which contains selected drawings from the Carleton University Art Gallery's permanent collection.
Parrot Fever and Le Perroquet FGcheux are illustrated by established Toronto visual artist Michel Christensen. Each beautifully packaged edition has a different selection of the artist's stunning surrealistic collages which enhance the text of the sixteen part poem. Parrot Fever is printed on black paper with various colored inks.
In his Introduction to the bilingual edition, Rosenblatt shares the fascinating story of the creative collaboration with co-artists and friends, and how it shaped his poetic fable into its present shape.
Its genesis makes for good copy. As Rosenblatt recalls, he was retiring for the night at a friends' house on Vancouver Island. A little tipsy from a late party, a last tumbler of ale in his hand, he made his way into the guest room where the pet African parrot, named Tuco, slept in its cage.
Rosenblatt accidentally jostled the cage and the parrot let out such a hair-raising screech that the poet lost his grip, not only on his glass, but on reality¨at least for a few agonizing seconds.
It is in that otherworldly, predator screech that the poem was born, the African parrot a kind of exotic feathery muse, a "comedian with a punch line as lethal as his scrunching beak."
A literary predecessor "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe cannot fail to come to mind as I read Parrot Fever which has a dark side that elevates the poem beyond mere entertainment, though that it is also.
This dynamic metaphor-driven poem about Tuco, the bellicose West African parrot, also fits into Rosenblatt's "visionary bestiary", as critic Frank Davey once put it. And as the critic Ada Donati comments in the preface to Parrot Fever, "as in other poems, animals are often this poet's aliases, metaphorical interpreters of some truth."
As intriguing as the fable are Christensen's complementary surrealistic collages which boggle the sleepy imagination. The themes of eros and death explored in Rosenblatt's complex work explode fantastically across the pages: ugly skulls and gleaming diamonds, broken marble statuary, silver knives with eyes inset are reminiscent of films by Luis Buuel. An electric blue parrot sits atop the head of a beautiful, but desolate looking woman.
To this female eye, many of the collages seem to issue from the agitated male dream or nightmare scape: women's body parts decorate furniture, a trio of caged nudes with feathers in the derriere, and most hallucinatory, a huge erect penis between two kneeling angel figures.
Rosenblatt takes time to explain in the introduction, his experience with the creative process. After he showed Christensen a rough draft of the poem that would become Parrot Fever, the visual artist responded by creating artwork inspired by the verses, and this, in turn, stimulated the poet to expand his fable.
For example, Rosenblatt writes that he incorporated Christensen's collage image of a huge bullfrog crouching on a silky sofa, reminiscent of the Frog Prince fairy tale:
"A warped romance burns like methane flaring
in a bog:
an oleaginous lover belches for another
from a princess enjoying the dalliance with an
Rhythmic verse and resounding diction emanate from creative play and wit:
"Since batrachians have long preceded clowns
a curse upon the chef who serves this perverted
some grenouille's severed leg flavoured in a cognac sauce."
And further creative collaboration happened when Rosenblatt lent his draft poem to friends and poets, AndrTe Christensen and Jacques Flamand. This couple marvellously capture the poem's vitality into French, a language that is so different from English, yet seems very suited to the florid quality of Rosenblatt's poetic vocabulary.
He admits again to having been influenced in the development of his fable, this time by the translators' insistence on the preservation of certain verses that he had wanted to discard, but that the translators thought necessary.
With much wit, Rosenblatt writes in his introduction to Le Perroquet FGcheux about what translation entails, how it is a work that demands finesse.
Though some of his collections have been translated in Italian, notably a series of "sea sonnets" Madre Tentacolare (Tentacled Mother) by Dr. Alfredo Rizzardi of the University of Bologna, this is his first book translated into French.
Certainly the art and business of translation in Canada is an exciting and meaningful activity that will only take on more importance with time.
For this bilingual reviewer, it is always a pleasure to be able to read a work in both "official languages." Translation obviously broadens the audience for the work and adds another valuable linguistic dimension.
Rosenblatt appreciates the challenges that his translators faced, and perceptively lauds them:
"Translators of poetry must have acute hearing so sensitive they can detect the music of the nerves. That hearing has to work with a touch that borders on the paranormal. It isn't merely a question of fluency in languages, it is a matter of feeling the sense and pulse running through the body of a poem. Like a soft-spoken magician preparing an edgy subject on stage for deep hypnosis, a translator must calm down a frightened nerve before the microsurgery begins."
Yet the "star" of both editions remains Tuco, Rosenblatt's parrot/muse who is a "feathery terrorist" who "can outdo any performance poet."
Never an ivory tower poet, Rosenblatt began his career in the small press heyday of the sixties. He has travelled widely, and has been a writer-in-residence in various Canadian universities. Rosenblatt, who has won the Governor General's Award for poetry, has also written autobiographical fiction including Escape from the Glue Factory and his short stories have been included in such well-known anthologies as From Ink Lake.
His newest title, Parrot Fever, and Le Perroquet FGcheux, show how Rosenblatt continues to experiment, and his innovative streak adds much vibrancy to our country's literature. ˛
Anne Cimon recently published a bilingual book of poetry entitled All We Need/ Tout ce qu'il faut (Borealis Press).