Translator’s Note

Jessica Cuello

Pendant que Perceval tombait occurs in a single day and encompasses both the day of Virginia Woolf’s suicide and the death of the character Percival from Woolf’s novel The Waves. Langlais draws from overlapping sources: literary fiction, literary biography, and a third voice which enters subtly, a voice I believe to be the poet. Woolf said The Waves that the voices were not meant to be separate characters at all. So too, the voices in Pendant que Perceval tombait intersect without clear demarcation. Langlais says in a March 2021 interview that Pendant que Perceval tombait is a casse-tete (puzzle), and this book-length poem opened to me gradually, much the way that a riddle reveals itself. The pieces here are taken from different sections, but if the pieces were rearranged the book as a whole would still cohere.

Pendant que Perceval tombait blurs fiction with non-fiction and deranges time. Time tinged with grief does not reach us in a linear way. Lines recur, they move forward, they pull back like the sea. They do not fully arrive. We are aware of two dramatic events, Woolf’s suicide and Percival’s death, yet we remain suspended in recurring image. We are held in image, released, then held again. In an interview with “L’Actualite” in October 2021, Langlais calls the book “un arrêt sur image” and explains that she does not write to give sense but “to soothe the obstinate, sad voice that accompanies her.” This work feels distinctly feminine in its cycling of grief and in the tesserae of its construction. It possesses the narrative detail to move time forward, but it is not narrative that counts here, nor is it explanation; no, we are entranced by repetition as if by the sea.


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