Museum of Bone and Water

by Nicole Brossard
ISBN: 0887846866

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A Review of: Museum of Bone and Water
by Susan Briscoe

Museum of Bone and Water is. . .difficult poetry to enjoy. This is intentional given that Nicole Brossard has long been an experimental poet and, as a lesbian feminist, one of her most important projects has been the subversion of patriarchal language. For Brossard this entails the rejection of conventions of syntax and monologic signification in an effort to create an criture feminine. Now while this makes for interesting theory, it does not make for very satisfying poetry. Writing these poems may have been meaningful for Brossard (and certainly her focus is the creative process more than its results), but the reader is too often shut out by disintegrating syntax that refuses to convey meaning:

I'd have liked us to talk a while longer
but of words too at the peak of their perfection
their fall from the midst of mirrors

Given that language is one of the primary subjects of this book, it seems odd that the translators alter a significant word in the very first lines of the book: "je le sais aux verbes qu'il me manque / ma vie s'est endormie." Robert Majzels and Erin Mour translate the French verbes as "words" instead of the more specific "verbs", even though it seems to be a lack of action-words that is connected to the professed lethargy. Brossard does choose the more general mots elsewhere, and since it is verbs that are most often omitted from her fragmented sentences throughout this collection, she seems to be making this strategy explicit with her opening.
Such liberties, however, are rare in this translation, which for the most part is quite conservative. Majzels and Mour take few risks, translating literally, retaining even word order much of the time. This straight translation is surprising, even disappointing given Brossard's own theories of translation, which she continues to explore here:

/above the city and the museum
huge intelligent lips signal
in a red that calls everything into question

and as we translate
I restrict myself to the top part of the work

the throat of Lee Miller around four in the afternoon
a silver-print day

Mour's and Majzel's literary interests are also experimental, but they have not applied them to this project. When poets experiment with language, the results are usually quite different when that language is English instead of French, but that is not apparent here. Instead, this translation seems intended to contribute to the canonization of a writer who now boasts an international reputation for her radical poetics.

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