Translator's notes

18 Lines towards What

By Valerie Rouzeau

Preserving the essence of Rouzeau’s work in English isn’t easy. The challenge with these new poems was perhaps even greater than the one I faced when I decided to translate the whole of Pas Revoir. For me these poems from Quand Je Me Deux clearly asked for a faithful but not totally literal translation. In a poem there are so many meaningful things to be faithful to, and inevitably you have to choose. I chose, firstly, to try and imitate the laconic tone, which seemed to shrug its shoulders at life’s baffling juxtapositions in a way I recognized from reading the young Rimbaud, or Boris Vian or, especially, Apollinaire. To keep that in English I felt I needed a rhythm, and my words have been chosen often with rhythmic considerations in mind. Rouzeau’s own characteristic telegrammese makes that easier in some ways: she often suppresses articles, particles, pronouns, auxiliaries, for the sake of fertile ambiguities or sound; she repeats words for pure pleasure, sometimes with a sleight-of-hand change of meaning. She occasionally sprinkles her text with a pinch of English or other foreign words. This gave me a certain flexibility: if I couldn’t find an appropriate word with the right syllable-count or stress I could cut a small word or add one – an article, an ‘and’, a qualifier – perhaps not exactly at the same points that Valérie cut or slipped in her own. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that the boldness of the poetic procedures in French was asking an equivalent boldness of me as their translator.

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