“for play” — a poem by Kayla Czaga

followed by an interview about the poem

Kayla Czaga is the author of For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014), which won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Debut-litzer. Her chapbook, Enemy of the People, is published by Anstruther Press. You can follow her on twitter @kaylaczaga.

Photo credit: Janet Kvammen

for play

This is a game for girls: putting a hat
on the cat, putting pants on
the cat, drawing a turkey by tracing
her hand. Little girls like cats.

A dress is a game with armholes.
A dress is played with a waistband.
A waistband is a game with a firm
winner and sore loser. A dress is
plaid or floral or polkas. Dispersed
vertically with gathers, a dress is
a section of flowers in a dancehall.
A waistband plays flat music a little
girl will twist. This is a set list. You
play a girl by flipping through her.

the girl crayons little girls are like that
the little boy is blue
the duck is yellow
the duck is yellow tumbles forever into the green lake
the beginning of the black cat waxes in the red tree
the little girl is a sweet sad colour–bruised or blushing?
the little girl holds out her blank hands toward the little boy is blue
the little girl holds out her hands filled with little girls are like that
the sweet sad colour accumulates in the pencil sharpener
the little girl tumbles forever into the boy is blue
the little boy is blue accepts little girls are like that
the little girl is faceless until she colours it on

A girl is game with how many licks
gets to her centre. Little girls like
a firm licking. Little girls play will he
call on the third or fourth day
after a successful date. Little girls
play Friday flip-up day. What did
he mean, keep it casual? What did
he mean, that girl is asking for it?
A girl replays twenty unsayable
questions in her head. Little girls
lose the game inside their heads.
What was she asking for, exactly?


This poem covers a lot of ground, from childhood gender indoctrination to rape culture apologists — I think it works partly because of the four-part structure. Do you ever pre-plan this kind of structure, or does it develop in a different way, when you work on poem sequences?

When I started writing the poem, I knew it would have sections. I was trying to make the content and language age throughout the poem, becoming older and darker, and it seemed that sections would make this progression more graceful. I didn’t preplan specifically for four sections — it just sort of ended up there. I’m glad it seems to work for you even though I think three or five sections generally feels more stable.

Every time I write a poem, I have to improvise a structure to contain its content. They never completely come out in the same way twice. I always have to ask, “why this length of line?” “sections or no?” “stanzas?” Some are more similar to other poems [in the book] — “for play” was similar enough to “gertrude stein loves a girl,” and “I forgot to mention the thunderball,” echoed “Gone is the VHS. Gone is the Whir.” enough that I could reuse formal elements between those pairs of poems.

This poem recalls Gertrude Stein stylistically, which is something many poets attempt and few pull off. I think it works especially well in the third section, which contains my favourite line in this poem, “the duck is yellow tumbles forever into the green lake.” You play with Stein-esque lines elsewhere in your book For Your Safety Please Hold On — can you explain why you chose to tackle Stein lines and what you had to do in editing to make them work?

There is something so subversive and sexual about Stein’s writing. I knew as soon as I read her that she was teaching me to write about some of the things I wanted to explore — sexuality, violence, the strange half-there memories of childhood. Her style and my subject matter were a perfect fit.

When I overthink and tinker with Stein, she falls apart. Instead, I read her over and over to absorb her music as if I was a sponge. It was like rereading picture books to learn language. Every time I reread her, her work felt new to me. Then I started mimicking her in a playful way tangential to my subject. I knew that if I tried to tackle sexual violence and gender roles head on, my poems would be too polemical and tract-like. I had to get there through images, through colour and music, in a more-body-than-head way.

Why did you break up the two cat games and the line “little girls like cats” with talk of the turkey drawing in the first part? Did you play around with other images here? Can you give an example of an image you cut from this poem and explain why?

I know there’s a term in music or poetry that describes when a piece deviates from a pattern to create tension and then returns to it for closure, but I’ve forgotten what it is. I was trying to do that.

I chose the cat and turkey for several reasons:

1) I did both of those things as a girl.

2) I think they sound like funny and musically rich things.

3) There’s mention of a turkey in one of my other Stein poems: “gertrude stein loves a girl.”

4) Stein also uses the image of a turkey (and a very large one) in “Idem the Same: A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson,” which is a poem I love.

3 & 4 b) In both Stein’s and my other use of turkey, “size” is referenced. I was talking about eating disorders and Stein was asking what the difference between a medium sized turkey and a very large one was. There are undertones of body policing in this poem (i.e.: the waistband), so the turkey was sort of meant tangentially to tie into that conversation.

Those images came out very naturally together, so nothing was cut in editing that section. I’m sure that I made cuts in other parts of the poem, but I don’t keep copies of my edits and the poem was written so long ago that I can’t remember.

The third section has a nice move from the child colouring to a woman putting on makeup, two images you suture with the verbs “crayons” and “colours.” You also parallel the phrase “little girls are like that” at the start and end of that section. How much of editing for you is finding and developing, or adding, these kinds of parallels? Or do you spend most of your editing time on other things?

I find most of my editing time is spent cutting redundancies and improving rhythm. I may have added a repeat of “little girls are like that,” but it would’ve been more for sound than sense. I find that most of those parallels that you pointed out are found in my primary writing process during which I throw a lot of things on a page and see what sticks and what echoes, where the ideas and images and emotions want to go. My editing process is more of the flower arrangement/pruning part.

Your line “the little boy is blue” obviously refers to gender stereotypes but it could also be read as an allusion to the nursery rhyme “Little Boy Blue.” I’m wondering if you intended that, and also: (a) if you did, does it matter to you if a reader doesn’t notice it, and (b) if you didn’t, does it matter to you if a reader reads that in? How much do you try to guide readings when you write/edit?

I didn’t intend that reference, but I think it works. My friend spotted the “pink triangle” as a reference to a Nazi concentration camp badge (also unintentional.) I think that every reader is going to bring something I didn’t intend to my poems as a result of their own unique experiences. I read an essay in which Mary Ruefle talked about someone finding some of her poems funny, when they were sad for her. I think it would be a never-ending and joyless mission to try to control a reader’s whole experience even though one might want to.

Part of the fun of poetry for me is its openness to interpretation. A poem is a game that both the writer and the reader get to play. It depends on the thinking and pattern recognition of both parties. I am sometimes sad when a reader doesn’t pick up on some nerdy thing I did in a poem, but that’s a result of those differing experiences that made her pick up on some strange unintentional allusion or technique.

I do have a group of peers with whom I share my drafts and whose feedback I listen to closely, so if they say, “hey, Kayla, this made me really uncomfortable,” or “I think you are being unintentionally offensive,” I’ll listen. Likewise, if they point out a potential reference that the poem could be using better, I will look into it.

What do you think of Kayla’s poem? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook, or send me an e-mail — and if you haven’t already, join my mailing list and keep in touch.

Support this site, Kayla Czaga, and Nightwood Editions by buying Kayla’s book through these affiliate links:

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These are 11 of My Favourite Things

While the site is on hiatus, check out some of my greatest hits

I am in the midst of a combination of vacation and work, and need to put this site on hiatus for a few weeks. When I return, things will have changed — I am working on some cool secret projects, two of which mean BIG changes here at Writing the Wrong Way.

While you wait, I’ve selected 11 of my favourite posts for you to enjoy. You can also browse my archives and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to get a free ebook and notification when the site returns to regular updates (at that time I’ll send you a second cool free ebook, which is one of my secret projects).

My Top 11

1 My Interview with Frank Black from The Pixies

I’ve strayed away from interviews here, with one exception, because otherwise this would just be a list of interviews. (My favourite thing about the site is other people!) But hey, I don’t mean to brag, but like in 2002 for about five minutes Frank Black thought I was cool and thanked me for saying something. Frank Black!

2 My Visit to the set of Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World

Oh wait, you know what was cooler than talking to Frank Black? That time I met Isabella Rossellini and then got scared and ran away. Man, I kind of suck and am cool at the same time.

3 The Haunted House

Ever want to read the first poem I ever wrote? No? Well, never mind then.

4 Write a Lot by Writing on Schedule

The most popular post ever on this site. Elisabeth de Mariaffi liked it, so you should like it! Peer pressure!!!

5 4 Simple Editing Tricks That Are All The Same Trick

I wrote this for my daughter, Jessie Taylor, because she asked me for some editing tips that would help her on her high school exams. And she got, like, an A+ and is the coolest and you should be more like her! She helped me make the cool green mug in the photo up top (it says “VENOM” on the side and has a snake on it).

6 Advice to Graduate Students

Another reader favourite: survival tips for graduate students. I did my PhD in 4 years, and also wrote 5 books in that time, which is maybe your goal?

7 Read 95 Books This Year

Ryan Fitzpatrick and I created the #95books hashtag, which you may have seen, and anyway here are my tips on how writers (and less deviant dudes and dudettes) can read more.

8 Don’t Attribute Dialogue

A reader non-favourite. Lots of people think I am the devil for writing this. I’m not the devil though! I just wish I was.

9 How I Wrote Clockfire

My favourite post about the idea development part of the creative process, using my favourite of my own books, Clockfire as an example.

10 Introduction to Why Poetry Sucks

Ryan Fitzpatrick and I co-wrote this lengthy and hopefully not too dry introduction to our anthology Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Poetry.

11 Introduction to Tony Burgess’s The Bewdley Mayhem

I say it all the time: Tony Burgess is the best writer in Canada, and you probably never heard of him. One day, I will write a book about this dude. In the meantime, here’s an introduction to his three-book omnibus edition.

By the time you read all that, I’ll be back in the saddle of evil! Later, gators.

Angie Abdou on Research for Fiction Writers

Angie Abdou is the author of four books of fiction, including 2011 Canada Reads finalist The Bone Cage (NeWest, 2007). Her most recent novel, Between (Arsenal Pulp, 2014) is about working mothers, Filipina nannies, and swinger resorts. She lives in the Crowsnest Pass and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University.

Angie Abdou is the author of four books of fiction, including 2011 Canada Reads finalist The Bone Cage (NeWest, 2007). Her most recent novel, Between (Arsenal Pulp, 2014) is about working mothers, Filipina nannies, and swinger resorts. She lives in the Crowsnest Pass and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University.

Nicole Brossard: The Idea of a Landscape (Interview)

After a bit of digging, I discovered more material that I didn’t use in the interview with Nicole Brossard that I published in dANDelion and re-published here. So, here are the “DVD extras” from the previously posted interview, published here for the first time.

The first paragraph here was published in the original interview as part of a response to the last question. In retrospect, it works better to open a new interview and the last one is better ended where I’ve ended it now. In other words, the interview opens with Brossard’s comments, and my questions are boldfaced.

The Idea of a Landscape (Going Further with Nicole Brossard)

This interview was conducted in English, on Sept. 25, 2007, in person at the Hampton Inn, Calgary.

In Mauve Desert there is a translator, in Baroque at Dawn I created a narrator coming to lunch a new book in translation in Montréal, so I could become a stranger in my own city through that character.

In my most recent novel, La capture du sombre, which came out in September 2007, a woman decides to write a novel in another tongue than her own, so that she might feel in a different way and think of something totally unknown to her while writing the novel. This novel does not deal specifically with translation but it says a lot about my obsession with reading and writing as if we were foreigners at the heart of a reality difficult to understand without having to feel its strangeness as our own strangeness.

Through “translation” of our foreignness we constantly deploy and renew ourselves. I guess my future works in prose will always be in relation to the question of identity in language with the vast background of memory, civilization and desire that comes along with it. I know a little bit of Spanish, and I find it exciting to have access to a new language because it opens the door so one can discover or dream about the culture beyond that door.

For sure, falling for another language stimulates the imagination and the openness to difference. So, yes I can say that my fascination for translation and for being someone else in another language, has been there or been shaped mostly around the early 1980s. Especially if I think that I started writing Mauve Desert in 1983-84. Before there had been other experiences with a text titled L’Aviva and with two chapbooks with Daphne Marlatt.

What about writing changed for you when you began to be translated?

Well, firstly — with English especially — if we think of feminism, I think translation brought me material, through reading and meeting women writers in Canada or the United States. I think that has always been very important. Also, it’s also important if once in a while I am away long enough that I speak a lot in English, and there might be a contamination of my language in a positive way.

For example, I am exposed more to narrative in English poems and things like that. So that interests me very much and I learn from that. Even when I was at Sage Hill recently as an instructor, it was very exciting to see a range of different writers and to see writers who are close to the tradition and those who are renewing and scattering that tradition. It’s always interesting to see that range of approach in another language.

Last year [2006] I was writer-in-residence at the University of Montréal, and the writer-in-residence has to organize a one-day conference on a subject. The subject that I picked was the long poem, because I had noticed that in English there’s a lot of long poems, the long poem is major material, and in French since Mallarmé we write short poems most of the time — very abstract and existential and very few of them are narrative. So we had a lecture on that, and I would like to turn it into a book, because I noticed with the long poem that writers writing in English have gotten rid of the “I” of subjectivity but in French it’s the contrary, it is with the long poem that we bring back this subjectivity.

Is it an interesting thing for you to talk to Robert Kroetsch? [The event surrounding this interview involved a panel with Brossard and Kroetsch.] Because he’s of course the one in English Canada, at least on the prairies, who is most responsible for jettisoning that “I” in the long poem and really being an influence here.

Yes. I want to talk about prose and poetry because both of us write prose and poetry, but certainly this is a topic that we could discuss.

Now, when you say you think you’d work on a book concerning the long poem, do you mean writing long poems yourself, or a critical work?

No, we’ll put together some of the, not the lecture, but the papers, the proceedings. Because I think it’s interesting, because even the professors in French think that idea of the long poem is not with them. If you plug in that idea then suddenly you read Québec literature in a very different way. So I look forward to it and I might have a text also from someone writing in English, a critic.

In the English edition of Mauve Desert, Maude Laures translates the word “inventing” from the first text as “storytelling” and then “lying” in the latter text. Of course this is the English edition, and not necessarily the words you’ve chosen, but in what way is a translation an invention, or perhaps something that can also be considered a story, or species of lie?

It’s interesting, but in Mauve Desert or in general?

In general, or in the book if you prefer.

It’s a different posture, though of course because of the freedom I had, as the one writing the third part — I had to really push myself because it was laborious, it was a labour. It wasn’t the same thing as in the first part, when I was totally free to go wherever I wanted, because in the third part I was labouring with the material I had to translate.

An invention, story? I think the idea might be more relevant to that specific relation in Mauve Desert. I guess the translation can be an invention or a reinvention, but a lie? I don’t think it can be a lie unless it is transformance. But if it is a translation I don’t think it can be a lie, because definitely you have to recognize a universe, the universe of the writer.

You have to recognize something, and unless you are a very bad translator it does not become a lie. So maybe it that those two dimensions of storytelling and lying are more connected in this specific book, Mauve Desert, than in a general sense of translation. Certainly, if you want to go into it one way, if you want to absolutely prove that a translation is a lie — well go ahead, that might still be possible.

In what ways maybe a story? I think especially Mauve Desert tends to posit translation as the story of its own coming into being. And that is always the case in a certain sense, that a translation, in addition to being what it is, is in some respect also the story of coming into this other language. Is there a sense in which this book is also pointing to the story of its initial creation, reception, and re-creation?

It could, absolutely, it’s a matter of how the reader can locate those passages, those traces — but when we talk about Mauve Desert, it is the story of translation but it is also the story of reading, because the translator will reshape the language but nevertheless her first task is to read. And as a reader she will make mistakes. She will over-invest certain passages, she will go too fast on other passages, and so on.

So in that sense, it is the story of loving — falling in love with a book and then reinventing the book, in the sense that getting stimulated by the material she finds in the book, and getting stimulated enough that she would like that book to belong to her as a translator. I would say it is a love story with a book, and it is a love story about reading and what reading does to us, which is allows us to fly somehow in the language — in the imaginary, but as well in the language.

When I was reading the English edition of Installations there’s a line that reads “the text is an invitation” and certainly the text is an invitation to read, but is the text an invitation to translate? Is every reading a sort of translation?

Well, it would be an appropriation of the text. With the word appropriation then, we certainly have the word meaning. The appropriation of the universe, appropriation of the meaning that can be swallowed by our own individual singular imagination. In that sense, and this is what we keep doing all the time — that’s why also I was interested in translation, because we keep translating what people are telling us even in the same language, in our own mother tongue.

So we are always interpreting what is being told to us or spoken to us all the time. Of course, sometimes we follow the easy path, but most of the time our mind has to process what’s being told to us and translation is that process, which is redefining meaning, and of course rhythm if you talk about poetry. But in the case of my novel, I would also talk about rhythm. Especially in Mauve Desert, even if you read just the first page you see how important the sound is.

Is translation a radical act? Or can it be?

Oh, it certainly can be a radical act, absolutely. Of destroying, or of love. Of a kind of embracing absolutely.

And, well, it can be a neutral act as well. For most of the people working for big publishing houses, they are being given a novel and told, “You translate that in the next three months and you give me some results.” That’s one thing, but I have been lucky enough to have had translators who I believe liked my text and liked my obsession and my approach. Therefore, they have a very special relation to the text that they will be translating.

There is a stanza in “Apparition of Objects” that reads

the thousand and one possibilities of the toe, the foot
the ankle
images in the subway glued to each other
faces pressed against the whys

To me this recalls Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” especially considering the English title of this poem, but it almost seems to be the antithesis of Pound’s poem in many ways. Where Pound is highlighting the uniformity of the crowd, your poem seems more intimately concerned with the variant possibilities of the crowd as expressed through the individual and its parts. Are you consciously reacting against Pound in this poem, or against his aesthetics, or is this allusion something that has arisen naturally from the poem, or been introduced by the choices of words in the translation?

Well, it certainly has no intended relation to Pound’s poem. I would need to see the poem again. A lot of these poems were written while I was in New York. It did not occur to me to create any link to Pound, but certainly the image.

Well, it makes you laugh, when you see all the individual possibilities of life in each of the individuals. You get tired if you see it, but if you don’t see it then it makes of you a misanthrope, in a way. Because then it’s a bunch of flies. So you have to bring back for each face in the crowd the individuality. This is, I guess, what humanism has taught us. It’s not bad, because it’s so easy to become misanthropic.

Images connected with writing and words having to do with grammar recur as a motif in your poetry, and I’m wondering why it’s so important to you to draw attention to these things. Is that constant attention to language as a living and material force influenced or motivated by your personal politics?

I think it is motivated by a fascination for language. I like to bring back words that will refer to language. Some people might be excited by the word “roses” or “dandelion” or different flowers, but if there is a word referring to language it excites me.

It opens doors. Sometimes I will not enter that door, but nevertheless it creates a landscape of images in which I feel good and I feel responsible. I feel ludic. It gives me energy, and with that energy I hope to be able to create another landscape, or the proposition of another landscape – it’s not necessary to create another landscape, just the proposition, the idea.

What we realize is important, but the material we transform in realizing what life is all about is also as important as what we realize.

At this point in your career you’ve amassed a substantial body of work, which is known for being diverse and for having experimental qualities. To what extent do you see yourself engaged in developing a body of work like that, or when you begin a new project are you just thinking about that project and not so much how it will add to or complement your previous work?

Usually I am interested in the new project, but I can see now with time the coherence. I can see the recurring obsessions, the recurring questions, and I can see also the curves that I’ve taken. For example, if the text goes too slowly for me, if the sentence is too slow and hasn’t enough tension in it, then I will soon try to put a new tension in the sentence. Because I get bored and I don’t like the text to be too slow. Sometimes your whole line needs that slowness though, sometimes you want to oppose speed.

I wrote a long time ago that I write to understand, by which I mean I write to understand process. I’m a poet, but I have a fascination for science, for exactitude, or at least for understanding process.  At the same time, I make space for the singular. For the I. And I make space for whatever at that moment in my life seems to be important. If it is not, then it will fade out by itself. If it is not pertinent it will fade out, but nevertheless I will have given it a try.

Why is that kind of that experiment, that constant experimentation, important to you?

I don’t think you can rely only on yourself, on your experience or your own personal vocabulary. I think that if you go digging in the language it will bring you material. Not only to express, but material to think, to feel, to renew you.

Yesterday, I read three short poems in French [at the reading the previous day]. I gave myself the constraint to write a poem where all the words in that poem would start with the same letter, A or B or C [etc.]. Sometimes I cheat a little bit, but mot of the time I respect the constraint. That was a very interesting experience because I could see how much we deprive ourselves if we don’t go and dig into that huge immensity of language.

Usually very often poets think, “Oh I know enough, I have my own images, I have my own words, my own vocabulary. I can write a poem.” Yes, you can, but nevertheless the reservoir/pool of language — you have to go in. It’s there, it’s there, just look and see what you can do with it. In those poems I wanted not to make it just a frozen object or only a performative object, I wanted also to infiltrate some “Je” [“I”] but very few of them.

You mentioned earlier longer poems, and I’m wondering how you work differently when you work in a longer form like that as opposed to a book where the poems are very short?

Well, again, if I can talk about the last book that came out in French, there is the first part which is “after words” in the sense of what happens when there are no more words to express, to talk. If there’s only images. For example, you can think of the society we live in or you can think of someone losing memory — if the words are not there, what effect does it have?

So I wrote a long poem and in the long poem it calls, in my case, for a certain lyricism and a refrain. So I think that I would tend to repeat a few words, but it’s interesting how at the same time I want to I do it and I refuse it. …

Lyricism is the word accompanying the idea of long poems in French for me. I know that in English it can accommodate so many things: commentary, documents, anything. The long poem, you put anything in the long poem!

At least in the prairies, we put everything in the long poem. But it seems to me to be much more narrative in English.

All the time in English. Even in the short poems, it’s narrative with two last lines. With a punch and everybody’s supposed to laugh.

How do you approach the novels differently then the poems? Are they similar in the sense of process?

No, because it’s about time. The novel, whether we want it or not, even if my writing is political, it’s about time.

It’s about a long process. Even though I try to keep the tension in each sentence, as I do in poetry, in a novel you cannot keep the tension all the time. And that is what I resist. And that is what I try to tame.

So in the novel time works for you, works against you, but it’s there all the time as opposed to poetry where you are always writing in the present tense. When you write poetry, even though you might take six months to write a poem, you are still in the present tense.

I am very much in my novels and that is why they are not real novels. In the traditional sense. I’ve always said that I write novels to negotiate with reality. If you look at my series of novels since A Book, you have these little squares where I pretend I am going to write, “So, once upon a time…” And they go on for one page. And then in French Kiss they come again! But this time they go on for five pages with the same idea, “Now look at this! This is like in a real novel.” And then you come up to Picture Theory, in the third chapter, which is called “The Ordinary.”

And then more and more until now. Prose has expanded, and the idea of narrative has expanded in my novels. And so maybe one day I will write a real novel, I just don’t know!

But it’s interesting. If you just look at them in terms of space: there’s one page, then three ,and then a whole chapter, and then you haveMauve Desert, which really looks like a real novel. So probably what is lost in the sentence, the tension that is lost in the sentence, is taken back in the structure of the novels.

Nicole Brossard on Translation and the Landscape of Possible Thoughts (Interview)

Nicole Brossard is a poet, novelist and essayist who has published more than thirty books since 1965, including These Our Mothers, Lovhers, Mauve Desert and Baroque at Dawn. She co-founded La Barre du Jour and La Nouvelle Barre du Jour, two important literary journals in Quebec. She has won two Governor General’s Awards for poetry, as well as le Prix Athanase-David and the Canada Council’s Molson Prize. Her work has been translated into several languages. She lives in Montreal.

This interview was conducted in English, on Sept. 25, 2007, in person at the Hampton Inn, Calgary, and published in dANDelion’s special issue on “Radical Translation,” which I co-edited with Mike Roberson. I’ve cut the last paragraph so that it reads/ends better.

Here’s the original citation:

Ball, Jonathan. “‘The Landscape of Possible Thoughts’: An Interview with Nicole Brossard.” dANDelion 33.2 (2007): 59-63. Print.

“The Landscape of Possible Thoughts”: An Interview with Nicole Brossard

You’ve worked with a number of different translators, and often with the same people more than once. To what extent do you select your translators, and to what extent do they select you?

Well, maybe in the beginning they were selecting me. Very earlier Barbara Godard knew about my work and it was a great chance for me. It seems that it has always been possible for me to recognize translators who would be in tune with my work. This is why I have been working with most of them for at least three books.

Each translator has a specific approach needed to the book they are translating. Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood translates both from French to English and from English to French, and somehow she has a French touch, there is French rhythm in the way she translates me. So it’s much easier for me to read from her translations.

I can also think of Patricia Claxton translating my most delirious novel, French Kiss. Barbara Godard has brilliantly translated, among other books, These Our Mothers, Lovhers and Picture Theory, difficult books. Robert [Majzels] and Erín [Moure] have translated three of my poetry books and I keep crossing my fingers that they will always be there to translate my poetry.

So it depends on the text and also on the availability of the translator. It’s interesting to notice that writers are, in a way, dependent on the private lives of translators, what happens in their lives. I remember, for one novel, it took five years to get the translation, because something important was happening in the life of the translator who was unable at that time to concentrate on a translation. So, in a way, the life of a book in another language may depend on the life, the real life, of the translator. I am a very privileged writer to have been able to work with the translators I have just mentioned.

You mentioned that you like the translations by Suzanne because they feel more natural when you are reading them aloud in English. Is it strange to read your own writing, in another language, the words not having been placed on the page by you?

It is difficult and sometimes it feels strange. In fact, it is another way to breathe, to organize and distribute meaning in the visual space (when you read silently) and in the voice (when you read aloud). Nevertheless I can say that because I have read so often excerpts of Mauve Desert it sometimes seems to me like the original text. Reading in English has nothing to do with speaking English because when I speak I make the choice of the words and create my own rhythm but when I have to pronounce words in English in a special sequence, then it can be difficult unless I rehearse.

What is it about Robert and Erín’s translations and their approach to your poetry that’s led you to work with them on different books?

Well, for example, when I received Notebook of Roses and Civilization, it was as if I was rereading my own text, and I said to myself, “I guess this is a good book, it’s exactly the kind of writing that I like” — probably because I recognized in it an image, an echo of what is at stake in my writing. I also like to work with Erín and Robert because we talk about the possibilities of the words, the way we relate to English, to French, even to other languages, to words in general and to the possibilities offered in a sentence or within a sound.

We also talk about the future life of the book. So it’s a mixture of pleasure and of stimulation, which in return I will take back to my own writing, and probably they take back to their own writing. In a sense, it’s very specific, and maybe it’s specific to the relation poets have to language. In their own work, Erín and Robert are already so involved in that process of displacement, recognition, transformation which is beyond just simple passage [*] from one language to the other, or from meaning to another. Their works are somehow related to transcreation and transformance.

Recently, I was talking with Anne-Marie Wheeler, who translated some of my texts in Fluid Arguments. I talked to her about Si Sismal, a transcreation that I read from yesterday [†] made by Fred Wah a long time ago, and she asked me, “Do you see any difference between a translation, a transcreation and a transformance, or is it simply words?”

And I thought that there was a difference. With a translation, I believe somehow that there is the very specific responsibility to make sure that the passage into the other language is realized. In a transcreation, I would say that the subjective ludic creativity of the translator is involved and accepted as part of the trans-action. Risks, blurs and smiles are accepted. And with the transformance, I would imagine that the less responsibility toward the tangible meaning of the text is compensated by complicity with the text and recognition of its open structure.

What responsibility, then, still exists in the transcreation, in that kind of middle-ground, in that liminal area?

I’d say that responsibility is also related to this passage, but it’s not simply following the passage. It’s really finding a new posture and a new form of transmission. Because no matter how much we like to play with language, we cannot get rid of the meaning. And we don’t want to get rid of the meaning — politicians have already messed up with meaning, we don’t want to do the same.

How involved are you in that process of translation? When you and Erín and Robert work on a book, how involved are you in that process? Will you ever insist on a particular approach to a poem or make particular edits?

Not a particular approach. Normally they would work together, trying directions and possibilities, then we would meet over a first version and I would try to answer their questions. They would think about it, make changes then send me a manuscript. Then, it would be my turn to ask questions, they would find answers and solutions and if necessary we would “negotiate” a solution. For example, in the last poem of the book, “Soft Link 3,” Erín wanted to make a blink, like that, how do you say …

A wink?

Yes, a wink.

She likes winks. She signed my book with a wink.

Yes! And so she wanted to have a wink to Galician. [‡] And then a Romanian wink with the word “stradă”—in my text it is “strauß,” in German. She explained to me that it was a tradition for translators to make winks. So how could I refuse …

So you allowed those winks.

Yes! I find them interesting, somehow. Well, I miss a little bit “strauß,” because German can be meaningful in my life — but they are examples of little things which are done in the spirit of joy and conviviality.

Have you done much translation of your own work?

No. I have translated one text which is “Polynesia of the Eyes.” I have written directly in English a lecture which was about fifteen to twenty pages long, and I also wrote a few texts in English — I’d say three or four, mostly in prose. In poetry, well, even in the French version of Notebook of Roses and Civilization, there are some English lines. I was living in New York at that time and sometimes sentences or expressions which I thought were poetics would come out already shaped in English.

There are a few French words and phrases. I wonder if they translated your English into French.

Yes, but not systematically. In other books as well, sometimes there are a few lines that I wrote directly in English. And there is also that strange thing, which is when I am being asked for text that I know will be published in an English magazine, I tend to hesitate between French and English. Do I write in French and then have it translated, or do I write directly in English? I go nuts when I have to make that kind of decision.

And so one day I started writing in French, but immediately I started translating those four or five lines into English, and of course when they were in English I could see if I had made mistakes in French. And then I was chopping words in the French text, using that English translation to revise the French. Finally it was not a translation but I guess a transformance as in performance. I say performance because it was like designing a tension between and within French and English. Since

I was the author, I could do whatever I wanted — it’s the same thing when you read a poem of your own aloud, it is your privilege to edit it live.

Why is it that you haven’t done more translation? Why not translate your own books yourself, if you are capable of doing so?

In L’horizon du fragment, a book in which I talk about my writing and my relation to translation, I relate the fact that every time someone asks me that question I always reply: “Well, I want to spend my time writing other books, not rewriting them.”

I don’t know if this is a good answer because the work I would be doing in translating a book of mine would definitely be creative, and I would learn a lot. You always learn much and quickly when you try to translate yourself. You detect how you behave in your mother tongue. So maybe saying that I do not have time to translate my own books is not a good excuse. Probably I still use it to postpone a fascinating and troubling experience.

On the other hand, I believe that if you translate yourself you remain with yourself and with your habits in language as well, no matter the language. Somehow I think that it is preferable to use my time to conceive a new novel or a new book of poetry. As you can see I am still very ambivalent about that question.

Translation reoccurs again and again as a subject in your writing, not just something that is done to your writing, and I’m wondering: when did this become a major concern for you?

I think it probably started in the 1980s. I remember looking with a vivid curiosity to a copy of my book after it had been read by my translators — passages underlined with different colours, notes in the margins, question marks and so on. Also, I’ve always been interested in passages — how a thing is transformed into another thing — this has always interested me.

How fiction is transformed into reality, and how reality is transformed into fiction. So translation is one of the major mathematics of what we lose and gain in the passage from the linguistic reality of one tongue to another.

Translation also fascinates me because there is the mystery of what I can say in French and what cannot be said in English, or whatever I can’t say in my language, what I will never be thinking because I don’t have the language, because it’s not in the landscape of possible thoughts — this is what, I guess, triggered my interest for translation.

Who would I be if I was to speak Italian, Japanese, and so on? Who would I have been? Who will I become if I learn Chinese or Arabic? It still fascinates me.


[*] When I talked to Brossard, she seemed to use this word passage in a number of ways at the same time: to indicate the passage from one language to the next; to refer to the path taken by text in the process of being translated; and to refer to the phenomenon of language “finding its way” into another tongue. I have italicized the word throughout, to indicate its non-traditional meaning. [back]

[†] When Brossard says “yesterday” she is referring to an event at the Nickle Arts Museum in Calgary, Alberta, on 24 Sept. 2007. The event featured readings by Brossard in conjunction with Moure and Majzels, and was hosted by dANDelion, Coach House Books, and the University of Calgary, with generous financial support from the Canadian Council for the Arts, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Calgary Arts Development, and Canadian Heritage. [back]

[‡] The translated poem reads: “It’s words that swallow fire and life, who knows now if they’re Latin French Italian Sanskrit Mandarin Galician Arab or English” (Notebook 81). [back]

David Annandale writes Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy fiction for the Black Library, including the recent novels Yarrick: The Pyres of Armageddon and The Damnation of Pythos. He is also the author of the horror novel Gethsemane Hall (Dundurn Press and Snowbooks). For Turnstone Press, he has written a series of thrillers featuring rogue warrior Jen Blaylock (Crown Fire, Kornukopia, and The Valedictorians). His short fiction has appeared in such anthologies as Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters and Occult Detective Monster Hunter: A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests. David’s non-fiction has appeared in Black Treacle and such collections as Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual and Imagery and The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto. He writes film reviews for The Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope. He teaches film, creative writing and literature at the University of Manitoba.

Follow David at his website, www.davidannandale.com, and on Twitter @David_Annandale.

My favourite of David’s novels is Gethsemane Hall (McNally | Amazon), followed closely by The Damnation of Pythos (McNally | Amazon).

David Annandale on Writing Tie-In Fiction (Interview)

A Warhammer 40,000 Author on Playing in the Coolest Sandbox

David Annandale writes Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy fiction for the Black Library, including the recent novels Yarrick: The Pyres of Armageddon and The Damnation of Pythos. He is also the author of the horror novel Gethsemane Hall (Dundurn Press and Snowbooks). For Turnstone Press, he has written a series of thrillers featuring rogue warrior Jen Blaylock (Crown Fire, Kornukopia, and The Valedictorians). His short fiction has appeared in such anthologies as Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters and Occult Detective Monster Hunter: A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests. David’s non-fiction has appeared in Black Treacle and such collections as Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual and Imagery and The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto. He writes film reviews for The Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope. He teaches film, creative writing and literature at the University of Manitoba.

Follow David at his website, www.davidannandale.com, and on Twitter @David_Annandale.

My favourite of David’s novels is Gethsemane Hall (McNally | Amazon), followed closely by The Damnation of Pythos (McNally | Amazon).

Here’s the interview!

Alek Rzeszowski on “Dancing in the Club” (Interview)

Alek Rzeszowski is a Polish-born director, actor, editor and composer who has established himself as the affordable all-rounder in the independent Canadian movie scene. He brings his experience to bear developing new outlets for auteurs in film, television and the web.

I met Alek on my first day of university, back in 1998, and we have been separable ever since. His great claim to fame was starring in my directorial debut Spoony B, and since then I spend about 30% of my time dreaming up cool projects starring Alek that I fail to get funded or completed. One day I will make him a star. In the meantime, I thought I’d interview him about his amazing video Dancing in the Club. Take a look:

How did this film develop? There was a period there where you wrote a ton of songs, did you have the song first?

It all began with the commission to do a song for a short film named How Spoony B Got His Ho Back by one Jonathan Ball. It began a period of my life that was dedicated to making music. Not all of it was any good but I was obsessed. The “Dancing in the Club” track was written at this time. It was composed haphazardly by my friends and we improvised the lyrics and recorded the whole thing in very short order. It was years before it was suggested that I could make it into something visual.

Where did you get the idea for him/you to rip off the dancer’s arms?

As some of the more astute viewers might realize, the whole music video is in part an homage to Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall. Specifically the part of the movie where Quaid — played expertly by Arnold Schwarzenegger — grabs the villain Richter’s arms and allows them to be sheared off by the elevator they are both riding. Once you see this scene all will become as crystal clear as Kuato’s eyes.

Of course — I didn’t make the connection because Rob Vilar is playing the video’s Richter, who keeps his arms. There’s a real sense of a narrative in the video, which is lacking from the song — why was it important for you to have the video move a story forward and escalate rather than repeat or illustrate the lyrical content?

Music videos haven’t had a narrative since the 1980s, if you don’t count the R. Kelly oeuvre, but I think we should bring the narrative back. I sat down with a writer friend of mine — Jason Parker Quinton — and we hashed out a little story that would fit the song and build in intensity. Sort of fill in the gaps in the music. There was a rich and strange world I saw when I listened to the song. Exciting and aggressive. And I cast myself as Hans because if I’m not going to do it, nobody will.

I teach this video when I teach “escalation” in narratives — one of my core contention about writing is that you can do anything you want, you can totally pervert traditional narrative structures and even abandon narrative entirely as long as you escalate. There are a few clear examples here: the first dance partner is too passive, the second a fighter but no match, and the third holds her own (and keeps her arms) so is his match. At the same time, the phone calls to Richter escalate — first he just nods, then he responds, then he appears. Were you thinking through things in this way, or using some other patterning to organize things?

It’s a good assessment of something that was once described as “the weird part of the Internet.” I definitely subscribe to the notion that a story must escalate to remain watchable and particularly enjoy the pathos of a protagonist’s fight against odds that are ever increasing in absurdity. However, in Dancing in the Club, Hans is the bully on the dance floor. He is the obstacle and the aggressor. It is the world that must adapt to his demanding dance extremism. The impending arrival of the mysterious Richter hovers like a threat over everything, but whether it turns out to be amazing is not really the issue. The building tension and anticipation is enough.

One of the great visual jokes here is that Richter just nods on the phone the first time, as if his nodding could be heard. And then you have the wonderful visuals as he makes his way to the party, plus a visual reference to Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone. Could talk specifically about developing some of these visual ideas?

We threw everything we could into these sequences. I wanted Richter to be the coolest cat that did the coolest things. A lot of it is simply missed due to the density of the visuals, so if you kids want to pause things and enjoy the tableaux, you won’t be disappointed.

Since making this thing I’ve realised that it’s not helpful to “diddle the viewers to death” as my friend Matthew Rankin once told me. Despite shortening attention spans, you just can’t do that to people. The brain synapses only fire so fast.

The Dalí Lobster phone had to be flown in from Toronto at great expense. In the end it became the production’s most expensive prop.

Where did you get the wonderful idea to match Richter’s wink to a drum hit, and also for his dancing to simply be him standing still? It’s brilliantly counterintuitive and displays him as the ultimate dance-master; he doesn’t even need to dance to be the best of all dancers.

Just the threat of him dancing is more effective than anything I could have come up with. In my extensive experience on dance floors over the years, I’ve noticed that even if you can dance well, standing in the back with a drink in your hand, looking handsome is still a more effective way to get the ladies.

I think of you primarily as an editor (and comic actor) — can you talk a bit about how you approached the editing for this film, and if there was anything interesting that you had to kill (in defiance of your intentions as the writer and director) when it came to making editing decisions?

I’ve edited plenty of music videos, so I thought I knew the tropes and tricks to the art form. When it came down to editing, however, I noticed that this thing was stranger than anything else I’ve worked on. The visual gags had to match the lyrics. The dancing/fighting sequences were oddly shot and had to be timed to the beats, plus cutting back to Richter in his lush surroundings made for a lot of headaches.

On top of it all, there was almost no coverage, so what you see in the video is almost all that we shot. I wanted to strangle the director!

Dancin’ also became a victim of its own oddness. Since it was a music video but not a real music video, as well as a short film but not really your typical short film, it was un-programmable. No festivals wanted it. It played once on Bravo Television and then became a Straight-to-Vimeo release. It is kept alive on the Internet and played at YouTube parties all around the world when the conversation dries up.

Which I’m totally cool with.