from “The Berlin Wall, or Blackberry Picking in Western Brittany”

Paol Keineg
Translated from the French by Laura Marris

The great glut of potato bugs                is how I think of this garden                                                overturned wheelbarrow                                lessiveusebeneath a structure of flying colors                the laundry line coated in goldoh sweet therapist                from hutch to coopsince the path with a view of the sea                                I have a neurosis at heartin times of mass productiondesire devours censure                austerity of yesterdaydisparate dreams which is their specialty                                sorrow commandsit’s a bad bargainit’s a tale that begins                                among flies                pylons and postsreceive the calls                                the town embodies                the ironynow they are accomplished prophecies                damned damned countrytricks the blue skytricks death in dreams                                come closer        she says                the little urchin swappedfor the excellence of ire and furymidway through the cabbages                                our shadow growsa shadow made of cabbages                from ker to here                                subjecting the pathto our channeled words                        minimum of space                angry gesturesagainst an infamous dualism                                walking                in spirit through the cabbages                                doesn’t get my feet less wetI write to soak my feet among the cabbagesladybugs of memory                                the bounding of lessiveuses                the swallows like affect                                        here and there I amaffected by what’s inert in language                I speak with the backdropof capitalist        deploymentnow irresistible                                in a country by the seataking to the pedals against the wind                                you spit out your soul                it hits you right on the mouth. Note: A lessiveuse is a precursor to the washing machine. It was operated by hand, and a fire or hot coals heated the water.

de “Le Mur de Berlin ou La Cueillette des mûres en Basse-Bretagne”

La grande année des doryphores                est ce qui donne mon sense à ce jardin                                        brouette retournée                        lessiveuseet soutenant une construction de couleurs qui volent                la corde de linge gainée d’orah douce thérapeute                du clapier au poulaillerdepuis le chemin d’où on voit la mer                                    j’ai la névrose au coeuren des temps de production en massele désir dévore la censure                austérité de la veilledisparate du rêve dont c’est la spécialité                                la tristesse ordonnec’est un marché de dupesc’est un histoire qui commence                                parmi les mooches                pylons et poteauxreçoivent les appels                                        le bourg fait corps                                avec l’ironiemaintenant que les prophéties sont accomplies                                maudit maudit paysruse avec le ciel bleuruse avec la mort dans les rêves                                        approche    dit-elle                la pauvrette suppléeà l’excellence du courroux et de la fureurchemin faisant dans les choux                                        notre ombre augmenteune ombre fait des choux                de ker à ker                                        soumettant la marcheà nos mots canalisés                                minimum d’espace                gestes de colèreà l’adresse d’un dualisme infâme                                        marcher                mentalement dans les choux                                ne trempe pas moins les piedsj’écris pour me mouiller les pieds dans les chouxcoccinelles mnésiques                                lessiveuses bondissantes                les hirondelles comme l’affect                                        ici et là        je suisaffecté par l’inerte dans la langue                je parle sur la fond de déploiement                                du capitalismdésormais irresistible                                en pays du bord de merdressé sur les pédales contre le vent                                tu craches ton âme                tu la reçois en pleine gueule

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Paol Keineg writes poetry and plays, mostly in French, but also in Breton and English. Over the course of his career, he has written twenty-two books, most recently Johnny Onion Descend de son vélo (2019). He has translated several English-language poets into French, including Rosmarie Waldrop, Charles Bernstein, Keith Waldrop, and William Bronk. In 1974, he left Brittany for the US where he lived for thirty-five years. He received a Ph.D. from Brown University, and has taught at various universities, including Dartmouth, Brown, and Duke. He returned to live in Brittany in 2009. His recent publications include Des proses qui manquent d’élévation (2018), Mauvaises Langues (2014), and Abalamour (2012). Mauvaises langues won the Prix Max Jacob in 2015.

Photo:
Matt Kenyon

Laura Marris is a writer and translator. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The New York Times, The Believer, The Yale Review, The Volta, The Common and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and a Daniel Varoujan Award. Recent translations include Paol Keineg’s Triste Tristan (with Rosmarie Waldrop), Geraldine Schwarz’s Those Who Forget, and Louis Guilloux’s Blood Dark, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University at Buffalo and is currently at work on a new translation of Albert Camus’s The Plague.

Keineg’s poems began somewhere between song and angry scream. In his later years, they have given a larger place to humor, irony, and more nuanced language nourished by his living between three tongues: Breton, French, and English. When “all languages are always foreign” it is impossible to have a naive, unreflected relation to any one of them — or to their literatures.

Triste Tristan quilts early medieval versions of “Tristan and Iseult” together with a demythologizing perspective that “takes down the pants of the lyrical tradition.” Other poems layer the landscapes of Brittany and America with meditations on history, writing, memory, and exile. The work is both immersed in physical space and displaced by it.

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