Jacques Dupin's Poetic Language: A Process of Becoming, of Blossoming

De singes et de mouches

De singes et de mouches précéde de Les Mères
BY Jacques Dupin
(Paris, Éditions P.O.L., 2001)

The entire sequences from which these excerpts have been drawn will be published by The Bitter Oleander Press in late 2011, as a single volume consisting of Jacques Dupin’s three books: Les Mères, De singes et de mouches, and Coudrier.

Translator’s Note

Often conjuring up a primitive or, more precisely, nascent state of being in which sensations, sentiments, perceptions, thoughts, and acts are depicted as emerging before language categorizes and conceptualizes them, Dupin’s stark poems and prose poems foster paradoxes. They suggest potential narratives that are left untold, willingly verge on what he calls “illegibility,” and appear “cubist” in their juxtaposition of fragments and rejection of natural or logical transitions.

Dupin’s verse is especially succinct, even skeletal. Its special music derives from abrupt internal rhymes and jagged rhythms.

These characteristics are especially true of his verse. His poems ironically transform well-worn expressions and rely on key polysemous terms. Words such as “feuille,” “éclat,” “soif,” “bord,” “(se) jeter,” or “souffle” create meanings that are at once rich, even sometimes supersaturated, and not entirely determinate in that it is presented in a process of becoming, of blossoming. A given line comprising “feuille” will be interpreted differently if the reader construes the word as “leaf,” “(manuscript) page,” or “piece of paper.” “Éclat” can be an equivalent of “sparkle,” “burst,” “explosion,” even “shell fragment” or “shrapnel.” When Dupin evokes an “avalanche de soie” in Of Flies and Monkeys, the “soie” will be read as “silk” and perhaps heard as “self.” In Mothers, “vis sans fin” refers to a technical object (a “worm screw mechanism”) but also, phonetically, to “endless vice.” Dupin uses the French “vers” as both “worms” and “verse,” and he has encouraged me to render the word as “verse-worms.”

In such cases, two or three meanings are valid and function simultaneously. No given poem therefore expresses a single theme, but rather coexistent ones; they range from writing and painful childhood memories (notably involving the poet’s mother) to death, war, and sexual desire. Sometimes adding a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb helps to multiply meanings in English, a language that normally eschews polysemy and prefers to select a single shade of meaning. The task of the translator facing Dupin’s work is not easy. In contrast to his poetic prose, Dupin’s verse is especially succinct, even skeletal. Its special music derives from abrupt internal rhymes and jagged rhythms. The English padding must remain very discreet and retain some of this dense, bony harshness — which can also be humorous!

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