“North” comes from an unpublished collection I’ve translated from Georges Rose, the original titled Rivages. It was upon finding this small but wonderful collection — Paris, spring of 2015 — when my story with Georges Rose and translation began.
I paid two euros for Rivages at a used bookstore, and for the following two years, as I moved from city to small town to bigger city, Rivages was lost, then reappeared, misplaced again, and found once more. In some odd way, its worn cover always found its way back in my grasp. All of this to say that Rivages has continued to act as some sort of thematic mystery in my life. While this is surely my own fault — the clutter of suitcases and old cardboard boxes — I began to think it was a wonderful coincidence that its mystery and ambiguity in my own life mirrored its content.
Perhaps more than anything, Rose’s poetry can be defined through his use of language to speak of what is lost, misplaced, and ambiguous. As Rose has told me time and time again in our discussions on poetry and translation, we may think of poetry as a language of reality. In “North,” as well as throughout Rivages, we see how the author uses the concrete, the material, to offer something much vaster. We see what happens when the visible and invisible meet. Through his poetry, the abstract becomes a solid, something we hold in our hands — if only we remember where we placed it.
During my time at the University of Iowa, I began working on the English translation of Rivages. The story and progress of this endeavor, which was certainly no simple task, paralleled my own story in becoming a translator — namely, my understanding of the importance of translation itself. Beyond the technicalities — the semantics, the phonetics, the pragmatics of one language to another — I began to formulate my ideas of what translation is. While I’m sure my ideas will grow, be stunted, and grow in other directions as I continue to work, I believe that upon meeting Georges Rose for the first time, my ideas were validated. In his cozy apartment, over coffee, snacks, and many hours, we were able to put faces, voices, and handshakes to the words we had read on screens for so long. We conversed between French and English, papers strewn on the table and pens at the ready, and created an open space where language and culture transposed. While I had known it in theory for some time, I had finally witnessed and been a part of what it meant to translate — to connect, and to do so actively.
The act of translation takes places not just between words and phrases and pages from one language to the next. It begins when we move our fingers across a used bookshelf and discover something new, expected or not. We translate when the door opens and an open space is created for conversation, despite the content, and certainly despite the context. If poetry and writing is truly, as Rose claims, the language of reality, we should then consider translation as a dialect. Just as “North” is only a glimpse at a larger collection, so is its English translation only a glimpse to the reality found in Rivages.about the author