Poetry by Henri Meschonnic, translated by Don Boes and Gabriella Bedetti

the images that resemble me come from far away like a story

which at first is not mine but in the end composes me

even if I do not recognize myself in it

I am not in what I am looking for but in what spills out of me

I find my origins in the morning papers

and the cries we no longer hear are the red sea parting

each day so that something of us survives oblivion

 

–from Voyageurs de la voix (Travelers of the Voice), Verdier, 1985

 

Henri Meschonnic (1932–2009) is a key figure of French “new poetics,” best known worldwide for his translations from the Old Testament and the 710-page Critique du rhythme. During his long career, Meschonnic generated controversy in the literary community. As a poet and as a translator of the Hebrew verse of the Bible, Meschonnic contends that rhythm rules over meaning, flowing from the bottom up. For him, the revolution in the idea of language is the basis of a continuing change, not only in the poem but also in the idea of history and social life itself. His poems appear in more than a dozen languages; however, even now, almost none of Meschonnic’s poems have been translated into English. His poetry has received prestigious awards, including the Max Jacob International Poetry Prize, the Mallarmé Prize, the Jean Arp Francophone Literature Prize, and the Guillevic-Ville de Saint-Malo Grand Prize for Poetry.

Don Boes is the author of Good Luck With That, Railroad Crossing, and The Eighth Continent, selected by A. R. Ammons for the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in The Louisville Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, CutBank, Zone 3, Southern Indiana Review, and The Cincinnati Review.

Gabriella Bedetti studied translation at the University of Iowa and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her translations of Meschonnic’s essays and other writings have appeared in New Literary History, Critical Inquiry, and Diacritics. Meschonnic was a guest of the MLA at her roundtable with Ralph Cohen and Susan Stewart.

 

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