Volume 8 (Fall 2014)

René Char

              trans. by Nancy Naomi Carlson

Frenetic Poetry's Messengers

Lazy suns feed off meningitis

They ride down rivers from the Middle Ages

Sleep in the fissures of rocks

On a bed of wooden chips and gnarls

They don't stray from the rotted pincers' zone

Like hot-air balloons of hell.

Les Messagers de la Poésie Frénétique

Les soleils fainéants se nourrissent de méningite

Ils descendent les fleuves du moyen âge

Dorment dans les crevasses des rochers

Sur un lit de copeaux et de loupe

Ils ne s'écartent pas de la zone des tenailles pourries

Comme les aérostats de l'enfer.

Iron Mask

You can't hide rage

Without diplomacy.

Translator's note: This poem refers to the legend of the “Man in the Iron Mask,” a  political prisoner in France during the reign of Louis XIV, whose identity was kept secret.

Iron Mask   

Ne tient pas qui veut sa rage secrete

Sans diplomatie.

Barbaric Leaven

Mouth of refrains

In iron restraints

Just like in school

The first head to roll

Un Levain Barbare

La bouche en chant

Dans un carcan

Comme à l'école

La première tête qui tombe.

Hailed by Prime Minister Jacques Chirac as “the greatest French poet of the 20th century,” René Char (1907-1988) enjoyed a literary career of over sixty years. Char's work was strongly influenced by social activism, as he was, himself, a man of action—a hero of the French Resistance and an outspoken critic of nuclear missile silos in France. In his early career, he was associated with the Surrealist movement (which he later disavowed), and was close friends with such visual artists as Braque, Giacometti, and Picasso.

Nancy Naomi Carlson is a winner of grants from the NEA, the Maryland Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Author of three prize-winning non-translated titles, as well as the critically acclaimed Stone Lyre: Poems of René Char, she is an associate editor for Tupelo Press and holds a Ph.D. in foreign language methodology. The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper, her NEA-supported translations of Abdourahman Waberi, from Djibouti, are forthcoming in 2015 from Seagull Books, distributed by the University of Chicago Press. Calazaza's Delicious Dereliction, translations of Suzanne Dracius, from Martinique, are forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2015.  

On Libations: A lovely merlot from the Vaucluse region of France, where Char spent much of his life.