Translator’s Note: Jean D’Amérique
These seven poems come from Jean D’Amérique’s third collection of poems, Atelier du silence, or, in English, Workshop of Silence. I consider my translation of the title a working one since it doesn’t quite convey the connotations of an atelier, e.g. an artist’s studio, or a jeweler’s workshop, where silence would be a material to be worked on, heated and hammered and shaped and chased.
D’Amérique is a poet of resistance, like Nazim Hikmet or Aimé Césaire. His imagination, his persistence, his refusal to quiet down, transform his silence and his speech, in the eyes of the state and the various powers he speaks out against, into a kind of weapon. They are things he wields and which grant him his own power. We can see how he uses them in poems like “Typewriter,” where silence is a kind of beauty whose mutilation is warranted by the poem’s success. What a joy it would be to be able to be silent, to live in a world where there is no need to denounce corruption, inequity, injustice. But the need is there, as we see in “Speech” where “Fresh bread is what we want” and “the word” is what sows the fields for it.
Though Jean’s poems grow out of soils strewn with stones and splotched with blood, they also grow out of play, one of the more daring and dangerous modes there is (“being happy is worth the price” as he says). The title, for instance, of “Front Matter” in French is “entrée en matière” which means, literally, “the entering into of (the) matter” but is another way of saying foreword, or preamble. The poem—the first in the book—plays with the polysemy of the word matter—an issue at hand as well as the material out of which things are made. How do you start a book? How does one become a poet? Is one harmed into it, as Yeats was by “mad Ireland”? Does one eat poems, like Mark Strand? What is the matter itself—that the poet has been fed on the nights sprouting from the death of his confreres, or that there is so much death it has become a kind of crop, an export?
Like any poet worth his constellations, these poems are not about answers, but about making the questions more urgent, vivid, real. They are a map of the fires the poet has had his hand in, “the doorstep[s] of [more than] one volcano” whose eruptions have made, and can transfigure, the world we know.