Literary translation

A Peak into my Thesis entitled Crossing the Borders into Québécois Literature, Contemporary Anglo-Literature in Translation

The years of work required by a PhD are hard ones. And I'd like to share a few pages in honour of my being almost done. If you are up to reading some hard core theoretical translation studies material, hold on to your hats, ladies, because here it comes!


Please click on this link to access the PDF of 20 or so odd pages of pure reading pleasure for those in the know or simply the very curious.

What is Anglo-Québécois Literature? (WASM talk)

The Women's Art Society of Montreal , an institution that has been around since 1894, honoured me with an invitation to come and speak to their members and the public at large about a topic very dear to my heart, Anglo-Québécois literature. I had the privilege to outline the topic and discuss its impact on Québécois literature today to a wonderful and welcoming crowd.

Promise held, here are a few links to several publishers, groups, authors, associations, posts, videos and events that I mentioned during my talk.

Sherry Simon and her books Translating Montreal. Episodes in the Life of a Divided City and Cities in Translation: Intersections of Language and Memory

"Pre-Anglo-Québécois" authors mentioned were:

  • A. M. Klein (The Rocking Chair Collection)
  • Mavis Gallant (Montreal Stories)
  • Gwethelyn Graham (Earth and High Heaven)
  • Hugh MacLennan (Two Solitudes)
  • F. R. Scott (and his conversation with Anne Hébert about his translation of her poem Le tombeau des rois)

The Flow of Languages, the Grace of Cultures .. and although this talk was given back in 2010, it is still relevant.

In this article, Neil Smith gives us a humorous look at translation in Quebec : Translating Montreal: Where Blueberries are not Myrtilles

Quebec publishing houses translating Anglo-Québécois works, among other English-language works originating in the rest of Canada.

Alto is a publisher worth looking into as it has published many translated works. Here are just the latest.

And here is the link to Mordecai Richler published by Boréal

Alto and Marchand de feuilles are two French-language Quebec publishers. Many Anglo-Québécois authors have their books published in Toronto as English-language publishers in Quebec are not large outfits. One that was mentioned (in the short video of Guillaume Morissette) is Vehicule Press. It has been around since 1973, and today is run by poet Simon Dardick and Archivist Emerita Nancy Marrelli.

Part of the publishing English-language puzzle is the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec, an organization that "advances the publication, distribution, and promotion of English-language books from Quebec." They also publish the Montreal Review of Books, "a free, nationally distributed journal of reviews, features, and essays on English-language books by Quebec writers and publishers." English-language publishers in Quebec, a topic that merits further study and discussion.

Another important subject I did not have time to broach is about the translators themselves... do not forget to look at who is translating these Anglo-Québécois authors. Most are Québécois authors in their own right.

The Blue Metropolis Festival will be going on from April 20 to 29 this year. Here is this year's program

The Quebec Writers' Federation is an important institutional organisation that not only helps out English-language authors but also creates and funds a number of community programs, events and workshops involving literature. Their yearly literary awards have been around for decades.

The English Language Arts Network "connects, supports, and creates opportunities for Quebec’s English-speaking artists and arts communities."

The Quebec Drama Federation is Anglophone theatre's version of the QWF.

Don't hesitate to comment if I have forgotten to mention anything. All quoted passages are not my own words and come from the related linked websites.



A New Journal Specialized in Translation and Interpreting!

Transletters. International Journal of Translation and Interpreting is a brand spanking new journal that is looking for submissions for its first issue. Deadline is April 30, 2018. María del Mar Ogea from the Universidad de Córdoba and Christiane Nord from Universität Heidelberg are its chief editors, and its advisory board is full of linguistics and translation studies super stars. Don't miss this opportunity to appear in their first issue.

Re-inventing the Wheel


From the top of my very short blogging soap box, I tooted my horn yesterday. But what was perhaps less clear was the lack of original thought behind my rant. I am not alone in thinking the agrandisement of CanLit’s purview necessary, nor am I one of the first to think of it.

Thinkers and researchers like Smaro Kamboureli, who have tirelessly pushed this literature beyond its own frontiers, hemispheric researchers like Winfried Siemerling, global connectors of the likes of Michael Cronin, all strive to look outward, rather than inward, to define literature. Those are the footsteps into which I insert my own awkward feet.

The translation studies researcher in me adds a keen sensitivity to language, and its transfer, use, and misuse. A bit like a linguist, I like to follow the path of works, see where their surprising circulation leads. And this leads me to national, linguistic, cultural and sociological barriers and frontiers of literature that erect themselves naturally in front of certain literary scholars who sometimes do not see past them (or see them at all, for that matter). This is conceivably where I differ from several CanLit scholars, I bring the translatory dimension to literary works, in their textual existence, and their circulatory existence, as published works.

Two dimensions — the text and what happens to the text once it is published. The connection between these two dimensions is not one made off the cuff. Researchers like John Guillory make that amply clear. Canonization has nothing to do with the intrinsic nature of the text. So what is it about the text that “speaks” to the instances that canonize them, and why do we follow them like sheep? The connection between text, translation and circulation, how is it forged? A triangulation to be investigated within the confines of CanLit. How does one end of the triangle shed light on the other? Is there any rhyme of reason to the connections?



Leaving the Shore



I was just hit with the news that Mavis Gallant has passed away. She was truly one of the great dames of Canadian short stories, along with Margaret Atwood (duh...) and Alice Munro (super double duh...). At 91, she was one of those always present rocks of CanLit with a Québécois connection.

She embodied, for me, someone who lived the foreign. "Now we're on my home ground, foreign territory," as Atwood wrote in her novel Surfacing. And that's exactly how I envisoned Gallant, just without the ensuing madness. She was like the white or black dot in the yin yang symbol, always emersed in the Other, that is where she felt anchored, where she sought her emancipation. The place from where she wrote. How she managed to keep from getting swallowed into this overwhelming sea is the enigma for me. Her writings constitute the clues she left behind in order to answer this -- which shore was she referring to?

I would love to translate more of her work, into French, French from Quebec, to bring her back onto her native shore.

My translation of "La vie parisienne", one of Gallant's short stories, published in 1981.

Summer translating is the best

Phone (1)
So, I've been sitting on my balcony translating away some Klein for the past few weeks and I have been loving it. There is no small feat of strategizing involved as the kids, the impending end of school, work and a plethora of details (like laundry, for example) keep coming up. I do my best to promptly attend to them (cough, cough) and then book myself whole days of balcony translating.

I have found a "stream-of-translating" kind of approach to translating these poems works rather well. I always have a photocopy of the original poem so that I can whip it around the work surface (way easier than the 1000-page compilation whence it comes!). Then the ever-present pen and paper for any sort of note-taking to compensate for my faltering memory. Of course, the word processor open and ready to take in the translation and the Web browser opened to a selection of dictionaries that I find helpful for this work in particular.

I am translating A.M. Klein into French... think Shakespeare, anglo-norman roots and the whole shebang. For this, I love, absolutely LOVE, the OED. The etymology of words is the best and often I can pick up a French version of the word directly form there. When all else fails, I jot back and forth from the OED to the Petit Robert. I want to have access to the Grand Robert... working on that presently. Then I also have a rhyming dictionary handy - I like the BaRBeRy because you can manipulate it to obtain the type of rhyme needed. And of course, I could not do without the CRISCO! This one is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

So, all the chosen poems have been translated. I'm in the tweaking phase right now. But I have one major problem on my hands... they do not fit the blabla édulcoré I spewed out about them earlier this spring. Argh.

They were supposed to fit in as the "forgotten" poems of the Rocking Chair collection. A couple of them do, but that's the issue, just a couple of them. So I have to figure out how to deal with this. I love translating Klein's poetry and I would not see it d'un mauvais oeil if I had to translate some more of it. Especially the poems about himself and his natures mortes. 

I'm going to have to think about this some more... à suivre.

Off to Antwerp I go!

I found some fantastic news in my inbox bright and early last Monday morning. My submission to the Translation and National Images conference in Antwerp and Amsterdam has been accepted! The topics fit perfectly within my research so I said "What the heck, looks good to me!" and it seems that the conference's scientific committee said the same thing.

Here's the link to the conference itself hosted by Lessius University College and the University of Amsterdam, with the support of CETRA, University of Leuven:

The title of my presentation is A Case of Transposing National Identity in Literary Translation: Translating Montreal Anglophone Jewish Poet A.M. Klein into French, in Quebec.

The gist of it is my desire to implant a couple things. First, the whole field of Anglo-Québécois literature needs to be put out in the forefront and what better way to do this than to translate this literature into French for the French Québécois population. If they don't know this kind of literature exists, how can it get its stripes? And one of the ways they will be able to read it is through translation. I am going to stop here, otherwise I will get carried away.

Secondly, I think (believe...whatever, it's a question of opinion here) that A.M. Klein started looking cross-culturally at a time when it just wasn't done. His "voice", as a result, wasn't really heard on the other side all that well. I think it's time more Francophones find out who he was and what he said about them (way back in the 1940s). Some may be surprised to find out that he actually felt a certain kinship with them... him, the Jewish Anglophone poet... who would have thought.

So, in a nutshell, that's my project for this conference and it will specifically revolve around the poem Parade of St. Jean Baptiste and my translation of it.

I'll post the abstract as soon as it's all in order.



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.

It's off to a start!


It's the beginning. Here marks the beginning of my next 12 months...


La langue peut être abordée sous deux grands éclairages – soit, on peut la considérer de l’extérieur comme l’analyste qui veut découvrir le secret de son maniement et de sa « physiologie »; soit, on l’aborde de l’intérieur comme le fait l’écrivain, et de manière plus concise, le poète. Il s’agit de deux mondes à part, qui ne se touchent que très rarement. 

Une discipline qui a pour but de faire interagir la langue sous ces deux perspectives simultanément est la traduction littéraire. Le linguiste et l’écrivain se rencontrent en une personne. L’équilibre entre les deux est particulier – une démarche un peu trop « linguiste » dans la traduction fait perdre la créativité et souvent le lecteur, mais un peu trop de créativité dans l’approche fait basculer le tout en une adaptation et fait perdre la trace de l’auteur(e) original(e). En somme, il faut faire des choix lucides à chaque mot, à chaque phrase, pour chaque voix du début jusqu’à la fin du texte, voir même après.

Pour moi, tout a commencé avec la langue et une curiosité sans bornes pour son fonctionnement tant dans notre cerveau que dans notre manière de la concevoir en temps qu’être humain. Mais cette quête de la linguistique prendra fin. Elle se verra entraver par la réalité du quotidien qui viendra rapidement faire comprendre que l’université appartient à un autre monde.

Dix ans plus tard, c’est par la poésie que la langue me rappelle à elle. Je n’ai plus la « petite gêne » de ma jeunesse qui me nargue de choisir un métier, j’ai la maturité de mes convictions qui me dirigent vers ce qui, je soupçonne, a toujours été sous-jacent dans mes choix.

Durant les séminaires de ma scolarité de maîtrise en traductologie, j’ai exploré plusieurs avenues de recherche. C’est lors de l’exploration d’une de ces avenues que j’ai fait la connaissance des écrits du poète montréalais Abraham Moses Klein. Cette rencontre s’est produite par l’entremise des poèmes de sa collection The Rocking Chair and Other Poems. J’en suis restée étonnée par leur franchise et leur évidente intention de communiquer avec ce que nous, en traductologie, aimons désigner comme l’Autre. Cet Autre n’est que celui qui n’est pas Nous.

À partir de ce point de vue s’amorce toute la notion d’identité propre par rapport à l’entourage, la culture, la langue, le peuple, la nation (pour n’en nommer que cinq). Cette identité se définit au regard de l’Autre. Personne ne vie en vase clos, sinon il n’y aurait aucune raison de définir son identité.

Dans le cas de Klein et de ses écrits, cette analyse identitaire a été très bien faite d’un point de vue intellectuel et académique. Plusieurs recherches (voir même la majorité) ont explicité son identité de poète/écrivain/journaliste juif, anglophone, moderniste et montréalais à l’intérieur du contexte de son époque, de sa culture et des cultures avoisinantes.

Ce qui est plus rare est de saisir cette identité, clairement illustrée non seulement dans ses poèmes, mais également dans sa prose et ses autres écrits, et de la faire passer par la traduction vers le français du Québec, dans la langue de l’Autre. Cela a été entrepris par trois personnes et ne touche que très peu de ses écrits. Il a écrit tant de poèmes – sa collection complète compte plus de mille pages.

Et c’est ici que je rentre en jeu. Le mémoire que je veux remettre à la fin de ma maîtrise est la traduction d’une sélection de poèmes de Klein, accompagnée d’un appareil critique.  

Cet appareil critique approfondira le regard sur la communication avec le Québécois (l’Autre) que Klein a toujours cherché à établir durant une grande partie de sa vie dans ses écrits.

La traduction elle-même sera la mise à l’épreuve de la capacité d’emmener l’identité de Klein vers la langue de l’Autre. Je ne traduirais pas pour rendre la poésie de Klein en un objet anthropologique et informatif aux yeux d’une société savante, mais pour emporter Klein lui-même vers la langue de l’Autre, un changement de perspective en quelque sorte qui incorpore mutuellement les trois cultures qui l’entourent : la culture québécoise, la culture anglo-québécoise et la culture juive.

Henri's angle on Poetry Translation

Poétique du traduire

Être responsable de la critique d’une traduction de poésie est une tâche plutôt ingrate. En général, elle consiste à défaire quelque chose qui ne devrait jamais être déconstruit de façon linguistique. Et pourtant, nous insistons régulièrement en procédant ainsi.

La poésie doit être la forme d’écriture qui illustre le mieux le principe de l’holisme : le poème en entier est plus que la somme des mots utilisés pour le composer. Et comme Meschonnic l’a dit, traduire un poème est à quelque part en écrire un. Le poème est la plus pure représentation ou concentration de la voix de l’auteur. Il ne suffira jamais de comprendre simplement les mots pour en faire leur transposition. Le sens des mots forme un tout, s’entremêlant de la voix propre de l’auteur. Le sens des mots? Le sens se retrouve niché dans une multiplicité d’endroits qui débordent grandement des frontières lexicales.

And into English we go this time around...

Criticizing the translation of a poem is a thankless task. Generally, it consists in taking apart something that should never be deconstructed linguistically. Nevertheless, this is the path we always seem to go down.

Poetry has to be the kind of writing that illustrates best the principle of holism: the poem in its entirety is equal to more that the sum of the words used in its composition. Just like Meschonnic wrote, translating a poem is actually writing one. The poem is the purest representation or concentration of the author's voice. It will never be sufficient to simply understand the words in order to transpose them into another language. The meaning of the words make up a whole unit, entertwined with the author's singular voice. The meaning of the words? Meaning is nested in a multiplicity of places that transcend lexical limits.