The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

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DEC 22–JAN 23 Issue


[In this translation of Hébert’s code switching poem, the non-italicized text is from the French
and the italicized text retains the original English. PN]


To Rosemary and Keith Waldrop on a burning deck
Follow the codes
By your false love of the past,
you steal your future.
Posthumous Fragments
You need a delicate category
to include the boomerang of invisible things

grit of a voice, memory’s future


Pain, scribed on the skin

but also the stupefying quantum drift
between generations


Sounds of virtual happiness

time’s fletched arrow into the flesh of one’s own nescience
stuck there, nailed to the clue


“The human fetus already understands the catastrophe of the senses”
so says a veterinarian friend

exhilarating exile


lamb so sweetie-pee-tee, fledgling so Parkinson
proud foal, polar cub

don’t hide the word


Extrapolate, grand illusion of understanding

now let’s take a look at
key-holes and human T-bones


Stuck in a lovable double bind
“be free and spontaneous” spouts your boss

might as well be dead, all ready


Daft drum or drill
up to tolerating slavery

a membrane will in time reflect


That distant window

joining the subjective chewing gum of a child
the most massive exteriority


Across an incredible span to the indistinct up to now

ego, horse rides
of a telltale old hide


here is the famous maze, made by Daedalus
sack assed bottom of Mom’s maze and Dad’s dead end

inferno’s squeamish bayous


Tumbled onto the panel of appearances
you and I, private eyes beyond common sense

each of us, crossed bones


Metaphors of the labyrinth, of deciphering, of investigation
are at the heart of any desire to know

“drop in, for god’s sake”


breaking a law does not result in chocolate bits

we must shout eureka in another cypher
also bitter


sensory codes
detecting movements, the scent of a possible prey

family Squalidae, hats off


My sea gull comet’s whitish comma

I’d like to hook up at the get go


Gaining a new flesh with this www
but bullying man into complete conformity

to negation


Winning or key to a field of champs
I swear I will never translate myself at all,
only to him or her who privately stays
with me in the open air
Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass

(between each text heard from afar is the music of
Charles Ives, Hector Zazou and the Prologue pour un Marco Polo
by Claude Vivier)

a thought advances at its own risk and peril
ancient demons
primeval tongues & virgin language

this thought in no way dogmatizes
blood, sweat and gears


insects everywhere, monads minding others’ business
humming Microcosmos
I cry from exhaustion

miles to go
no juice to appease my madness


sacred high places
a must for travel agencies
a nexus for dogs in a stagnant afternoon

where then are
the illegal passions of yesteryear


I had a queer dream
a Māori Wittgenstein in the middle of a kayak
what a challenge

to rearrange the given
and follow the rules of hospitality


I don’t remember much of Wenders’ Paris, Texas
but I saw Milan, Quebec
same as all the boonies on a Sunday

crossroads, garage sale
a bumpkin swinging on a balcony


Living near an airport
you become an air corridor, it’s no coincidence
large scale turbulence

n parallel worlds
make a move to test your power


Who can imagine the One
all the records of the whole world
where this god abides, missing

swallowing the infinite mishmash of its intrigues


his cash values dancing on screens
man’s beliefs don’t bring any damn relief

so he channel surfs
and yelps under his own yoke


corpus of a well cultivated consumerism
under halogens

hypertension of these silk worms
stunned by their own chat


Shelves of bloodless quotes coat the western self
I want to change my point of view
or shred it

not easy, this life
toxins all around


O! frenchyfawn cocooning
to the obese zombies of translations and free mags
the indigenous is frightening

in the limbo of a dream of empire
the chameleons freeze


all creation is violently mongrel
uncanny, unsustainable

blind affection
unraveling an unknown tempo


writ in hard currency, full blooded
my only soul’s ambition
but I hate the play of words

rip off pants
just poor laughs


the integral gods are dead, I praised them
al dente

has redolent alligator breath


Casual creator in his dereliction
for the flaming love of each morning
cries foul for some

for the others, the stink
of derricks on the surface of their slick


Miraculous ballet on a treasure isle
MIR, cocoon to 100,000 chips
and so much speed in Julie’s little body

words gravitate, gregarious
hoping under plastic canopies


No future, but nature still flows toward what’s to come
berries under metal scrap, beluga champions
dreamlike mimicry

I abandon myself
peaceful night pungent with resin


The knack of judging at distance
helpless to stop his discriminating taste from abolishing it
full plain caresses



I think of the term “hypothesis”
bothered as if by
a delta of erotic suggestion

traveling I long for you
your lusciousness as such won me over


Post-Scriptum Ex Vivo

        Why did I write these textual anomalies or UFOs? I don’t want to elaborate too much on
what was both a vivid experience and a crystallization of problems of which in the last century
seemed to me to be exaggerated. I will describe the precise circumstance that have brought with
it a few shards of theory, as if it were yesterday.
        It was in the spring of 1997 that I found the first two issues of the journal Feux Chalins
(Heat Lightning) subtitled Litteratures des Maritimes (Literature of the Maritime Provinces) in
the outdoor bin in front of my friend Adrian King-Edwards’ marvelous bookstore, The Word. It
didn’t surprise me to learn that this journal originated from Sainte-Anne University, Nova Scotia.
Only that this was the same place my father, as an orphaned teen, from 1922 to 1927 attended
secondary school,: Sainte-Anne’s boarding school and college, Church Point. Memories of his
obsession with dormitories on icy nights, haunted by rising tides, without lifebuoys. This find
triggered several synapses as well as that of a project that had lain dormant for a long time:
evoking echoes of an unknown, intermittent, pre-uterine but primordial world, in a tongue
unknown. . . . I got on it the following day. On August 6, 1997, I sent the Director [of
Sainte-Anne’s], Professor Ollivier Dyens, a text entitled “Wise Doom”. A week before
Christmas, I received a phone call from an enthusiastic Dyens. “Strong, unusual, singular voice”.
Wonderful conversation. An equally surreal situation between Montreal and Church Point
beyond the Bay of Fundy: two snowstorms at each end and my ghosts of old dormitories stirring
through a network of telephone lines. Taking a chance, I decided at this time to follow through
by resuming the minimalist forms of Rudiment d'us (1983) back when I had given up on poetry,
those “harmonica daze,” to better face up to the prosaic archives linked to the labyrinth of
History, that of French America. I also viewed again the foreign film, Louisiana Story, by Robert
Flaherty, and for the first time, Man of Aran. Speak to be understood, even if only the bare
minimum at the heart of a more or less hostile landscape.1
        I wanted to make public these short texts that I called jubilations, sort of free floating
elementary particles. Five years of wasted effort! At one point I was even reproached (with
anger) for a condescending contempt of Provincial Law 101. Nothing less. Was I the go-between
of the last taboo to be lifted, after sex or gory morbidity? Obviously the language of “Mingling”
is not joual or Volapuk, nor a chaosmic sum of equivocations à la Finnigan's Wake, nor northern
French-patois nor the stupid Sabir of our cousins in the overseas media. At best, it’s a French and
English code switching where it is not a question of translation but of advancing the meaning by
, arbitrary alternations, alliterations, borrowings, dislocated diction, etc. Blending this, that,
and the other, to merge with it. The exaggerated problem, so-called “bilingualism”, is neither a
flaw nor fatal when it becomes experimental, creative, always accommodating, enhancing the
everyday in the vast field of poetry, and also a rejection of the reduction of language to a
marketable commodity; the fabricated assumption of this question is a way of refusing the
essentialism of all language by a fixed, empty, nice predictable style that says nothing. Against
any form of judgement, thought still develops at its own risk and peril, without any all-in policy.
Trouble for sure. And through necessity, makes joy a virtue.

Robert Hébert, from Derniers Tabous (Éditions Nota Bene, 2015)
Translated by Pat Nolan

  1. It should be noted here that my father spoke very good French (without an accent) and a fluent English; during the last eight years of his life he also practiced a rather dark language: cryptography. (Cf. “Wise Doom,” Feux Chalins 4, 1998, special issue, “Acadia/Louisiana”.) Ironically, the seven issues of this Nova Scotian journal are nowhere to be found in any library catalog in all of Quebec or even in the University of Moncton [New Brunswick]. NB: text reprinted in Usages d’un monde, p. 111-118 Editions Trahir, 2012. 

Translator’s Notes:

Code switching is quite common in bilingual households. Highlighting bilingualism and code
switching in this work, the non-italicized text is the translation from the French and the italicized
text retains the original English. As Hébert states in his Post-Scriptum, it is “a French and
English code switching where it is not a question of translation but of advancing the meaning by
, arbitrary alternation, alliteration, borrowings, dislocated diction, etc.” An example at the
beginning of Mingling is the line “stuck there, nailed to the clue” where the homophones “clou”
(nail) and “clue” transform the sense of a word in one language echoed by the other.

family Squalidae
“Squalidae, more commonly known as dogfish, dog sharks, or spiny dogfish, are one of several
families of sharks categorized under Squaliformes, making it the second largest order of sharks,
numbering 119 species across 7 families.” Wiki

Provincial Law 101
“Bill 101, Law 101 (French: Loi 101), or Quebec French Preference Law, is a law in
the province of Quebec in Canada defining French, the language of the majority of the
population, as the official language of the provincial government.” Wiki

University of Moncton
“The Université de Moncton is a Canadian francophone university in New Brunswick. The
university was founded in 1963 following the recommendation of the royal commission
on higher education in New Brunswick. Since then, the institution has been widely regarded as
the heir to several earlier Acadian institutions of higher learning.” Wiki

Canadian French dialect, from French cheval “horse”, apparently from the way cheval is
pronounced in rural areas of Quebec.

An artificial language devised in 1879 and proposed for international use by a German cleric,
Johann M. Schleyer, and based on extremely modified forms of words from English and
Romance languages.

A French-based pidgin language of North Africa.


Pat Nolan

Pat Nolan was born in a bilingual household in Montreal in 1943. However, he has spent most of his adult life in exile from his mother tongue with the exception of exercising his ear on the syntax of his language of origin for the work of French poets such as Max Jacob, Philippe Soupault, and Jean Follain. His translations from the French have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies including Big Sky, Contemporary Literature In Translation, Otoliths, The Random House Book of 20th Century French Poetry, and Poems for the Millenium, Vol. I. His earlier translations of Robert Hébert’s poetry have appeared in Parole, blog of The New Black Bart Poetry Society, of which he is the founder and editor. He lives at the opposite end of the North American continent from his place of his birth: in Northern California along the rustic Russian River.

Robert Hébert

Robert Hébert was born in Montreal at the end of World War II. He studied in France for four years and has recently retired from teaching at Collège de Maisonneuve in Montreal. Author of numerous books, his recently published work include Derniers Tabous (Éditions Nota Bene, 2015), Monsieur Rhésus, also with Éditions Nota Bene (2019), and Coulisses from La Compagnie á Numéro (2020). He is currently working on new projects.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

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