Although author Louis-Philippe Dalembert was born and raised in Haiti, this story takes place in French Guiana, a French territory located on South America’s northern Atlantic coast. Sharing borders with Brazil to the east and south, and with Suriname to the west, the region is also known for the Kourou Space Center, where the European Space Agency conducts satellite and spacecraft launches.
Some of the language used throughout the text reflects diverse historical and geographical influences, drawing from French, Guianese and Caribbean French Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish. Métro is an informal French term to describe someone from metropolitan France. Hexagone refers to mainland France, because of its shape. Carbet, a term used in the French Caribbean, refers to an open shelter where community members may gather. Domien refers to people from the French Overseas Departments. Hideputa is Spanish for “son of a bitch.” Tapouille is a sailboat or schooner. Garimpeiro is a Portuguese term referring to a gold miner. Clandestinos is a Portuguese term referring to illegal immigrants. Jinetero is a male prostitute. Tarlouze is a pejorative term used to refer to a gay man.
I met Mireille Gansel virtually, through a mutual friend. All three of us have lost family because of the Holocaust. Besides her poetry books, Gansel translated all of Nelly Sach’s poems, as well as Sach’s correspondence with Paul Celan. She has won major awards for both her poetry and translations. Her Translation as Transhumance (The Feminist Press) has contributed significantly to the field of translation studies.
The first time I tried to see Judge Florence, I employed the same strategy as most petitioners: I camped out at the entrance to the courthouse in the administrative district next to the lake in the capital to try and grab her as she walked in. But that just showed my ignorance of the winding, inner workings of the judicial system—as soon as the magistrate appeared, I was thoughtlessly shoved aside by at least thirty others racing toward her with similar ideas. The only glimpse I managed to catch of Florence was a wisp of jet-black hair and a flash of golden glasses slicing a path through the scrambling masses.
The woman took a seat on the bench. She was wearing a little black dress and a coat that was also black, brightened up with a pale blue scarf around her neck. Long blond hair framed her rather beautiful face, which her eyes, drowned in dream, bestowed with a unique absence.
Sylvie Durbec was born in Marseille and lives in Provence, near Avignon. She writes texts in both prose and poetry, as well as painting and making collages. The many books she has published over the past twenty years include the prose-poetry memoire Marseille : éclats et quartiers (Marseille, fragments and quarters) which won the prestigious Jean Follain prize; Prendre place (Takingplace) concerning the internment camp at Douadic in France and Soutine, a prose-poem about the painter, published in The Common. This year she has published 50 carrés du jour (50 squares of the day) and Ça qui me poursuit (That which pursues me).
Denis Hirson grew up in South Africa and has lived in France since 1975. He has published nine books, several concerning the memory of South Africa under apartheid. The latest, both published in 2017, are Footnotes for the Panther, ten conversations with William Kentridge, and Ma langue au chat, in French, concerning the torture and delight of speaking and writing in that language.
Table of Contents
The Ignorance of Beasts
The Ignorance of Beasts
I still don’t know how to type a tilde on a computer keyboard
when writing the name of a Spanish or Portuguese writer I love.
to lick the skin of the water / with a tongue I don’t speak
Marie-Andrée Gill’s Spawn is a surprising, colorful, virtuosic collection. Its brief, untitled poems span ’90s-kid nostalgia, the life cycle of fresh-water salmon, a coming of age, and the natural landscape of the Mashteuiatsh reserve, centered on Lake Piekuakami—a site of recreation and commerce, a reminder of conquest and ecological decline, a symbol of the ancient world, of sex, of the cycles of life. These poems are tightly interdependent, and Spawn could truly be read as a single, braided, book-length poem. But I want to focus here on a theme that became especially vital to my project of understanding and translating the book: recovery of language.
Marie-Andrée Gill: Poems in Translation from SPAWN
As xenophobic arguments about merit-based immigration and “migrant caravans” intensify in the US, and as desperate boatloads of refugees cross the Mediterranean, poetry of (im)migration and border-crossing plays a crucial role in bearing witness and resistance.
Immigrants in Years 2070, 2081, and 2097 Must Furnish the Following Documents
Originally published in French in the collection En enfer, mon amour, Editions de l’Aire, 1990.
Story appears in both French and English.
I first encountered the work of Marie-Claire Dewarrat when I read her novel Carême, the story of a grieving father which the author wrote following the death of her own daughter. I was entranced by the book’s sweet strangeness and the way it wove dark, violent realities into the slow rhythms of grief and healing. In the short story collection from which “Rising Sap” is drawn, that darkness often takes a fantastical, surreal turn. Dewarrat’s fiction is deeply tied to season and landscape, more specifically to the countryside of French-speaking Switzerland where much of her work is set. Her wise, often teasing narratorial voice playfully and skillfully blends poetic language with informal, local turns of phrase, vividly conjuring that particular place.
I first came across Khal Torabully’s work in Patrick Williamson’s The Parley Tree, a bilingual anthology of poets from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab world. I was immediately drawn to Torabully’s lush language and sea imagery, and developed an even greater appreciation of his work when I learned more about the context of these poems—giving voice to the millions of men and women who endured horrific conditions as indentured workers during the years between 1834 and the end of World War I. Sometimes tricked into indenture, these workers, mostly from India and China, were separated from their families and homelands, and were transported to Mauritius in the same ships that had formerly carried slaves. Many were forced to stay and work in Mauritian sugar cane fields, while others were sent to other regions under colonial rule, and subjected to cruel conditions in the cargo hold of ships during transoceanic voyages. Similar to the way Aimé Césaire coined the term “negritude,” Torabully coined the term “coolitude,” imbuing the pejorative word “coolie” with dignity, pride, and a humanity that transcends all geographical, biological, and ethnic divisions.