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Vasantha Sambamurti

Translator’s Note: Estelle Coppolani

Translation derives its power from the synergy of its process. These poems were a product of a synergy informed by the wise lyricism and rigorous insight of Reunionese poet Estelle Coppolani. “The Missing Island” is, I think, a perfect introduction to the stakes of Coppolani’s poetic subject, which highlights the invisibilization of La Réunion, both in the world map and, accordingly, in the world consciousness. The invisibilization of the island is aided by the degradation of the Creole language by colonial education. It is an effort to erase, even from Reunionese memory, the African and Asian religious and mythic legacies of enslaved peoples and indentured laborers, the mountainous kingdoms of maroons, the Malagasy root of the island.


In “I remember a river,” I chose to keep several phrases in the original Reunionese Creole. In the original, a sequential line in French serves as a natural translation for the Creole. Not only did I think translating the French itself was sufficient for understanding the context of the Creole, but I felt it necessary to keep Reunionese Creole visible on the page. This act of visibility resists the island’s assimilation to metropolitan French and reinforces the storied histories of the Reunionese peoples, many of which are, as Coppolani stresses, purposefully omitted from the historical archive. This act of erasure is an act of violence, and Reunionese Creole itself is a language of resistance in the wake of French colonial violence. There are countless iterations of creole identity in art: visual, sculptural, design; contemporary Reunionese designer Ambre Maillot is a visionary of this form. The language survives through poetry and music (though Coppolani might argue, and I agree, what difference is there between the two?). Each iteration is a renewal, in the same mode of Coppolani’s poetry.

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