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Review: Cold Spring in Winter, by Valérie Rouzeau

Though it is far more extravagant in its use of language, the work of the French poet Valérie Rouzeau, as represented in Cold Spring in Winter, has an affinity with that of Menashe in the poet's ear for interplays of meaning, for the words hidden inside other words and the like. Cold Spring in Winter is a bilingual text (like all of Arc's excellent Visible Poets series), Rouzeau's French opposite an impressive translation by Susan Wicks. Unlike that of Menashe, Rouzeau's work appears to be full of quasi-confessional intensity of emotion, the work translated being a lament for the poet's dead father (originally published as pas revoir in 1988). In expression her writing has a kind of linguistic fluidity, full of puns and childish gabble, coinages and colloquialisms, ambiguities and elisions, phrases that aren't quite clichés or proverbs, etc. Susan Wicks says in her Translator's Preface that when she first read it the sequence struck her as a translator's dream or a translator's nightmare. It is as if at least two voices - that of the sophisticated adult poet and that of the child she was - are simultaneously occupying the text. Whether in Rouzeau's French:

Tartines beurrées et gelées de groseilles j'avale.
Printemps froid c'est hiver encore.
Mon père son visage jaune sans bouton
d'or ne mange rien ni ne regrette.
Ma mere son visage rouge itout dit-elle
il ne dit pas itoute.
Mais la chérit toute sa main dessus son cœur pas
semblant de dormir semblant d'être sans rire.

Or in Wicks' English:

Butter-frosted currant-jelly-glazed slices of
bread I swallow.
Cold spring still in winter.
My father's yellow face without a buttercup eats
nothing nor regrets.
My mum red-faced says dearest he doesn't
say dearest.
But he holds all of her dear his hand on her heart
not pretending to be asleep just pretending to be not joking.

- the results are fascinating and striking.