A short while ago, I asked poet, editor, and Director of Vancouver Manuscript Intensive, Elee Kraljii Gardiner, if she would be open to interviewing Derek Beaulieu for rout/e. We had chatted before about rout/e, our own experiences and experiments with textual emersions and immersions, and Beaulieu’s rout/e contribution “Translating Translating Apollinaire”, which is a versioning of an ongoing, participatory and meandering poetry project initially launched by bpNichol.
Multiplicity and trajectories of language forms have endurance, both as markings and as marks taken-in (‘read’) or traced within particularized spaces, such as the page or a field or a stone boundary line. I have asked Derek several times over the years for contributions for rout/e: when coming upon concrete poetry within a landscape (any landscape), concrete poems are visually compelling in different ways than conventionally readable forms of poetry. I have included photos of Beaulieu’s other contributions to rout/e (there are also posts and blogs in rout/e), as well as more recent pictures of his Translating Translating Apollinaire, which was placed along a stone boundary wall in a wooded area at the AgroForestry Centre in North Grenville, Ontario. With thanks to both Derek and Elee for their conversation and contributions, as below
Elee Kraljii Gardiner: Derek, you sent Chris Turnbull a poem that is sitting in the woods in Ontario right now. Can you tell us the “story” of how it got there?
Derek Beaulieu: Years ago, Chris asked for poems for her walks in the woods, unexpected moments of poetic contemplation along under-used pathways and routes. It seems like a perfect metaphor for poetry itself, and I was happy to provide an unexpected moment for her project.
EKG: The bpNichol Translating Translating Apollinaire project (accessible here: https://www.bpnichol.ca/archive/documents/translating-translating-apollinaire-preliminary-report) has been a fountain of replenishment in my own poetry practice. For those unfamiliar with it, Nichol used several methods for translating a poem by Apollinaire that run the gamut from translating a memory of the poem to translating it into a new form that alphabetizes all the words. It feels endlessly experimental and generative. What’s your involvement with it?
DB: As a reader and emerging poet, Nichol’s Translating Translating Apollinaire was master-class in poetic play, collaboration and potential. Every page suggested new ways of imagining poetry – from homolinguistic translation to imagining walking among the letters themselves, like a typographic forest to be negotiated. Poetry became a wandering path, a route taken through thinking, through reading.
I’m not alone in thinking that Nichol himself welcomed translations by other authors (which in turn inspired books like Barbour & Scobie’s The Pirates of Pen’s Chance for example), and poets across generations continue to see Translating Translating Apollinaire as a touchstone, inspiring their own translations.
EKG: Can you speak about the rasterbator, and rasterized images, and what is happening with the translation for you?
DB: Rasterbator (https://rasterbator.net/) is an online tool which takes images and blows them up to ridiculous size, to create posters and murals. I imagine them as decorating dorm room walls and clubs with popular images made huge and dotted. I fed this weird little tool one of my poems and then kept expanding the resulting image until it was reduced to simply a pattern of random dots. I expanded Nichol’s poem larger and larger until the canvas, metaphorically, covered the landscape and our vision.
EKG: You’ve seen images of the poem installed in the woods and you can see the plexiglass is split. Do you have any reaction to, or reading of, its placement?
DB: I’m thrilled by Chris’ vision for this project; seeing the poem in its original form along the trail, and then watching as it is subsequently “read” and transformed by the environment adds a layer of collaboration – the wind, the precipitation, the unexpected, arrive to read the poem back to me and any one on the trail.
EKG: You don’t remember the words or content or provenance of the poem you converted, which amazed me in our short Instagram DM conversation. Do you perceive any echo of the poem in the new visual version at all? Is the poem beside the point? Why did you feed a poem to the rasterbater instead of say, driving directions, or nonsense syllables?
DB: The original poem has faded in my memory, you’re right, but that has become beside the point. This new piece, in all its cracked and distorted present, is now the poem. The translation became the reading became the writing became the poem.
EKG: How does the place you encounter a poem (in a book, online, forest grove, airport, trash) affect your experience of the poem?
DB: In our day-to-day we’re surrounded by text. From our fridge to our newspaper to our social media; to ads and billboards and street-signs; from lost cat posters to hoardings covering construction sites; it’s all text and reading. If we can interject brief moments of poetic eruption – or use that pervasiveness to create a new form of poetry – that would be great. Our writing takes place in a place, whether it be home, the internet, or a walk in the woods.
EKG: Does the translating project or using an “unreadable” font such as partial circles help you become stranger to yourself as a creator, i.e.: less familiar, more surprising, and in that sense satisfy your impulse for making?
DB: That – to me – is exactly the point. I want to be a stranger to my own writing, I want to be surprised, intrigued, and challenged by what the poem brings to the conversation. Poetry, to me, is about challenges, about the unexpected, about being confronted by language talking back to us, getting our way, and asking ‘so, what do we do with this?’ … as a poet I can’t of anything better than to be, as bpNichol put it, “an apprentice to language.”
Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of two poetry books, Trauma Head and serpentine loop, and editor of the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She is a director of Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. eleekg.com
Derek Beaulieu is the author/editor of over twenty collections of poetry, prose, and criticism,including two volumes of his selected work, Please, No More Poetry (2013) and Konzeptuelle Arbeiten (2017). His most recent volume of fiction, a, A Novel, was published by France’s Jean Boîte Editions, his most recent volume of poetry, Surface Tension, is forthcoming from Coach House Books. Beaulieu has exhibited his visual work across Canada, the United States, and Europe and has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and dedication to students. Derek Beaulieu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Roehampton University and is the Director of Literary Arts at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. He can be found online at www.derekbeaulieu.ca