for Claire Malroux
On a beechwood sideboard, there sat in state
an object whose functional equivalent
would be, in American, a trivet,
but “trivet” originally meant
something three-legged—no, that isn’t it.
A recollection that I can’t translate:
carved wood, a blue ceramic square,
chimes which a child with short brown hair
released into the air, turning a key,
on a noon-shuttered kitchen’s red-tiled floor.
The still heat of the estival Midi
exhaled, leonine, beyond the door
as the child, bare-legged and barefoot,
made up verses for
the tune she’d conjured out of the hot plate—
—if that’s the word for it.
A gray June afternoon outside Auxerre,
the last few tables of a flea market:
on one of them, boxlike, carved wood, a square
tile, with fin de siècle bathers, set
in it, a key between its four squat feet
which I turn. “Für Elise”
chimes in the dusty marketplace.
And somehow I participate
in a midsummer memory
of a cool moment, a still neutral date.
The thin child, a large scab on her right knee,
stands in the shuttered midday darkness, while
I hold what’s entered my own history:
music; carved wood, a blue ceramic tile.
About this poem
Two poets from France and one from America read at the Scottish Poetry Library’s Edinburgh International Festival event on 14 August 2001.
Claire Malroux was born in Albi, and now divides her time between Paris and Cabourg. Her most recent collection is Suspens (Paris, 2001), from which she read several poems at the Scottish Poetry Library event, ‘How to translate a poem’, held at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was fascinating to hear how different these were from the earliest work in Edge, her selected poems in a bilingual edition, translated by Marilyn Hacker. The process of being a translator herself – notably of Emily Dickinson, Derek Walcott and Douglas Dunn – has definitely influenced not only the style but also the choice of material of her poems. We heard excerpts from her long, autobiographical poem Soleil de Jadis (1998), in the translations by Marilyn Hacker, at the Library reading. Her translator has emphasised how innovative this lyric narrative is in contemporary French poetry; a poem primarily about memory, but with the backbone of the terrible events of 1936-45: ‘the story of a child’s plunge, half-willing and half-resisting, into the abyss of history’.
Just as Claire Malroux is immersed in Anglophone poetry and prose – her current project is translating Wallace Steven’s Ideas of Order – so Marilyn Hacker is becoming more and more at home in France. She read from her new collection, Squares and Courtyards, with its vivid evocation of lives and locations in Paris and New York, of resilience and endurance despite the toll of illness and of history.
Jérôme Game, currently completeing a PhD at Cambridge University, read from published and unpublished work; the occasional English phrase floated into his spare French, marked by spaces and pauses. He is also a translator, his Dix Poètes de langue anglaise: une anthologie pour aujourd’hui appearing in 2001.
The excellent reading took place on an unusually sunlit afternoon, with music from the cellist Su-a Lee and violinist Lise Aferiat.