February 15, 2009

Voilà or A Japanese/American in Paris

I have just returned from Paris, and while part of me is glad that I am in my London flat, I already miss the city. Last Monday (February 9th), we woke in Paris to rain, the sound of French coming from the hall, and an omelette with fromage and crusty baguette. That evening we headed off to Le Next, a bar at the Étienne Marcel Metro stop, where the Ivy Writers Paris reading series is held (curated by Michelle Noteboom and Jennifer K. Dick). To our surprise, a storm was on its way, and the owner was sick and couldn't make it out of bed. Jennifer zipped over to another restaurant/bar down the street, and voilà, we had a new venue. This never happens in The States. If the venue is gone, you're pretty much frakked, right? [Yes, I watch Battlestar Galactica.]

The reading happened in the basement of this new establishment, a cozy place with very little lighting. It was charming, in that the 40 or so people who came to hear us packed into the booths, while some stood near the entrance and others sat on the floor to listen. Jacques Roubaud and Claude Royet-Journoud were in the audience. Claude is dashing with silver hair, and I found myself unable to articulate sentences, except to say how beautiful his poems are. Please, pick up 
Objects Contain the Infinite translated by Keith Waldrop immediately. And Jacques wore a flat cap and was quite expressive with his face. I could have watched him all night.

Chris Pusateri started the evening, reading from Anon and his new manuscript Common Time, which he drafted for a year and then did a Glenn Gould revision treatment to it. One single lamp behind him illuminated his face, but it really felt like poetry in the dark. An interesting prospect. 

Marie-Louise Chapelle, the second reader, was unassuming in her demeanor. She sat on a chair and read in a quiet voice; she appeared shy and reserved. I was struck by her rhythms and her use of silence. Granted, I do not speak French, but Michelle's and Jennifer's translations allowed a glimpse into the language, which I thought was delicate. After the reading, I tried to tell her that her work was lovely and subtle. She looked puzzled, then turned to Jacques Roubaud (her husband), and the three of us repeated the word several times: sub-tle, sut-til, sut-tal. Finally, Jacques leaned in and explained: the problem is she does not speak English and I cannot hear (in his beautiful French accent), and with that, he smiled and shrugged.

One of the highlights for me was hearing Chris's Common Time and my She, A Blueprint for InterSurface in French, translated by Jen's students: Rémi, Divya, François, and Vasilena. [Thank you!] 

Listening to your work in a language you do not speak is like being introduced to yourself in a mirror, only you don't realize it's you. A kind of amnesia takes over or something. I found myself listening to the new rhythms/sounds and trying to find my syntax, while at times locating words I could understand: elle, motifs, fin de relation, blanc délicat. 

When the reading was over, I was told by Lisa Pasold that Frédéric Forte's nephew, a future musician who doesn't speak English (age 10 or so), enjoyed the work: the French language is flat, he said, but the English language has many ups and downs.