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Charlestown Blues

Selected Poems, a Bilingual Edition

Edited and Translated by Marilyn Hacker
Letter to the unknown woman across the street, I
Curtains, blinds, draperies, shades, no, nothing
Madame, to conceal from your Cyclops’ eye
in the shadows from which it spies on me
this long pale body, false corpse tired out
with debauchery, which is swooning too
before your balcony, with your drying
stockings and scanties of a nun at bay—
poisonous flowers for a lonely man
whom death panics, draws erect, demarrows
in the night, riveted to your white thighs.
Readers who denounce most contemporary French poetry as self-referential experimentation, word games, exercises in deconstruction, or other kinds of incomprehensible writing disconnected from everyday life—brace yourselves for a revelation. Erotic and urbane, distinguished by formal skill yet marked by the subtlest shades of feeling, Guy Goffette’s unabashedly lyrical poems pay homage to both Verlaine and Rimbaud, whom he counts as his important forbears, with echoes of Auden and Pound, Pavese and Borges.

In Charlestown Blues, poet and translator Marilyn Hacker has chosen a tightly thematic selection of poems, all centering around the notion of “blue”—the color and the emotion, as well as that quintessentially American style of musical performance. Hacker’s crystalline and musical English renderings will show Anglophones why Goffette is considered one of the most important poets writing in French today.

160 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2007

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages



“Unlike many of his French contemporaries, Goffette’s leanings are neither conceptual nor abstract; rather, translator Hacker describes him as ‘unabashedly lyrical.’ Delectable, fresh, and centered on expressions of earthly desire, longing, and despair, Goffette’s poems point to a love ‘laced with lust.’ In the series ‘Letter to the Unknown Woman Across the Street,’ evening falls fast as a male narrator voyeuristically watches his neighbor, imagining himself enveloped by her thighs and her joining him in play (‘Open up your shadows, your lap, your lips’). In ‘The Raising of Icarus,’ there are traces of ‘uninterrupted joy,’ blight and memories of ‘bottomless sky.’ Contemplating mortality, the poet parenthetically suggests ‘(In the end,/ despair’s not so bad, it’s even/ a kind of consolation, the evening’s/ pill which drops without a splash/ into the elixir of old lovers)’ in ‘Construction-Site of the Elegy.’ . . . Hacker’s superb translation will undoubtedly build a broad new following of readers. Recommended for academic and public libraries.”

Library Journal

“A delicious bilingual edition.”

French Book News

“Goffette is an heir to Verlaine. A poet who very courageously has decided to remain faithful to his own personal life, in its humblest moments. He keeps things simple, he is marvelously able to capture the emotions and desires common to us all. Goffette is without question one of the best poets of the present moment in France.”

Yves Bonnefoy

“It is marvelous to have a bilingual Guy Goffette, and all the more so for the translations being by Marilyn Hacker, a marvelous poet herself. Both poets are virtuosic explorers of form, both employ a language at once racy yet deeply substantial, both are used to working at length and in sequences. Goffette himself is witty, lyrical and presents a sharp cutting edge honed on Rimbaud and Verlaine, but no attitudinizing. The poems are full of living human voices living passionately in places we recognize. A remarkable achievement.”

George Szirtes, author of Reel

“Guy Goffette is a distinguished French poet who has been translating W. H. Auden. Now the compliment is indirectly returned, thanks to Marilyn Hacker, a fine American poet of Goffette’s generation. She hears the French poems with great precision—poems which are the work of a master, integrating and transcending his influences, Rimbaud and Verlaine among others—and recreates them as English poems with equal precision. Pitch-perfect, she re-presents Goffette’s rhythm and lexicon, diction and tone: this is poetry translation at its best.”

Anthony Rudolf, poet, translator and publisher

"This is challenging and wonderful contemporary poetry. . . . Hacker has done a magnificent and valuable job bringing Goffette’s work into English."

Martyn Crucefix | Poetry London

"Goffette, said to be ’heir to Verlaine’ by French poets, appears in this selection . . . as an heir to world poetry too."

Marilyne Bertoncini | American Book Review

"Goffette’s lyrical, urbnane verse is the natural heir to that of Verlaine and Rimbaud. . . . The equally distinguished American poet and translator, Marilyn Hacker, captures the wit and musicality of Goffrette’s French."

Modern Poetry in Translation

"[Hacker] pulls something quite extraordinary off: she reveals [G]offette as one of the best poets writing in French today. . . . What counts is the success of her translation of [G]offette’s gamey, witty, engaged poetry, at times passionately erotic, sweetly lyrical, rich in things. . . . This whole collection was a revelation for me."

Adam Piette | Translation and Literature

Table of Contents

Preface by Marilyn Hacker
Rimbe de Noël / Christmas Rimbe
Mont-Olympe / Mont-Olympe
Faux Lélian / False Lélian
Rondissimo / Rondissimo
Lettre À l’inconnue d’en face,1 / Letter to the unknown woman across the street I
Ducasse ducale / Ducal Ducasse
Lettre À l’inconnue d’en face, 2 / Letter to the unknown woman across the street II
Flache back / Flesh-back
Lettre À l’inconne d’en face, 3 / Letter to the unknown woman across the street III
Portrait d’R. en retour de baton / Passing on the torch
Square À musique / Music in the square
Adieu châteaux / Farewell, châteaux
Février ’98 / February ’98
Ô Caravelles / O Caravels
L’Attente / Waiting
Parenthèse noir / Dark Parenthesis
La Montée au sonnet / The Ascent of the Sonnet
Lettre À mon facteur / Letter to My Postman
Le Rempailleur / The Chair-Caner
En février / In February
Chantier de l’élégie / Construction-Site of the Elegy
Pain de coucou / Cuckoo’s Bread
Un Voile d’éther / The Veil of Ether
Le Noyer d’hiver / The Winter Walnut-Tree
L’Or bleu / Blue Gold
Les dernières pièces / The Last Coins
Emmaüs / Emmaüs
Quatre saisons pour Jude Stéfan / Four Seasons for Jude Stéfan
Variations sur une montée en tramway / Boarding the Streetcar: Variations
Borges / Borges
Le Voyageur oublié / The Forgotten Traveler À Cavafy / To Cavafy
À Georges Perros au piano / To Georges Perros at the Piano
Max Jacob / Max Jacob
Yannis Ritsos / Yannis Ritsos
Poète en Groningue / Poet in Gröningen
À la mémoire de W.H. Auden / In Memory of W. H. Auden
Lettre À Félicien Rops / Letter to Félicien Rops
Prologue / Prologue
Au fond du labyrinthe / In the Depths of the Labyrinth
Reproches au berger / The Shepherd Reproached
Réponses du berger / The Shepherd Answers
Le mort / Icarus Fallen
Envoi / Envoi
A Note on the French Poems
Index of Titles and First Lines

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