how to explain the misfortune
This morning I awake to hear the news that French poet Jean-Jacques Viton had died (born in Paris in 1933), dying apparently yesterday, Sunday, March 14th in Marseille.
I don’t remember anything else about our conversations, alas. I do recall that Jean-Jacques, probably because of the language differences, was mostly quiet. And Liliane also did not speak English well, as I later realized when I dined with her, Henri Deluy, poet Joseph Guglielmi and others at Deluy’s house in the suburbs of Paris. What might have Howard prepared given that Liliane herself is an excellent cook? Perhaps basil and pasta, which we often served our unexpected guests in those days.
This morning I wrote a poem for Jean-Jacques, using the devices I often use to write through the work of other poets: small accidental choices of word units, association, repetition, and rhyming and punning, obviously in this case, on the English-language translation by Aaron Kunin and Anne Kawala. I also often dive into the original poem as well to re-translate phrases or to apply English rhyming-words to the original French text.
It may be useful to see Viton’s original to see if any remnants of his own poem have made it through the complex associative and linking process.
Cher donc qui ? ( - cher toi sûrement, vieil appareil
talkie-walkie déjà daté de la conversation
1921 – 1971
une suite de fables que je repasse au sas
tu en feras ce que tu voudras
quant à moi bien entendu
le courant peut parcourir le haut et le bas
mais il faut que tout change
mauvais genre sans apparence histoire brève
ça cache une désolation
il règne ici sur l’eau desséchée
tout au bout d’une voix qui chante soprano « malgré tout »
une grande faille quotidienne
on ne peut pas l’écarter avec la main
il faut pousser l’espace pour faire du vide
avec ombres récits brefs illustrations
sait s’y prendre qui prendra le dernier
contra ste de faux amis imbroglio
quand tout va mal le pire
peut encore arriver
période artificielle dite nouvelle saison
avec oiseaux rapides en fuite
vaches aplaties dans des recoins d’herbe
comment expliquer que le malheur s’abat comme ça
My poem, dedicated to him, reads as follows:
OF LATE IDEAS WANDER
for Jean-Jacques Viton
A consternation explains the misfortune.
Who can move it aside, push space into emptiness
without a little imbroglio? Artificial time
is called a new season, and it reigns here
in this parched land to create the beginning
of what we can only hope might be filled.
At the far end of a soprano’s voice there are
illustrations of what comes next, the imbroglio
in the seraglio’s palace where everything inevitably
must go wrong. A consternation explains
the shadows, the flattened cows against the glass.
A fast bird is on the lam.
I might have kept the row of false fables
to dine upon. I might have drank from the
parchment under water. I might have spoken
to all those false friends. It is called a new reason
to tell you why everything came crashing down
into the recesses of the necessary explanation.
In the seraglio the women come and go.
The man outside is waiting for the water
to return to its vases. The castrato sings
in his soprano’s voice, calling out for the consternation
to end. He pushes aside the emptiness
and enters on the lam into the imbroglio
Falling in the dismay of his embarrassment.
The time has come to admit the season is no longer
real. The palace doors have closed, and the harem
has escaped. The cow’s faces are pasted upon
the surface of the grass. The bird flies quickly
off. The friends flee, faced with the end of the fable.
Los Angeles, March 15, 2021
Reprinted from Facebook (March 15, 2021).