Canadian literature is wide, large and extremely beautiful when inclusiveness is the word of order. It is composed of different languages, many of them indigenous. It is open to a wide variety of influences, often contradictory. And it is understudied.

I am not interested in going down that path, the one of why it isn’t taken as seriously as other major literatures, at least not now. Others before me have gone this route, brandishing various very thought provoking reasons, not the least being our lack of a strong (global/national?) identity. It is this ceaseless inward looking eye that bothers me, the need to streamline, categorize, catalogue and label works, so that they fit in a very narrow understanding of what constitutes CanLit. (What a great abbreviation, just think about it: “can” like the verb, a literature that “can.”)

I consider any work that is produced by anyone who has at one point in time identified with, was born, lived, touched or died on Canadian soil, to be a part of CanLit. Indigenous productions, Québécois literature, being contentious members, are for me, works of Canadian literature. They all participate in the complex conversation that is Canada. The idea is not to exclude, but to include more voices, more works, more authors, in order to open this exclusive club. The idea is to trace links between these different works and stand far back enough to see an outline of what CanLit really is.

History has its part to play in this grand piece, but not just Canadian history. What is Canadian history if European and American history (and by extension their literatures with their authors and works) are not included in this structure? Not much. We were not constituted in a vacuum, and we do not operate in one either. No one does. I’m thinking of Jack Kerouac, for example. Why isn’t he considered a part of CanLit? Yann Martel is claimed by CanLit, how is Kerouac any different? Parental filiation in both cases. Martel retains a certain Canadianness, whereas Kerouac had his completely erased.

And translation also has its place. And not just French and English translations. Here, I have in mind Joséphine Bacon’s poetry, in Innu and French, side by side, translated by Phyllis Aranoff, from French into English. And think about works by English-language Quebec authors, translated into French in Quebec. These are all works of CanLit, albeit from minority literatures.

Works to be included in minority (or perhaps minor) literatures, all under the umbrella of CanLit, works that belong to movements, rather than strictly regions. Poets like W. W. E. Ross could finally trully inhabit the Modernist space it deserves. Why couldn’t regional and literary currents intersect, juxtaposed one upon the other, and not be considered contradictory? And what of chronology? Other than being uselful to find out publication and circulation information, it should not constitute a barrier to belonging. Here, Sherry Simon’s three Montreal Modernities comes to mind, parallel currents that did not intersect, but reflected an era much larger than themselves.

And I could go on. And I will go on. I promise.

R. M. Vaughan's 14 Reasons Not To Eat Potato Chips On Church Street


For those of you who are wondering about my title, no, it has absolutely nothing to do with the nutritional content of potato chips or any sort of guide to dieting. It is the title of a poem, one written by R. M. Vaughan and originally printed as a chap book back in April 1999 for National Poetry Month by Ottawa-based Above/Ground Press. A few months later that same year, it came out in Vaughan's collection of poems Invisible to Predators, published by ECW Press. But more recently, in 2007, it was published in Barton and Nickerson's anthology Seminal by Arsenal Pulp Press. This is where, with the guidance of a wise professor, I happened upon it. The poem is a riot. It made me giggle all the way to this blog page.

And now that I have read it through a few times, googled some of the more oblique angles in my spotty connaissances, I find it is perhaps less fluffy than I may have judged at first glance.

First, a bit about the poet. R. M. Vaughan, or Richard Murray for those who, like me, are curious about the meaning of initials in place of actual names. Of course, this curiostity only amounts to silly sleuthing and is usually quickly solved with the first lines of a Wikipedia entry, but in this case, and in the name of serious academia, I relied on the University of Toronto's Canadian Poetry Online website to provide me with an encyclopedic quantity of information on Vaughan. Needless to say, I will not repeat what can easily be found on the above mentioned site, which is chalked full of information.

Broadly writing, this poet, novelist, playwright, video artist and journalist seems to live up to his "writing philosophy" of Genius is Volume. The sheer quantity of material he has written, produced, published, brought to the stage is a bit overwhelming. Until I read the poem I will discuss, I had never heard of this New Brunswick-born, Toronto-residing artist. One piece of biographical information that I find relevant to mention is his passage in the mid-1990s, as the playwright-in-residence, in Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times professional theatre, a not-for-profit company "dedicated to the promotion of Queer Canadian culture." The reason I find this relevant is that it clearly places Vaughan's writing in the Gay literature genre. Gay experience is at the heart of what he writes, and his collection of poetry Invisible to Predators clearly demonstrates this.

A reviewer in Quill & Quire called the collection "A candid celebration of homosexual love" where Vaughan's poems navigate from the deeply emotional connection of love, to a considerably abstract reply to a French revolutionary's last words to his wife before being sent to the guillotine. In all of this rather profound and touching poetry, we find a piece about potato chips held together with strange words of wisdom based on Torontonian geography. And what immediately comes to my mind is that there has to be more to it than that.

 A quick first reading of the poem made me snicker. Who hasn't been plagued with the little (and sometimes not-so-little) insecurities of weight gain and the social pressure to "keep thin?" By giving heed to the 14 reasons, the poet essentially wants to remain/become attractive (reasons 1, 5, 10 and 12), watch his nutrition in public (reason 7), steer clear of social shame associated with the consumption of junk food (reasons 3, 4, 11 and 13), watch his personal hygene in much the same way a mother would warn her son (reasons 2 and 9); let's not forget the financial predicament of an artist which stipulates that he or she be poor and therefore starving (reason 6 pushes in this direction) and what of the concept of luck, where only bad things will happen to you, much like crossing the path of a black cat. Although, I would like to find out more about the adversity of wearing a white shirt on Saturday night.

I have purposely left out the last reason, number 14. Prior to Vaughan terminating it on the satiric and resolutely fatalistic "But now it's too late," the preceeding four lines contemplate a different place: "a kinder neighbourhood, someplace more real, a family place", where he might meet someone who would be able to love him for what he is, potato chip-eating and all.  By leaving (specifically the Church and Wellesley Village, Toronto's largest LGBT neighbourhood), he might have a chance at some kind of peace. The safety zone of the gay community seems to be suffocating our poet. Gay turf, historically cloistered and turned onto itself, has become a space of repression where stereotypical political and social righteousness rule. You have to walk the walk, or else. And sadly, for this poet, and in his own words, "it's too late."


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: http://www.lessius.eu/transimage/

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.