A.M. Klein is a well-known Canadian modernist poet from Montreal whose writing had to wait over 40 years to be read in French translation. As wide as this gap in time may be, it is not a surprising one. However, what does prompt further investigation is the timing in the appearance of these translations.
Klein’s poetry transforms him into a well-positioned and talented observer of his era. But upon closer inspection, his writing also takes on an unexpected relevance in Montreal’s 21st century.
Applying the translation studies concepts of “translatability” and “furthering”, as defined by Sherry Simon, I will explore his short poem “O God ! O Montreal !”. I will illustrate the relevancy of Klein’s opinion within his own period but also how this view was, at the time, condemned to stay within a static cultural environment. Over two decades have passed since and Montreal’s cultural environment is quite different from the one in which Klein wrote. But nevertheless, today’s pluricultural Montreal is fraught by an echo from Klein’s writing.
In this particular poem, Klein makes Montreal’s historical and cultural realities cross paths over a period of two centuries. Like an elegant time capsule, the poem is a criticism of Montreal’s suspicious perception of all that is “culture” and traces a part of our history all the while helping us answer the question: How did we get this way?
All this brings us to the importance of translating more of Klein’s poetry as a way of reconstituting and enriching a part of Montreal’s cultural history from the very valid and seldom considered vantage point, the Anglophone poet.