[—What did you say? Lost empires,]
—What did you say? Lost empires,old age,indecipherable writing, catastrophes?—And me? At the present moment, it’s this piece of soapI care about.I’m holding onto itwhite, solid without being hard.Many other bars of soap have worn away,softened, grew thinner in my hands.Now,six forty-seven AM, in July,I’m clutching this piecethanks to it I feel alivedespite earthquakes and the fall of Babylon.* —Vous dites? Empires disparus,âge avancé,indéchiffrables écritures, catastrophes?—Moi, dans la seconde présente, c’est à ce morceau de savonque je tiens.Je me cramponne à luiblanc, solide sans être rude.Beaucoup d’autres savons dans mes mainsse sont usés, ont molli, ont minci.Maintenant,six heures quarante-sept, en juillet,je serre ce morceaugrâce à lui je me sens vivantemalgré les tremblements de terre et la chute de Babylone.
Excerpted from EVERY MINUTE IS FIRST: Selected Late Poems of Marie-Claire Bancquart, translated from the French by Jody Gladding.
Forthcoming from Milkweed Editions 2024.
The original French version appears as reprinted in TOUTE MINUTE EST PREMIÈRE suivi de TOUT DERNIER POÈMES by Marie-Claire Bancquart, preface by Claude Ber, published by Le Castor Astral, 2019.
It appeared originally in TERRE ÉNERGUMÈNE (Le Castor Astral, 2009).
Born in 1932, Marie-Claire Bancquart lived in Paris for most of her life. As a child, she suffered from tuberculosis that affected her spine and confined her to a hospital bed. Unable to attend school, she became an avid reader and was particularly attuned to the smallest sensations, the physical body. She began writing poetry at an early age; her first novel, based on her childhood experiences, was published in 1960. She continued to publish poetry, novels, short stories, and literary criticism for the next sixty years. She and her husband, the musician and composer Alain Bancquart, collaborated on many projects and toured throughout the world together presenting their work. Bancquart taught French literature at the Sorbonne until her retirement in 1994. She died in 2019.
Jody Gladding is a poet and translator whose most recent poetry collection, I entered without words, was published in the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets in fall 2022. She is also the author of the spiders my arms (Ashata Press, 2018) and Translations from Bark Beetle (Milkweed Editions, 2014). Her many translations include the forthcoming Second Star by Phillipe Delerm (Archipelago Books, 2023) and Lichens: Toward a Minimal Resistance by Vincent Zonca (Polity Press, 2023). She has received a French-American Foundation Translation Prize, Whiting Award, and Yale Younger Poets Prize. She lives in East Calais, Vermont where her work explores the places that language and landscape converge.
Originally published in France in 2019, it includes selections from the last eight books by Marie-Claire Bancquart and represents her poetry at its most achieved. If the poems register ever more keenly the trembling that shakes us into awareness, it’s because they are LATE poems. Bancquart was particularly prolific in her final years, yet the work itself becomes sparer as death approaches and the poet takes stock of a “provisional,” “ambiguous” life. In accurate, concise, and stripped-down language, the poem serves as journal for the passing days and the practice of living—lightly—in the present on this planet.
The English version, Every Minute is First, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2024 and been awarded a French Voices Translation Grant.