French Poets of Today, Bilingual Edition


195 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-919349-51-X
DDC 841'





Reviewed by


This is a curious compilation, obviously designed to introduce the contemporary poetry of France to an English-Canadian audience. It contains selections from thirteen poets, six born in the late 1930s or early l940s, six in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and one younger voice. The poems concerned are reproduced on facing pages, first in French and then in English translation, and there are “Bio-bibliographical Notes” at the end. So far, so good. But there is no indication of where individual poems originated or where they may be found in their authors’ published volumes. Moreover, no editor is named on the title page or at the foot of the two-page preface (though the eagle-eyed and persistent will draw a conclusion from the naming of Jean-Yves Reuzeau — one of the anthologized poets — in the cataloguing data).

The not-very-helpful preface identifies the poetic age as “a period of confusion, perhaps, yet a highly creative moment filled with lyricism” (p. 9). More noticeable to me in this anthology were the startling and disorienting juxtapositions of seemingly discrete images and references, and the fragmented syntactical segments that encourage at best ambivalence, at worst ambiguity. I detected a good deal of felt response to the contemporary scene (especially its shoddiness and absurdity) but very little hard thinking. Much of the “self-expression” seemed excessively private.

While the parallel texts are theoretically a good idea, the English translations leave much to be desired. Too often they involve, to quote Mavis Gallant, “a new and rapidly-spreading sub-speech called Translator’s Word-for-Word” (Paris Notebooks, p. 209). Here, “la video synthetique d’un alcool” becomes merely “the synthetic video of an alcohol” (pp. 24-25), and “canal 5” unforgivably remains “canal 5” (pp. 32-33). On the other hand, freer translation often spoils a deliberate effect; thus “Feu inexplique du silex / Feu secret de l’instant” becomes “The flint’s unexplained fine / Secret fine of the instant” (pp. 162-63), where the grammatical balance in the French, a conscious rhetorical device, has been destroyed.

More seriously, misprints abound in the English. These are not just obvious typos (e.g., “solider” for “soldier,” p. 179), but spelling errors (“Venitian,” p. 21; “acquatic,” p. 29; “dieing,” p. 35), grammatical blunders (“whom” for “who,” p. 71 ; “now at you now I,” p. 173), and strange mistakes that destroy the meaning (“interesting” for “intersecting,” p. 29; “vanish” for “vanquish,” p. 189; even “muttled” — is it for “muffled”? or “muted”? — p. 171). All this does not inspire confidence.



“French Poets of Today, Bilingual Edition,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 22, 2024,