Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mobility of Light: The Poetry of Nicole Brossard, ed. Louise H. Forsyth

On the heels of a new novel translated into English through Coach House Books comes Mobility of Light: The Poetry of Nicole Brossard, selected with an introduction by Louise H. Forsyth (Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Laurier Poetry Series, 2009). As the editor writes in her introduction:
In the effervescent 1960s, when Brossard published her first volumes of poetry and co-founded La Barre du Jour, many in Quebec were angrily turning their backs on debilitating monolithic structures of traditional ideologies, throwing open doors on the modern world and shouting their legitimacy in claiming language for themselves, affirming their own sexuality, their autonomous presence in the world, and their right to unencumbered agency. It was a revolutionary time of passionate and erotic creativity in poetry and song. Brossard, like most poets of this generation, was committed to Quebec’s independence and preservation of its unique language and culture. This commitment led many poets to write on themes of secular nationalism and produce images of Terre Québec. Others, with Brossard, were poets of the modern city, poets of modernity choosing to use language reflectively rather than referentially. For them, language was an inexhaustible source of words to challenge powerful ideologically determined linguistic codes that control perceptions and behaviours: “the code struts / the code analyses the code dictates” (Suite logic). Brossard was quickly seen to be a bold leader of these formalist poets, who have since been recognized as having breathed new life and vision into Quebec’s language and literature.
One of the largest collections in the Wilfrid Laurier Poetry Series of some dozen collections, this bilingual work collects itself out of her works translated into English, with the original French texts included as well, and I am glad for the inclusion (but it would have been nice to include a far better publishing history of Brossard’s at the back of the collection, if only for her translated works). As Brossard herself writes in her “Postface / Afterword”:
I am touched when I read Mobility of Light because this anthology shows me in a few pages how I have traversed personal and collective space. It allows me to take an overview of what I am calling, in contrast to biography, my biosemiology, as well as what makes up the nodes of fervour in a life of writing. In addition, it allows me to hear the grain of the voice which resembles mine.
It’s impressive how someone writing in French in Canada has a publishing history large enough that a selected poems can even be created from her English translations alone. Or does this, by itself, serve as a reminder of just how much Canadian writing English-speaking audiences might just be completely unaware of? How different might her ouvre read, perhaps, if a selected poems were to be built out of her entire published works, translated or otherwise, and built from such, translated, for the sake of the English reader? How to the shapes and the shadows of her lines and lessons differ, between one language and the next?

my continent woman of all the spaces
cortex and flood: a sense of gravity
bringing me into the world
my different matter into existence which
fills and drains this singular tension
like the ultimate vitality and
wisdom where intelligence and breasts, thighs
one after the other sleeping and agitation
breasts get the better of breath
we find there / writing

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