“Island Heart”—The Dance of Passion (Review)

[Many thanks to poet John R. Lee for bringing this item to our attention.] In his Book Review for The Arts Fuse, Jim Kates explores the poems of Ida Faubert in Island Heart (Cœur des îles) artfully translated by Danielle Legros Georges. Kates writes, “These poems are of their own time and place—written in Haiti and France early in the twentieth century—yet they remain impressively fresh.” Here are excerpts from The Arts Fuse.

Every once in a while, we want to be reminded that poetry can be more than propaganda, autobiographical meandering, greeting-card uplift, or clever exercises in word-play. That it can be a craft employed—in the words of the marvelously prosaic Walter Cronkite—to alter and illuminate our lives. Poetry like this is often, paradoxically, out of step with the fashions of our times, as the poems of Ida Faubert, who lived from 1882 to 1969, most decidedly are. The second Poet Laureate of Boston, Danielle Legros Georges, has brought us this news that stays news in a translation of most of the poems in Faubert’s 1939 book, Cœur des îles, which here has been rendered into English as Island Heart. Whatever the original title’s ambiguities, in this book the island is Haiti, the heart is French.

We want the work of our writers nowadays to be imbued with their Identity. Faubert was born in Haiti and died in France. Her biculturalism may underlie her work, but it does not float on the surface. Too often, we think of Haiti only as a caricatured, an impoverished victim, the land internationally punished for more than two centuries for the effrontery of having achieved its own non-white Revolution. But that is a dangerous reduction of a far more complex reality. I know how pleasantly surprised I was just a few months ago to view an exhibit of Haitian Surrealist art, an invaluable reminder of how culturally woven the island’s culture is into the fabric of that mission civilisatrice the Metropolitan French once prided themselves on.

Faubert takes her place in that milieu. That these poems are also of their own time and place — written in Haiti and France early in the twentieth century — does not constrain them. They remain impressively fresh. Faubert is not represented in the late Norman Shapiro’s otherwise encyclopedic French Women Poets of Nine Centuries, even though he himself was one of the heralds of francophone Caribbean poetry in English translation. It cannot be that she was not French enough for him, but perhaps too anti-Baudelairean, unrepresentative of the century she lived through.

In her introduction to Island Heart, Danielle Legros Georges ties Faubert’s poems back to earlier nineteenth-century French Romantic poetry, but she does not note that they derive even more deeply from a tradition that reaches back to the High Renaissance ardor of Louise Labé and, indeed, to the classical ancestry of Catullus and Sappho. [. . .]

“Mindful of Faubert’s artistic sensibilities (at times even frustrated by them),” Legros Georges writes in her translator’s note, “I attempted to render her poems in as natural a free-verse and 21st-century U. S. English as possible.” She has made wise choices. In the quatrain above, she has replaced the density of the poet’s sounds “voir luire le jour” with repetitions and cadences of her own—“the day break,” “me trembling . . . must . . .”  — that convey the urgency as well as the formality of the original. These may sound obvious or trivial to the casual reader, but they are the labor of a careful ear and pen. [. . .]

For full review, see https://artsfuse.org/260149/poetry-review-island-heart-the-dance-of-passion/

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