My 5 selfies with John Ashbery
Notes to “my 5 selfies with John Ashbery”
Anne Portugal and Andrew Zawacki were paired in 2015 at the annual Tamaas literary translation atelier in Paris. On the basis of that weeklong session, Portugal translated Zawacki’s Sonnetssonnants, which appeared last year, in a bilingual edition, from Éditions joca seria. In turn, Zawacki has been translating Portugal’s ongoing project “bridges & selfies.”
On the occasion of John Ashbery’s inclusion on the national English curriculum in France, his celebrated volume Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was translated by Olivier Brossard and Marc Chénetier, appearing in France for the first time in its entirety this past June from joca seria. The volume includes a postface and notes by Chénetier, as well as Pierre Alferi’s translation of the title poem, which had initially been published in the journal Détail.
“my five selfies with John Ashbery” is Portugal’s response to an invitation from Brossard to contribute a work in homage to JA (not yet out). The idea of writing something in Ashbery’s honor “pleased me and terrified me at the same time,” she admitted.
I worked on it for months without alighting on a convincing result. How to speak faithfully of our encounters and also do justice to his system of writing? In the end I decided to drop any critical analysis and return to poetry via the form I’m involved in at the moment, the “selfie with…”: cheek to cheek, when two people want to jam into the frame at all costs, while moving around nonstop. This fictive proximity with John freed me up, and I decided to take five snapshots which would give a picture of his physical presence and produce, in the same gesture, a loose theory of my readings of his work. And in these selfies, which could be subtitled “the great evasion” (la grande évasion), I would like to admire him always and, at times, tenderly to meet him again.
Anne Portugal is a French poet and translator. Her first collection, La licence qu’on appelle autrement parrhésie, was published in the collective Cahier de poésie 3 (Gallimard, 1980). Since then, she has published numerous volumes with Éditions P.O.L., including Les commodités d’une banquette (1985), De quoi faire un mur (1987), Le plus simple appareil (1992), Dans la reproduction en deux parties égales des plantes et des animaux (with Suzanne Doppelt, 1999), Définitif bob (2002), La formule flirt (2010), and most recently et comment nous voilà moins épais (2017). Four of her books have appeared in the U.S., in English translation: The Flirt Formula, translated by Jean-Jacques Poucel (La Presse, 2012), absolute bob, translated by Jennifer Moxley (Burning Deck, 2010), Quisite Moment, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop (Burning Deck, 2008), and Nude, translated by Norma Cole (Kelsey Street, 2001).
Andrew Zawacki is the author of the poetry books Unsun : f/11 (Coach House), Videotape (Counterpath), Petals of Zero Petals of One (Talisman House), Anabranch (Wesleyan), and By Reason of Breakings (Georgia). He has published several books in France, among them Georgia and Carnet Bartleby, both translated by Sika Fakambi, and Par Raison de brisants, translated by Antoine Cazé and a finalist for the Prix Nelly Sachs. Zawacki’s translation of Sébastien Smirou, My Lorenzo (Burning Deck), received a French Voices Grant, and his translation of Smirou’s See About (La Presse/Fence) earned an NEA Translation Fellowship and a fellowship from the Centre National du Livre.