Poetry is a respected form of literature that is loved by many. The Peoria community gathered in honor of the craft as English department faculty translated French poetry on Thursday.
Hosted by the department’s Visiting Writer Series, Claire McQuerry and Celine Bourhis read translations of the French poet Virginie Lalucq’s book “Cutting the Stems.”
The work won the 2023 Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize. This award is presented to a female-identifying translator who translated a series of poems by a female-identifying poet.
Thomas Palakeel, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies, started off the event by introducing the translators and telling the audience about their educational background.
McQuerry acquired her B.A. in English and French from Gonzaga University and an M.F.A. and Ph.D. at Arizona State University and University of Missouri. While attending a translation workshop in 2006, McQuerry came across “Cutting the Stems.”
Lalucq approached McQuerry and asked her to translate her book, thus the 16-year journey of translating began.
Partnering with Bourhis, the two Bradley faculty members worked together and, with Lalucq’s help were able to translate the book and share it with others.
Bourhis attended Le Mans University in France and obtained a doctorate in English Studies from Illinois State University.
The event then shifted to the translation of the book. As Bourhis read the poem in French, McQuerry would then translate the poem in English for the audience.
“Cutting the Stems” tells the story of a florist through wordplay and analogies.
“You have this fluidity of language in the book and also a fluidity of gender,” McQuerry said.
After reading a section from the book, the event opened up to questions from the audience. The first question asked by an audience member was in regard to a numbering system Lalucq used throughout the book.
“She’s very playful, even with her numbering,” McQuerry said. “Sometimes she’ll have half numbers and it seems very random.”
McQuerry said the numbers at the beginning of most sentences don’t necessarily serve a purpose, but tie into the playful energy that Lalucq has sprinkled throughout the book. Along with this, Bourhis referred to the numbers as entries within the writing.
“My English writing professor [Palakeel] had an assignment where we could come to this event and choose 12 words to make our own poem,” Brianna Cook, senior environmental science biology major, said. “I learned that poetry doesn’t have such strict rules as I thought it did and you can experiment.”
McQuerry added that Lalucq knew some English, but not enough to fully understand each of the revisions that were being made.
“One of the most challenging parts of the process is translating a living writer,” McQuerry said while answering another question. “She [Lalucq] often wanted to revise our translations to what she thought it should be, but … I had to explain to her that that doesn’t really work.”
There were times where McQuerry and Bourhis had to persuade Lalucq about some revisions , but explained that as a writer, it can be hard to let go of your own work.
The event wrapped with the translators receiving glass flowers as an appreciation for their work and were meant to symbolize the sunrise.
“If human beings could not translate, the cultures and beauty would not have traveled,” Palakeel said. “Could you imagine if humans had not traveled?”