Old old papers

Susan Wicks, translated from the French written by Valérie Rouzeau

copyright ©Translation copyright Susan Wicks 2009

   Old old papers that Cesar too had crushed, directories and corrugated cardboard, books and newsprint all together …

   Or printers’ blocks of crushed paper, ordinary bags (prices vary)?

   Nickel from Severonickel, free-fall stainless steel in April.

   Forget-me-not fittings from the ugines Isbergues plant blue flower absolutely note: an avalanche of stainless leaf-thin sheets, that’s all.

   Complicated as a meeting of the ‘grinders” group of the national iron-workers’ union.

   A boat out of recycled drink-cans to cross the Pacific in.

   Household ashes, broken glass.

   More aluminium (pure, from saucepans), goose-feathers, white, half-white, lead whole empty batteries.

   Red brass, bronze (from grapeshot, turning) other worn-out metals.

   Pages from The Scrap Merchant that my father would read with care and tie in bundles as they dated.

Notes on the Poem

Susan Wicks' translation of Valérie Rouzeau's “Cold Spring In Winter", a book length poem sequence, is sensitive on many levels. Wicks navigates with acute awareness Rouzeau's grief at the death of her father and also transmutes from French to English Rouzeau's emotional and often intricate language. Wicks also manages to retain in translation the perceptive wit underlying the seemingly more mundane aspects of dealing with the death of a loved one. And what can be paradoxically more quotidian and simultaneously heartrending than taking stock of the life of one who has departed through an inventory of the objects left behind? As the detritus left behind by Rouzeau's father is itemized, it all seems to signify defeat. The word "crushed" is repeated, other elements are dismissed with "that's all", still other material is "worn-out." But out of that sad grocery list emerges flashes of forget-me-not (blue), red and bronze. Finally, most proudly, explaining and justifying it all is the final line: "Pages from The Scrap Merchant that my father would read with care and tie in bundles as they dated." Interestingly, this fragment from Rouzeau/Wicks' work is reminiscent of another Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted work, Kathleen Jamie's Mr and Mrs Scotland Are Dead. Both poems take stark, dispassionate stock of lives gone, where Jamie is even more merciless in assessing and dispensing with what remains, almost as if she doesn't want any kind of sentimentality to overtake her if she lingers too long. In taking this seemingly clinical approach to death's aftermath, both poems and all three poets reveal new depths of emotion and tenderness and invest gentle dignity as one evaluates lives on the basis of what is left behind.

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