This special issue of the B.C. journal, Raddle Moon, is devoted to contemporary French poets whose work has not been been translated into English. It began in a "scrapbook" that Stacy Doris kept whenever she visited France. Once this collection of photocopied poems had been sifted, the editors approached various American and Canadian poets who had shown an interest in serving as translators.
For all their efforts in preparing the issue, the editors have attempted to maintain the scrapbook scheme; they emphasize that this is not an anthology nor in any way complete or conclusive. As if to prove the point, they leave two poems by Frédérique Guetat-Liviani (three counting her xerography installation "7 Adieux") untranslated.
Norma Cole writes that translation became a form of matchmaking, the introduction of one poet to the other providing the "thrill".
Regardless of their experience, writes Cole, all the translators had to deal with the same unresolvable questions, especially those regarding context and intention. A casual reader may be spared such concerns and yet feel equally puzzled at times. In some measure, this is due to the lack of any but the most minimal guidance (and that chiefly bibliographical). How, then, to judge the results? Not as poems in their original language, not as translations per se (since most of the sources are relatively inaccessible), but as something new made by the poet-translator in the very act of translation.
In several cases, for example, Stacy Doris's version of Kati Molnàr's "WrongSongs", the language itself seems to have been invented:
In others, such as Erin Mouré's translation of excerpts from Sébastien Smirou's "The What?", a variety of equivalents has been found, presumably to match the variety of the original:
Scha-rob? no shrub we say
disdress? oh no this dress oh yes
it's true it's true but then
you with your blood me with my nerve (minerva)
our language is the same? but no
you clearly see we make as if
it's easier that way oh yes but then
for instance if i say
but oh where did fishes disappear with a
horse that's got my tongue
it's not really the same
as if i speak with none? ...
In one case, Véronique Vassiliou's "MISE EN TERRE", the sound has been preserved but the sense abandoned, so that, for instance, the title is turned into "Mess on a Tire". (To fully appreciate this feat of "homophonic adaptation", we really do need the original.)
Yet other poems, perhaps because they supply a familiar context (or perhaps because they are so well translated), might have been written in English to start with: Sabine Macher's "on my desk", Michelle Grangaud's "RUSH", and Oscarine Bosquet's "Faulty Observations".
All in all, the editors have compiled an excellent sampler of contemporary French poetry. It may not be complete or conclusive, as they say, but it is a remarkable accomplishment all the same and clearly demonstrates their talent as matchmakers.