In 2015 Old Stile Press published my translation of the Belgian poet Blaise Cendrars’ epic early 20th century poem The Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France, illustrated by my friend the artist Natalie d’Arbeloff. The publishers described the work thus:
This extraordinary epic poem – known for short as the ‘Trans-Sib’ given its deliberately awkward and cumbersome title – was written by Blaise Cendrars in 1913. It is a compound of the literal and the surreal, a breathless travelogue, historical commentary and dreamscape narrative.
His daughter, Miriam Gilou Cendrars, writes for this edition a note about the importance of Cendrars’ work to modern poetry of the twentieth century and has enthusiastically praised this translation.
The poet had been in Russia in 1905 at the time of unrest followed by the Sino-Russian war and the dramatic incidents which occur on the journey he makes (in the company of his lover, Jeanne) may well have happened to him. As an impressionable young man he imparts a sense of vivid truth writing of these historical events in minute detail.
This vivid truth is also powerful in Dick Jones’ translation into English of the poet’s original text in French. As he writes of the poem – ‘the narrative itself is presented in a refreshingly direct and simple style, breaking entirely with the traditional conventions of verse form and its graphic literality is punctuated by passages of lambent and dreamlike imagery, prefiguring by 40 years the experimentation of the Beat poets in Cendrars’ beloved United States.’
Dick Jones and Natalie d’Arbeloff were both equally excited by Cendrars’ writing and together created a rhythmic, pounding fusion of image and words retelling this journey across Russia on the famous Trans-Siberian railway – a journey which deserves to be better known beyond the French-speaking world.
The translator continues to work on other poems by Cendrars and for those unfamiliar with the work he has created a Facebook page for Blaise Cendrars, which is well worth exploration.
I have indeed been working on further translations of Blaise Cendrars’ poems. Here are two examples in early drafts. Dorphyra comes from KODAK, one of his two final books of verse, the other being TRAVEL NOTES, from which the second poem, White Suit, is taken, both published in 1924.