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Treason

Treason

By Hédi Kaddour

Translated by Marilyn Hacker

Yale University Press, 192pp Hardback ISBN 100300149581
Series 3 Number 16 - The Dialect of the Tribe

The creative brilliance of Hédi Kaddour partly lies in his being a master of restraint, and Marilyn Hacker proves to be an acute observer of this phenomenon in her translations.

Review by Delphine Grass

Marilyn Hacker points out in her introduction to her translation of Hédi Kaddour’s poems that ‘Kaddour makes a surprisingly sharp differentiation between his own urban “sonnets” and Baudelaire’s’. Treason, her English translations of Kaddour’s poems, are taken from three different poetry collections of this author published by Gallimard between 1989 and 2000. Caught between historical grand-narratives and the intricacies of everyday life, the poems resist the temptation of making easy connections between both worlds. The creative brilliance of Hédi Kaddour partly lies in his being a master of restraint, and Marilyn Hacker proves to be an acute observer of this phenomenon in her translations. The aesthetics of his poems can be contrasted with this parody of Verlaine’s poetic legacy:

Verlaine? He stands erect there on the grass,
Lyre and palm tree behind him, a bronze bust
Of Verlaine atop three good yards
Of cement prick around which writhe three
Unlikely Muses, panic stricken to be
Discovered in such dubious company
By strollers so much less interested
In amorous combat. The bitter roar
Of a motorcycle rudely interferes
With the rain’s small music beneath the plane
Trees and chestnuts; a ray of sun
Slices to chiaroscuro the red and green
Bushes, and sulking Verlaine still dreams
The air that will make everything cohere. (p. 77)

In its ironic depiction, this poem subverts Verlaine’s desire to ‘make everything cohere’. It is also self-descriptive of Kaddour’s style, which, on the other hand, resists the pursuit of concord amid the bustling Paris his poems often describe. The brilliance of his poems lies in their commitment to embrace details when they could so easily be dismissed for the sake of easy harmonious conformity. But for Kaddour, neither myth nor grand events seem worth giving up the marginal and the lesser observed for. As a whole, his poems are a challenge to Nietzsche’s quotation at the beginning of the poem whose title has been chosen for this collection: ‘Poets lack modesty in their adventures: they exploit them.’ Marilyn Hacker’s translations reveal an astute understanding of Kaddour’s poetic intentions. In bearing the same commitment to poetic details as his own works, they are able to reveal the most subtle tones and imports of their original craftsmanship.

Delphine Grass

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