Juliette Valery and Emmanuel Hocquard for the New Writing Series 2006

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by Bridget Eileen - Writer in Providence, Rhode Island 

The following post was originally posted on one of Bridget Eileen’s old blogs: In the Pines, Neophyte Poetics, Bridget Eileen’s Commonplace Book, Dreaming Bridge Designs or A Vegetarian Notebook. They aren’t all fancy with photos and subheadings and search descriptions, or even that much content, sometimes. They’re here for posterity, because it’s fun to read the archives!

Juliette Valery and Emmanuel Hocquard in Maine

Posted by Bridget Madden (Sunday April 30, 2006 at 6:21 pm)
You can read this story in the Maine Campus.

The final New Writing Series event for the semester featured French writers and translators, Emmanuel Hocquard and Juliette Valery. The Soderberg Auditorium was filled with the usual English-major oriented audience and also many francop

“I came because I’m a Franco-American, and I love poetry,” said English major Danielle LaLiberte.

Both Hocquard and Valery read their work in French. Professors Steve Evans and Jennifer Moxley read the translations. The experience for those that could not understand French was, at times, frustrating because we knew we were missing something good. The francophones would laugh or nod in appreciation at the comments or poems, while the non-francophones had to wait for the translation to find out what we had missed. In his introduction, Steve Evans suggested that we “listen for the musicality of the words,” if we were unable to understand them. It was a good suggestion, as both Hocquard and Valery words were phonically pleasing.

“It made me want to learn French,” said audience member Matt Cameron after the reading.
Juliette Valery read first from the book Le Bolide Immobile au Centre de L’Ecran (The Race Car in the Center of the Screen). Her friend, the visual artist Jean Baptist Audit, sent her a series of photos of his work. She, in turn, wrote epistle-poems to him in response to his work. Valery read eight of these letters, each with a specific number in the series. Some were not translated into English. Jennifer Moxley read Cole Swensen’s English translation of the others.

Letter number eleven made reference to baseball, which was surprising in a French poem, because it is an American sport. Letter twelve compared a hole in the artwork to the discovery of the blind spot in human vision. Clever adjectives like “Moby Dickian” were also used in the letter.

Emmanuel Hocquard read from his book, Theory of Tables, first. (Read a unique review on this book here.) Steve Evan read Michael Palmer’s English translation. Next, Hocquard read from A Test of Solitude: Sonnets. Jennifer Moxley read the English translation, which was done by Rosemarie Waldrop. The sonnets were experimental in form and structure. Many referenced Viviane.

When asked who Viviane is, Hocquard said, “Viviane is Viviane,” and shrugged his shoulders.
This was also a direct quote from sonnet number fifteen in the poems. Jennifer Moxley explained that Viviane was the woman who worked at the bakery near Hocquard.

After the reading, audience members asked questions and, with the mutual translation effort of Moxley, Evans and audience members whose French comprehension was strong, Hocquard and Valery answered questions. When asked what the experience of reading for an English-speaking audience was like, Hocquard said it was the same. Since he reads poetry, which is a language of its own, no one understands it at first, so all audience members, French-speaking or others, have the same experience.

Valery said that she had only started reading her work in public recently. She had only read once in France and all other times for American audiences, so it is more of a unique experience for her to read in France.

In addition to their work as writers, Hocquard and Valery translate the poetry of modern and contemporary poets into French. They founded and co-direct Un bureau sur l’Atlantique which is “devoted to the free exchange between the most exciting currents in North American and French poetry through translation and event programming.” Such translation work is not often done so immediately and their efforts have brought to France the poetry of past New Writing Series guests like Bernadette Mayer, Peter Gizzi and Carla Harryman, and UMaine English professor Ben Friedlander, among many others.

Hocquard said he began translation work of American poetry in the seventies because he was tired of French poetry and the scene in France. “The same questions that were being raised in France about poetry and what it actually is were also being raised in America at the same time. The preoccupations were unique to France and the U.S. The answers from individual poets varied.”

“It was fresh air,” he said of reading the American poets.