Among the most innovative of poets in the French language, Laforgue was an important influence on the young T S Eliot and called and “exquisite poet” by Ezra Pound. Called both part-symbolist and part- impressionist, his associative method, speech-rhythms and heterogeneous diction make him one of the most individual French poets. Laforgue died at the age of 27 in 1887.
Donald Revell is Professor of English & Director of Creative Writing programs at UNLV. Thief of Strings is his tenth poetry collection, published by Alice James. Donald Revell's previous translations include The Illumninations by Arthur Rimbaud, and A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud, both of which were published by Omnidawn. A Season in Hell won the PSA translation award. His books of essays include Invisible Green: Selected Prose, published by Omnidawn. He serves as poetry editor of Colorado Review. Revell lives in the desert south of Las Vegas with his wife, poet Claudia Keelan, and their children Benjamin Brecht and Lucie Ming.
Praise for Last Verses
***PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Fall Preview”***
“…a new translation of what many consider the first free verse poetry in French, rendered beautifully by American poet and translator, Revell.”
An interview with Donald Revell
(conducted by Rusty Morrison)
RM: Jules Laforgue is a central figure in modernism, a profound influence upon such poets as Eliot and Pound. In your “Translator’s Afterword,” you’ve given your readers much insight into the value of THE LAST VERSES. And, as you have said elsewhere, in his LAST VERSES, “he set a precedent which no one as yet has managed to emulate or to advance.” But would you talk about your personal experience with Laforgue? When did you first read him? When/how did his work become important to you? &/or evolve for you?
DR: I first read Laforgue as an undergraduate, guided to him by my early passion for T.S. Eliot. Back then, it was Laforgue's harlequinades and complaints that delighted me, exactly those poems that provided Eliot with his rhythms and personae. But in recent years, it has been the anguished, unguarded and entirely unique music of LAST VERSES that has captivated and, from time to time, consoled me. These are poems written in extremis, and yet their integrity, their courage, never falters. Eventually, it is too late for masquerades. Eventually, the truth is the better mask to wear.
RM: You are an esteemed translator of Rimbaud and Apollinaire. Of course, each creative project is unique, so there must be myriad differences (in your process, in problems, in pleasures) between these translation projects. But, now that you can look back on these three projects, are there any particular differences that might be interesting to talk about or describe?
DR: I must and do think of each of these poets as a brother and a friend. Their poems have companioned me since my teens. Thus, the process of translation was always the same: a LONG period of intimacy followed by a sudden, headlong embrace in which the boundaries between their minds and mine began to disappear. One cannot translate Rimbaud without being, however briefly, Rimbaud. And so, in my later life, I ached to be Laforgue and to know what he meant by Derniers Vers. In plain fact, I needed his company. Just as in earlier days I needed Apollinaire's jocund sorrow and then Rimbaud's visionary tendresse.
RM: Did you put thought into the order in which you translated them? Why did you wait to translate Laforgue?
DR: I waited because Laforgue's early poetry has already been splendidly translated. And through Eliot and Pound it has long since entered the canon. However, Derniers Vers has somehow been languishing in the wings. No young poet could hope to translate it (unless he was dying of tuberculosis in a crummy apartment beside a beloved dying of the same disease), but finally I reached an age and mind when it seemed very urgent to try.
RM: What, specifically, were some of the largest or most daunting challenges you faced as you worked through this text? Where there any unexpected surprises that opened in the text for you in the act of translation?
DR: The most daunting challenge that faced me was exactly that which faced Laforgue--i.e. to give up all pride and all artifice; for once in my life to EXCLAIM and then to go on exclaiming. I have always thought of poetry as an articulate courtesy. Not anymore.
RM: Now that some time has elapsed since completing this translation, would you say that your act of translating Laforgue has had an impact on you personally or upon your writing? Has your relationship to either Laforgue or to your own work changed (in ways you did or did not expect) because of the focused attention you’ve brought to the work?
DR: I love Humphrey Bogart's line in The African Queen: "I gave myself up for dead a mile back." Laforgue's Derniers Vers has taught me to give myself up for dead. And it feels just fine. Nowadays, when I sit down to write, I'm not bothered by any sense of a continuing project. I write a line, and then I write another, and God help them all.
RM: You chose the artwork that was used in the cover design for this translation. Can you talk about your reasons for this choice?
DR: Those butterflies of Redon seem to me souls soaring towards the exit.
RM: When you read translations by other poets, what questions do you bring to those texts? What are you looking for? What stimulates your interest? and what sustains your interest?
DR: I am always on the lookout for shameless intimacy and hopeless devotion. I find them only seldom, but surely they are there and luminous in Eshelman's translations of Vallejo and in Slavitt's translations of Ovid and Virgil. A translator must always be willing to make a fool of himself for love.
RM: Who are the writers you are reading currently for kinship? Who are the writers you are reading currently to be challenged?
DR: I'm a little too old for challenges. But for kinship? As always, John Clare and Hart Crane. And of contemporaries...I thank God every day that John Ashbery has written what he has written. Every book of his is a mansion, and all the doors are open wide.