Translator’s Note

Samuel Martin

Gérard Macé is a prodigious connecter. Of thoughts and sights and sounds in his poems, to be sure – but equally of people, in ways that he can’t have foreseen. I was introduced to his work by the one close French friend I made during my undergraduate year in Paris, and it has remained a point of complicity between us ever since. When he called me in November, the first time we’d chatted in months, I asked if he could guess whose latest book I had in my hand at that moment. He knew right away. “Macé.”

Three summers ago, I passed the poet’s collection Promesse, tour et prestige [Pledge, Turn, and Prestige] on to another friend, having first had a go at translating some of the poems. The “tour” of the title, which names the decisive moment of a magic trick, seemed to chime with the French city of Tours where my friend was to spend several weeks. We came to see the book as a collection of formulas whose secrets were a kind of pact between us. Later, it was only on the strength of her encouragement that I sent my translations to the author himself, who received them with a generosity I now know to be typical.

There is so much to see in the tapestries of Macé’s texts; even Homer’s eyes are open in the title of the book from which the poem here is taken. Unlike his photography, though, or the silent movies to which he paid homage in his book L’art sans paroles [The Wordless Art], the pictures in his poems are inseparable from their sound. Macé’s accumulative images and rhythms may be recognizably his own, yet any translator who imagines that they are ever predictable (in other words, systematic) will soon be in difficulty. As the poet said in a recent radio interview, “Why am I so stubbornly opposed to systems? It’s because they avoid the real, which, for its part, is always surprising … What I try to do is to establish a relation with the real.”

(The surprise he speaks of is encapsulated for me by a memory that resurfaced when I learned that the editors at Waxwing had selected the poem “At first you don’t think …” for publication. I must have been seven or eight years old, playing catch with my father in our backyard one evening, when there was a soft thud on the ground between us: a cedar waxwing had dropped out of the sky. I’ve not forgotten the strangeness of its shape and sheen, or what it was like to hear its name for the first time; henceforth that bird will be connected in my mind with the father of Macé’s poem, in a relation I don’t claim to understand.)

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