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.
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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‘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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‘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.’