Graffiti: New Poems in Translation


86 pages
ISBN 0-919688-65-9
DDC C841'.54





Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour is a professor of English at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Lyric/anti-lyric : Essays on Contemporary Poetry,
Breath Takes, and Fragmenting Body Etc.


This translation of recent work by one of Quebec’s major poets offers
readers something very different from the poetry usually found in
English Canada. Pierre DesRuisseaux is a poet of meditation, and these
epigrammatic snippets achieve an oracular density and imagistic
sharpness that should prove of lasting interest.

A translation project begun by Louis Dudek before his death and carried
forward by Jane Brierley, Raymond Filip, Keith Henderson, Steve Luxton,
Ken Norris, and Sonja A. Skarstedt, Graffiti includes a preface by Marc
Vaillancourt and an afterword by Skarstedt, both of which offer valuable
insights into DesRuisseaux’s poetic.

The poems in Graffiti are minimalist, stripped down to the basics of
language and image, yet they achieve a symbolic intensity again and
again. Alongside traditional images of nature, DesRuisseaux plants
images from contemporary technology, with both ironic and devastating
effect. Take, for example, this savage and compassionate image of cars:
“those big black bruises worsening out in the streets.”

The poems in Graffiti attempt both to recover the innocence of
childhood vision and to explore the complex gains and losses that come
with language (or “the word,” as DesRuisseaux puts it again and
again). Each poem is a small jewel of arcane vision: “On earth heaven
under the sun / becomes invisible silence / words lifting roots / never
reach the heart of the book / and never does a word’s immensity / name
the / flash of light in the night that ignores itself.”

These poems hide as much as they reveal. They offer moments of
meditational intensity discovered in the metaphorical metamorphoses only
language can create. Graffiti offers English-speaking readers a glimpse
of something new and different from the other solitude.



DesRuisseaux, Pierre., “Graffiti: New Poems in Translation,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,