Sunday 31 May 2009

I translate Herman de Coninck in a new anthology

When I was asked to contribute to The Exile Book of Poetry in Translation: 20 Canadian Poets Take on the World, I knew right away that I wanted to translate the work of the Belgian poet Herman de Coninck. I had two main reasons for this. First, it gave me a chance to engage with a part of my own Flemish heritage head-on. Indeed, in my life I have had very little exposure Belgian literature in general and Flemish poetry in particular. As J.M. Coetzee pointed out in his book of translations of Dutch-language poems Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, “Dutch is a minor language in the sense that is spoken by only some fifteen million people, and its literature is a minor literature in the sense that it is not widely read.” It is not minor, however, in its artistic accomplishments. And that brings me to my second reason for choosing Herman de Coninck. I was already somewhat familiar with, and certainly impressed by, his warm, surprising and magnanimous poetry. He is not only one of the most widely read of modern Belgian poets, but he is one of the most widely read poets in the Dutch language of all time. Despite his enormous popularity in Europe, only one volume of translations of his poems into English exists: The Plural of Happiness: Selected Poems of Herman De Coninck translated by Laure-Anne Bosselaar and Kurt Brown (Oberlin College Press, 2006). Since I’ve been an admirer of de Coninck’s poetry since I first read one of his poems in translation many years ago, I couldn’t ignore this opportunity to share some of his work with a new Canadian audience.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

The European Constitution in Verse

Recently, I was one of several poets who helped translate this international, multilingual project into its English version.

Originally conceived of and edited by Belgian poets David van Reybrouck and Peter Vermeersch (who may or may not be related to me. I actually have no idea. Peter, if you're reading this, please get in touch!) of The Brussels Poetry Collective, The European Constitution in Verse is authored by poets from across the E.U. in a variety of European languages, and published by Belgium's Passa Porta, a group that organizes literary festivals and publishes and promotes books, much like the Literaturwerkstatt in Berlin (as far as I know, there is nothing quite like it Canada.... and there certainly should be).

Here is what the editors have to say about their creation:

'If the EU is not to be given a political constitution, at least give it a poetical one.’ The European Constitution in Verse: a long poem in which enthusiasm for Europe is tempered by a critical view, the grand gesture rubs up against poetic intimacy and the necessary seriousness is counterbalanced by a satirical note.

The Brussels Poetry Collective started the ball rolling. The famous Geert Van Istendael, the Galician eurocrat Xavier Queipo, the rapper Manza and the French-speaking performance poet Laurence Vielle wrote an inspired basic text. At least forty other European poets – at least one from each European country – then set to work. David Van Reybrouck and Peter Vermeersch remixed the whole lot to form an alternative European Constitution.

This project is more than just a frivolous reworking of a political fiasco. The poetic constitution puts the debate on the fundamental principles of Europe where it belongs: among the free citizens concerned.

The project in available in Europe in book form, but you can read the entire text -- in English, French, Dutch, or in its original multilingual version -- online. It's an impressive undertaking, and I urge you to spend some time taking it in.

Monday 18 May 2009

New on my bookshelf

Word Comix by Charlie Smith.

Charlie Smith's poetry kicks ass. The author of Heroin and Other Poems and Women in America has a new book, and that's reason to celebrate in ways that might make your neighbours call the cops.

Late Nights with Wild Cowboys by Johanna Skibsrud.

An extraordinary debut by a someone who very probably has the skill and talent to become one of this country's major poets. I'm eager for more of her work, especially after seeing her read at Harbourfront not too long ago.

Verses and Versions: Three Hundred Years of Russian Poetry Selected and Translated by Vladimir Nabokov.

This book's a feast of genius. Russian originals with Nabokov's translations on facing pages. A must.

Monday 4 May 2009

New on my bookshelf

I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to update the new acquisitions for my bookshelf, but now that I have a moment to play catch up, here are some of the new books I've been enjoying lately.

Inseminating the Elephant by Lucia Perillo.

Perillo is one of my very favourite poets writing today, and this book is a wonderful treat. There are few writers who combine humour and seriousness of purpose and technique and talent so well and make it look so effortless.

Check out her poem "Altered Beast" for a taste.

Pigeon by Karen Solie.

Solie isn't considered one of Canada's best poets for nothing, and here is further evidence that her accolades are well earned.

Read her poem "Tractor" for a taste.

Spectral Waves by Madeline DeFrees

Here is a poet I really didn't know much about, but when I first read DeFrees's poems "Broken Sleep" and "The Visionary Under The Knife" on Poetry Daily, I was instantly captivated, and I knew I had to order the book immediately. The book is simply marvellous, and I am looking forward to reading more of her work as soon as possible.

We Will Be Fish by JP King

I saw King read at Harbourfront a while back and bought his book for a steal at ten bucks. King is a surrealist with a light touch, and the book comes complete with collage illustrations. The work, both poetical and visual, reminds me quite a lot of Ludwig Zeller, if not in temperament then certainly in style.

God of Missed Connections by Elizabeth Bachinsky

I enjoyed Bachinsky's last collection so much, I'm glad to have this book now. I've just started reading it, and so far it lives up to her reputation, which in case you don't know is stellar.

The Hayflick Limit by Matthew Tierney

Matt Tierney's first collection was published in 2004, so we've been waiting five years for his second. Over those years, I tried (unsuccessfully, on a couple of occasions) to persuade Tierney to send an earlier version of his manuscript to me at Insomniac Press. In the end, Coach House Books prevailed, but no matter. It's a good fit for Tierney, and what's most important is that the book is finally here for us to enjoy.