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Review: Talking Vrouz, by Valérie Rouzeau

Jaqui Rowe, the North, Spring 2014, No. 52


Talking Vrouz (Arc) is translator Susan Wick's selection from two recent collections by Valerie Rouzeau, The first is Quand je me deux. Wicks' version of the title is When I am too, which demonstrates immediately the difficulty for Rouzeau's translator in handing apparently innocuous words.


Rouzeau with her delight in wordplay, including neologisms, slang and borrowed words from other languages, and her cool, dry tone, a sense, certainly throughout the first section, that she is looking at herself from a distance, as if she really is two. Within forms both traditional and devised by the poet, are the surprises of juxtaposition, subversion of grammar and incongruous images. '18 ver quoi' ('18 lines to what') is virtually a list poem composed of disparate images and repitition [...].

Vrouz is, in the broadest sense, a sonnet sequence, through the common factor of the poem is simply fourteen lines and in most a turn, albeit subtle, is detectable. Though some have the squareness of a traditional, metrical sonnet, others have much shorter lines or variety. They are presented uniformly, two to a page, with just a pilcrow, in between in a place of a title or number. This imparts an initial sense of tightness and containment to even more inventiveness and unexpected approaches to sometimes familiar subjects.


Wick's admirable translations are versions, not keys; they exist as poems in their own right. She has striven not just to convey meaning but to offer the English reader a similar experience to that of the French reader of the original. She explains in her introduction that she set out to imitate the laconic tone and to find a rhythm. In doing so, she has not been afraid to cut or add small words, in much the same way Rouzau sometimes writes in what Wicks calls 'telegrammese'; thus 'Une cravate un fil de telephone', ten syllables which would be rendered as five in literal translation comes 'A knotted tie a spiral flex of phone'. Wicks is not afraid to change the order of ideas or break a line differently from the original. She is a superb exponent of the blend of humility and daring she contends is necessary for a translator of poetry. [...]