Beverley Bie Brahic has been awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Grant (2003-4) and residencies at Yaddo and MacDowell. She won the 2013 Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation, for Apollinaire, The Little Auto, (CB Editions), which was also shortlisted for the Northern California Book Awards.
Her new collection of poetry, Hunting the Boar (CB Editions, London, 2016) is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She was a finalist for the 2012 Forward Prize for Best Collection, for White Sheets (CB Editions, UK, and Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Canada), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation; for the 2009 Popescu Translation Prize, for Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud (CB Editions); for the 2010 French-American Foundation Translation Prize, for Julia Kristeva, This Incredible Need to Believe (Columbia University Press).
Héléne Cixous, Twists and Turns in the Heart’s Antarctic (Polity Press) was longlisted for the 2014 Pen Translation Prize.
Maryam Hessavi in The Manchester Review, June 2019:
Beverley Bie Brahic | The Hotel Eden | Carcanet: £9.99
And I carve out the bruises, the fine-bore
Tunnels of worms.
I slice the fruit thinly, until the white flesh
Is almost translucent,
I arrange the slices in the new pot from Ikea
(I burned the old one),
Add a trickle of water
And leave them to simmer.
Brahic’s fourth poetry collection, The Hotel Eden, is a sharp and tender act of assemblage, simmering often over questions of how we see the world and how we decipher our stories and experiences. Moving through the natural world, picking up pots from Ikea, populating the pages with their many people and across the many spaces that they travel, these poems fine-bore through contemplations of lifeand existence, to the ordinary things that make them tangible.
A book of bewildering turns – each poem forms a slight dissection of the everyday occurrence, producing a separateness that creates the ongoing sense of transition and disorientation that contributes so well to the varied land and thought-scapes that these pages point towards. With the poems as singular slices, the silence in the gaps between each one may be compared to the instantaneous presence and absence of the ‘bruises’ carved out from ‘Winter Pears’, which despite their removal, become the louder images on the page. As our attentions are drawn to the ‘carve[d] out’ spaces, these are not without the knowledge of a former violence incurred, and equally, the silences between the poems, might be considered in this way; as pauses for thought on the unspoken, removed, dissected, and the violence of those acts. This forms a complex and daring characteristic of the work that relies greatly on its whole symbolic presence, as it does in the particulars of each poem. It relies also, on the reader’s willingness to track the trickles of connection between a collection of poems whose eye impulsively shifts from California to Syria to Vietnam, from France to Afghanistan, generating a medium for new horizons. Varied also, are the forms on each page, where this oscillation from the particular object or thing to expansive shifts through time subject and space, is mirrored in moves between shorter lyrical pieces and a looser narrative style.
The title poem is written after Joseph Cornell (Pioneer of the Assemblage Art movement) and forwards some of the fundamental traits of this work, in that Brahic lifts the thingsnoticed in the everyday and composes this collection. ‘The Hotel Eden’ then, stands as both ekphrastic poem and manifesto for the wider work.
Fragments of a life, protected under glass:
A parrot on its perch. A crock of corks. Butt-end of an egg.
The spring from a clock.
This poster for Eden
Scorched and brittle as a boy’s treasure map.
The poem traces one of the artist Cornell’s ‘boxes’, where a parrot and various other objects are assembled, ‘protected under’ glass. That opening line forefronts the concept of a whole ‘life’ fragmented, where the world of this book embodies that conceptual approach. If these poems are read through the lens of Assemblage, as symbolic fragments, the book as a box, the alignment of Brahic and Cornell’s aesthetic methodology might bridge some connections between a set of, at times, apparently disjointed poem. It’s easy to experience dissolution in that, where the poems can feel unfamiliar when crossing the page, and it’s certainly a risk to take. But the collection, in its apparent everydayness (which achieves universality and allows easy connections with those things it makes subject matter of) is discreetly combatant, utilising that disjuncture to enact a refutation of habitual continuity, linearity and expectation:
Against survival. Against feathers. ,em>Against corks-in-bottles. Against
the pathos of stuffed birds. Against against.
From laughter to slaughter the house of objects is repossessed.
(‘The Hotel Eden’)
And like the leap from ‘laughter to slaughter’, the poems jump from place to place, between ‘the hard-shelled crab’ in ‘Landline’ to ‘the overripe pulp’ of grapes in ‘Hornets’, from ‘the old man’ ‘weeding raspberry canes’ in ‘Community Garden’ to ‘Ulysses’ in ‘Happy he who like Ulysses’, and so the reader’s gaze is drawn across a multitude of dimensions, textures, colours. These are complicated further with changing sound patterns, stylistic leaps and formal variations which undulate between shorter poems like ‘Red Berries’, and looser narratives such as ‘Winter Pears’.
But in all its inquisitiveness, its shifting gaze, and in the promulgation of its artistic intention, the collection and its poems at their best, find ways to momentarily slow the pace and demand consideration. Elegant rhyme schemes call back to previous lines, requiring patience from the reader:
What does the poet ask of Apollo?
For what does he pray as they pour
The libation from the clay bowl?
Not fertile Sardinia’s fields of rich corn,
From laughter to slaughter the house of objects is repossessed.
(‘Olives, Endives and Mallow’)
While the images of everyday things are written and rewritten with a grounded clarity, to fasten and develop their multifaceted manifestations in the reader’s imagination, as in ‘Red Berries’:
This morning I walked
To the farmer’s market
Half a mile over
Half a mile back
I bought two slabs
Of the wild salmon
To seize it in
And a basket
Of the red berries
Under every message
With that said, there are moments where a seeming preoccupation with the overall concept or intention for the collection, perhaps poses as a disadvantage to the finer details of some poems. Sometimes the rhyme scheme feels contrived:
Shocked, I spin
(‘Monday Morning, Croissy-sur-seine’)
And later in that particular poem, ‘desire-red cans’ raise the question as to whether a hyphen does enough to renew such worn undertones of ‘red’. Numerous appearances of the ‘moon’ and ‘love’ across the book feel similarly trite, in this respect, and lines like ‘[a]nd let the sun fondle their flesh’ ‘[i]n the Luxembourg Garden’ don’t quite deliver the image or occasion with relatable accuracy, as they do in many other instances.
There is an interesting and finely managed characteristic attributed to the speaker’s tone in this book – it is not an authoritative voice, in that assemblage and exploration take precedence over definition and naming. These unfinished acts are left squarely on the page, to simmer with other questions of authority, perspective, value, violence and control:
On the tip of God’s tongue, the bird wants to be named.
There’s a key to it somewhere. Break the glass?
(‘The Hotel Eden’)
Here, and as a wider effect of the collection, Brahic denies and questions the reader’s habitual desire for revelation, along with the authority that holds the key to it and indeed, whether the key is even a requirement. Beyond these philosophical provocations, Brahic’s aesthetic works effectively to nurture a sense of instability that dismantles expectation by way of elevating the everyday, played out in this ‘house of objects […] repossessed’, leaving the answers to the questions at the foot of the reader.
The ambiguous, unrevelatory nature of Brahic’s work is one of the many subtleties that render this book both daring and delicate. The endearing nature of these poems lies in the groundedness of their looking to the mundane object for beauty, where questions on the violence of unseeing and complacency towards the everyday object simmer and echo throughout. They are, as a collective, quietly startling when paid due attention.
Carol Rumens on “The Moon and the Supermarket Trolley” (The Hotel Eden) in The Guardian, November 2018:
Born in Saskatoon, Canada, Beverley Bie Brahic maps a distinctive, broad geographical range in her poems, including the US west coast, Paris and provincial France. As a translator, she has published English versions of work by Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva, as well as poetry collections by Francis Ponge, Yves Bonnefoy and Guillaume Apollinaire. In her original poems, she characteristically moves towards compassionate celebration.
Both the short lyrics and the more discursive narratives in her collections are richly and variously peopled, and the Mediterranean glow of generous physicality extends to fruits, flowers and an abundant natural world. Moon with a Supermarket Trolley has a playfulness, visual and tonal, suggesting the French surrealists, Apollinaire particularly, though not at the cost of Brahic’s own grounded and casually sensuous voice. It is from her latest collection, The Hotel Eden…
David Starkey in the Santa Barbara Independent, April 2019:
The Hotel Eden…is titled after a Joseph Cornell box assemblage, and like the artist, Bie Brahic has an eye for the telling detail. In “Red Berries,” for instance, the speaker buys “two slabs / Of the wild salmon / Sweet butter / To seize it in / A wedge of ripe cheese.” Yet she is never satisfied with simple description. “Under every message,” she tells us, there is “another message.”
Carol Rumens on Hunting the Boar, in Poetry Review, Winter 2017:
Beverley Bie Brahic...has the translator's sixth sense for intertextuality, and deploys it wittily in the mischievous interleavings of 'Two Varieties of Common Figs.' Botanical and sexual description are an easy match, but here the sex needs no fig-leaf of metaphor. Post-coitus the speaker sips coffee, "thighs parted/round the wet spots/on the sheet." Fearlessly physical and observant (John Updike's fiction comes to mind), Brahic carries on writing where many poets would stop, and earns that space.
Her aesthetic intelligence feeds her fascination with the human encounter... . ['Côtes du Ventoux' is] beautifully and economically done, sufficiently discursive as narrative-plus-dialogue, while sustaining the rigour of its shape. [...] There's a new music in these poems, and, while it originates in an oral tradition of story-telling, Brahic translates it brilliantly into the poetic line.
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Ian Pople on White Sheets in The Manchester Review, April 2013:
Beverley Bie Brahic has already received a PBS Recommendation and a Forward short-listing for the British edition of White Sheets, and it’s easy to see why. At a time when so many volumes of contemporary poetry are so uniform in both technique and content, White Sheets has a most pleasant variety; from translations from French surrealist, Francis Ponge, to renderings of Thucydides, from rhymed quatrains and third person narratives, to moving and loving poems about her elderly mother and the death of her father. [...] Tenderness is also part of the erotic and sexual, about which Bie Brahic writes with singular, and non-sentimental, brilliance. This book is to be highly recommended.
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David Wheatley in The Yellow Nib (University of Belfast, Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre) July 2014:
Little Thunder Palaces
Guillaume Apollinaire, The Little Auto (translated by Beverley Bie Brahic). CB Editions, £7.99.
While Yeats was discovering the labour involved in being beautiful and Eliot decreeing that modern poetry had to be difficult, across the Channel Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki was teaching modernist poetry to be lovable above all else. Is there a more sheerly delightful, more playfully inventive twentieth-century poet than Guillaume Apollinaire, as he became? Apollinaire is the original cubist cabaret singer, all Gemütlichkeit and vibrato one minute and all shock-of-the-new photomontage and post-decadent absinthe hangover the next.
He was also a war poet, retired from active service with a shrapnel wound in 1916, but not before bringing the surrealist revolution to the front line, comparing exploding shells to champagne bottles and delivering sarcastic paeans to the ‘virility of the present century’. Trench walls reminded him of nougat and breasts were ‘the only bombs that I love’. It was the flu that carried him off in the end, just before the appearance of the visual blagues of Caligrammes and all the clock-melting surrealist fun of the 1920s on which he so sadly missed out. By the 1930s, Beckett was describing the Chanson du mal aimé as ‘worth the whole of the best of Merril, Moréas, Viéle-Griffin, Spire, Régnier, Jammes put together’, and in 1950 he made good on his enthusiasm with one of his single best translations, of Zone. His English-language apotheosis was nicely in hand.
In The Little Auto Beverley Bie Brahic has concentrated mainly on later Apollinaire. The title poem describes a car journey from Deauville to Paris in August 1914 in which ‘we bid farewell to a whole era’. Sniffing political change in the wind, the dogs are howling over the borders, and Apollinaire breaks into a sinusoidal vispo swoosh I won’t try to reproduce here: ‘I shall never forget this journey by night during which none of us said a word.’ Apollinaire was fairly in the thick of it in what followed (having requested a transfer from Nîmes to the front), but makes an instructive contrast with the Anglophone lot. There is no straight opposition between the horrors of war and the pleasures of innocence and vainglory indulged at a safe distance from the chevaux de frise. Much of Apollinaire’s poignancy derives from the peculiar survival of his innocence behind the lines, his childlike sense of excitement:
And while the war cry
Turns the earth bloody
I hoist the odours
Beside the colour-savours
And I am sm
‘Zone’ is one of the greatest modern French poems, up there – certainly where its Anglophone readers have been concerned – with Le cimetière marin and Anabase. It was placed first in Alcools despite having been written last, and opens the door to much that would follow in the 1920s and beyond, to Reverdy and Char in French, and Beckett’s Echo’s Bones in English, to go no further. As well as its military connotations, ‘zone’ suggests a region outside the city walls peopled by transients and immigrants, of whom Apollinaire was one, and whose street life he so memorably paints. The poem’s ironic opening panegyric to Pope Pius X is one of the great things in modern poetry, and is reframed by the closing invocation of ‘fetishes from Polynesia or Guinea’ (Apollinaire’s Picasso connection, perhaps). These gods are ‘Other Christs with other beliefs / Lesser Christs repositories of obscure faiths’, and this is a modernism minoritaire, the ethnographic modernism of Hope Mirrlees’ Paris: A Poem and Nancy Cunard’s Negro Anthology.
His many friendships with painters and ekphrastic poems are another of the many ways in which Apollinaire resembles Frank O’Hara (though he planned to title his poems about art not ‘Why I Am Not a Painter’ but Me Too I’m a Painter). He was also possessed of O’Haraesque powers of spontaneous overflow, as witness Philippe Soupault asking him for a poem and receiving ‘Ombre’ three hours later. It is a shimmeringly lovely elegy:
Multiple shadow may the sun watch over you
You who love me so you never will go away
Who dance in the sun without kicking up dust
Ink shadow of the sun
Script of my light
Caissons of regrets
A god who humbles himself
Between The Little Auto and her versions of Francis Ponge (An Unfinished Ode to Mud), Brahic has made herself an invaluable conduit, well on her way to doing for French poetry what Michael Smith has done for Spanish or Michael Hofmann for German. The Little Auto is an entirely delightful production, and it is we should humble ourselves anew before the little ‘thunder’s palaces’ to which Apollinaire compared his wonderful poems.
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Adrian Tahourdin on Apollinaire, My Little Auto, in The Times Literary Supplement, 12 February 2014:
‘It’s appropriate in this Great War anniversary year that the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French should have gone to a new edition of poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet indissolubly linked with the conflict. The Little Auto (132pp. CB editions. Paperback, £7.99. 978 0 9567359 4 2) offers us a handsome dual-language selection. As the translator Beverley Bie Brahic reminds us in her excellent introduction (the volume also contains useful Translator’s Notes), Apollinaire was a bon-vivant with his heart on his sleeve, a man of letters whose letters turned into poems, . . . and, from 1914 to 1918, when he died, he was a soldier”. He was wounded by shrapnel in March 1916, trepanned, and died of Spanish flu in November 1918.
The poems are taken from Apollinaire’s two great, unpunctuated collections Alcools and Calligrammes, the former represented by the long poem “Zone” (“In the end you’re tired of this old world . . .”). Bie Brahic tells us that she has “tried to respect Apollinaire’s preference for the plain word” and to “suggest, where poems in this selection are rhymed, his use of rhyme”; in both objectives she succeeds. Apollinaire confounds our notions of what a war poet should be when he writes “Coeur obus éclaté tu sifflais ta romance” (“Heart burst shell you whistled your romance”) or “Que c’est beau ces fusées qui illuminent la nuit” (“How beautiful these flares are that light up the night”). Elsewhere he has sympathy for the outsider: in “The Sighs of the Dakar Gunner” the narrator recalls “Again I see my father who fought / For the English / Against the Ashantis”.’
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Michael Dennis Blogspot, June 5, 2013
‘White Sheets is Brahic's second book of poems (her first book of poetry was published outside of Canada) and is jammed full of poetic gems. Brahic has been perfecting her craft busily translating the works of Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Ponge, Helene Cixous, Jacques Derrida and Julie Kristeva. After sharpening her teeth in translation Brahic has become a deadly serious poet in one poem and then uproariously funny in the next. […] Brahic's poems jump around between styles and emotions - but the weight and presence is always the same. Beverley Bie Brahic cuts like a surgeon, kisses it better like an old pro. These are the poems of a mature writer who has mastered craft but is more concerned with content. Some of these poems appear deceptively simple and that is a very hard trick to master and pull off. Brahic does it with alacrity.’
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Kit Toda on White Sheets in The Times Literary Supplement, October 12, 2012:
‘In a relatively short career, Beverley Bie Brahic has already achieved critical acclaim as poet, translator and, at times, translator-poet. White Sheets, her second collection of poems, reveals a voice that somehow melds contradictory aspects: beguilingly elusive yet unabashed in its solidity, it exercises a curious fascination.
Unsurprisingly, some of the strongest pieces are Bie Brahic's translations of the meticulously observed prose poems of Francis Ponge. (Her volume of Ponge translations, Unfinished Ode to Mud, 2008, was highly acclaimed.) But her original poems also bear the miniaturist's impress: in "Solstice", for example, Bie Brahic observes, with beautiful clarity, how a "knife / pares the shadow / of a red onion" while in "Coda", she stills a heron by the water into "a Venetian / glass figurine toeing the line of a mirror's bevel".
There is plenty of intense observation of objects, reminiscent of still life paintings - not just in the helpfully titled "Still Life with Peaches", but in almost every poem here.’
Link to Full Review:
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White Sheets in The Common, September 11, 2012:
‘In addition to poetic shape-shifting, subtle confrontations often lurk deceptively behind the ordinary. The title poem “White Sheets” opens Brahic’s collection, and its epigram, Airstrike hits wedding party, creates tension in what appears to be the everyday—a domestic scene troubled only by the anxiety of one line against the ominous instinctive movements of the woman collecting laundry:
The world is beautiful,
she thinks, or feels, as deer
sense something coming
and move out of range. Beautiful
the woman thinks, and lifts
the laundry basket to her arms—
beautiful, and orderly.
This painterly attention to detail common in Brahic’s work continues elsewhere in the deeper trails carved out in “Ancient History,” ... .’
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Luke Kennard on Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud, in Poetry London:
‘The directness and simplicity of Brahic’s translation are refreshing, and to finally see such previously untranslated works as the titular ode is a great thing indeed.’
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The Times Literary Supplement, 13 May 2009, on Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud:
‘Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation is wholly in keeping with Ponge’s own premiss . . . that he should “never sacrifice the object of [his] study in order to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject”. These new translations never interfere with Ponge’s vision, and things do not lose their thingness. We can be grateful to both the translator and CB editions for bringing the unique work of Francis Ponge back to the attention of English-speakers.’
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Readysteadybook, Books of the Year 2008 on Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud:
‘The French master, Francis Ponge -- difficult to translate, as I know well -- speaks his things and their words in a collection of impressive versions by Beverley Bie Brahic…’.
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Peggy Kamuf on Hèlène Cixous, Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint.
Source: Review of work in the area of deconstruction published in 2004.
‘The translator, Beverley Bie Brahic, herself a poet, displays here an extraordinary gift for conveying the redistributions and explosions of sense that Cixous practises in this writing/reading that never strays far from the most idiomatic and thus untranslatable layer of the language she shares with Derrida. Portrait of Jacques Derrida is a rarity, a singular and powerful addition to Cixous’ own important oeuvre that at the same time enriches and expands that of her great contemporary.’
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The Times Literary Supplement, 18 August 2006 on Hélène Cixous, Dream I Tell You, Reveries of a Wild Woman, The Day I Wasn’t There:
‘The quality of the translator’s work, the agile and elegant expressions she puts forth, mean that this triad of recent Cixous texts, appearing for the first time in English, is a fine resource for non-Francophone readers.’