Poetry News

Nicole Brossard on Translation and Experimentalism in Canada

By Harriet Staff


Quebec poet and novelist Nicole Brossard has a new collection of poetry called Piano blanc/White Piano. If you're lucky enough to be in Montreal this evening, you can hear her read with novelist Jocelyn Saucier. But translation will be the main focus of the event. Two other poets (Katia Grubisic and Gillian Sze) will read English translations of Brossard and Saucier's work, while Saucier’s translator Rhonda Mullins will facilitate a general discussion about translation.

If, like us, you're not lucky enough to be in Montreal, head over to the Montreal Gazette, where Ian McGillis has written a lengthy feature on Brossard's relationship to translation, Quebec literature, and Feminism.

Brossard recalls that her first experiences seeing her work translated, in the early 1970s, were eye-opening. “It was the realization that I could say things in my own language that did not exist in another language, and vice versa. You learn where are we limited, and how can we transform the limitations and open the space for something new to be discovered and developed.”

She also acknowledges that learning to let go, and accepting that interpretations will always be subjective, is part of the experience: “The translator inevitably brings the text closer to her own ideology and sensibility, which is OK, but it depends to what extent. People who want to translate one’s work are usually people who have already invested a lot of themselves in the text.”

It didn’t take long for Brossard to learn that translation is a collaborative art. “It’s an intense relationship,” she says, “as intense as the one the author has to her own work.”

Brossard's comments on "the spirit of experimentation" in Canada are enlightening:

Does she find in her travels and reading that the spirit of experimentation survives? “In Quebec, no, but in English Canada, yes. Here we now have what’s been called the ‘New Readability.’ It’s difficult to produce formalist poetry. Between 1975 and ’85 there was a peak of experimental poetry, but it was important, in defining the feminist movement, to reduce the experimental element because there were such important things to say and they needed to be said clearly. But I sense it coming back. The generation that’s coming up now are the grandchildren of the ’60s movement, and very often you skip generations that way. I’m seeing a renewal of feminism, a renewal of a new kind of writing. One of the beauties of the new generation is that they read so many books in translation, from all over the world. So they have access to writers who were inaccessible when my generation was young. It opens up new possibilities.”

You'll find the rest of the article at the Montreal Gazette

And now for the event details:

Found in Translation
Dual book launch with Nicole Brossard, Jocelyne Saucier, Katia Grubisic, Gillian Sze and Rhonda Mullins,
Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard St. W.

Originally Published: February 27th, 2013