Contemporary French Poetry and Translation

By De Julio, Maryann | Bucknell Review, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Contemporary French Poetry and Translation


De Julio, Maryann, Bucknell Review


FOR the last twenty or thirty years, contemporary French poetry has been turning to the translation of other poetry from different languages into French. The reasons for this are as numerous as the interconnections between translation and the circumstances of current writing in France. (1)

In 1983, for example, Fondation Royaumont, just outside of Paris, created a literary center (Centre Litteraire), which immediately became the site for a series of translation workshops and seminars in response to what the poet Bernard Noel, its then director, perceived as a lack of contemporary poetry in translation. (2) In 1990, the center was renamed Centre de Poesie & Traduction, which has since organized over fifty-two seminars, welcomed more than ninety poets of over thirty-five different nationalities and twenty-two different languages, and published more than thirty-seven books in the collection Les Cahiers de Royaumont. A network of centers for the translation of contemporary poetry, recently underwritten by the European Commission in Brussels, now exists in Europe with centers in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Turkey, Catalonia, Spain, Sweden, Poland, and, of course, France (and soon, Germany). Similar experiments in collective translation have been conducted in Bordeaux, Marseille, and on the initiative of Emmanuel Hocquard's Un Bureau sur l'Atlantique, in New Orleans (Louisiana), and, more recently, in Japan. (3)

Those associated with the Centre de Poesie & Traduction at the Fondation Royaumont, including Remy Hourcade (translator and current director), believe that a translation into French is a contribution to French literature, which enriches the French literary patrimony: "la traduction fonde sa propre origine au moment ou le francais s'arrache a la langue etrangere [the translation originates the moment that the French breaks free of the foreign language]. (4) From the beginning, the guiding principle for the translation seminars and workshops was simple: to invite one, or possibly two, foreign poets whose work is often not well known in France to spend ten days in France, five of them at Royaumont where they meet and work with French writers and translators on a daily basis, with the specific goal of producing a collective translation. The invited poets are to be translated only by other poets, line by line, out loud and, then, in writing. Generally, most of the French poets present do not know the language of the guest poets, which necessitates the presence of a bilingual translator who provides a literal version, a word-for-word translation, the basis for a provisionally more definitive translation to be reread and finalized by one of the French poets before publication. There are two bilingual public readings at the close of the seminar--one at Royaumont and the other in Paris. Several months later, the collectively translated texts are published by Editions Creaphis in two different collections: Un Bureau sur l'Atlantique, which publishes North American poets, and Les Cahiers de Royaumont, which publishes poets from all other countries?

It is in keeping with the current circumstances of poetry in France that there be certain "cultural conditions" associated with the Centre de Poesie & Traduction at Royaumont as well as with the network of translation centers throughout Europe, which it gave rise to. Each center must be housed in an historical monument or otherwise exceptional site with residential facilities for the collaborative work to be undertaken. There should also be a permanent infrastructure, capable of preparing and implementing all stages of the program in question. Furthermore, the centers should contract with a publishing house for the eventual publication of the collective translations effected during the seminars.

Auxiliary cultural activities have been inaugurated at Fondation Royaumont, which result directly from the collective translation seminars and workshops: is it still possible to speak of translation when the activity per se no longer concerns the passage of a text from one language into another? …

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