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Southwestern Professor Publishes Bilingual Edition of French Poetry in Translation

If you like the gentle flow and surprising insights of American poets such as Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, you may well enjoy “Return to Calm,” a new volume of work by French writer Jacques Réda.

If you like the gentle flow and surprising insights of American poets such as Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, you may well enjoy “Return to Calm,” a new volume of work by French writer Jacques Réda.

“Return to Calm,” a poetry collection that first appeared in French in 1989, has just been published by Host Publications in a full bilingual edition, with translations by assistant professor of French Aaron Prevots. It features rhymed poems written in a relatively informal voice by one of France’s most admired contemporary authors.

“Reading Réda is like listening to your favorite old jazz tracks on records,” Prevots says. “The long lines and balanced forward motion give it a warm sound and feel as well as a nice mix of energy and mellowness.”

The collection is one of over 30 books Réda has written, on topics ranging from jazz to literature to city life. He is well known in France as much for his poetry as for his essays, autobiographical prose and short novels, and has received numerous honors including the “Grand Prix de l’Académie Française” (1993) and the “Prix Louis Mandin” (2005), both awarded in recognition of his lifetime’s work.

A special aspect of this bilingual edition is the author’s focus on everyday life, which makes the poems accessible to a wide readership. “Réda is especially interested in seemingly insignificant events that turn out to have greater resonance,” Prevots explains. “He tries to be humble and self-effacing, but still deep in unexpected ways.”

The volume’s introduction offers a glimpse of what to look for when reading “Return to Calm.” Prevots says it is important to point out that Réda resembles other current poets of various traditions in his modest search for meaning, but differs in his fascination with traditional rhymed forms and with writing as clearly and straightforwardly as possible, almost as if addressing a listener in conversation.

Also unusual is the preface, written in English by Réda himself. “Réda has been an avid reader in several languages for quite a while,” Prevots says. “In addition to writing, he worked for many years as an editor in publishing, and thus has been constantly absorbed in literary traditions of all kinds.”

The preface discusses Réda’s influences as well as his relationship to America and to jazz, a subject dear to his heart since he has been a contributor to the French monthly “Jazz Magazine” since the 1960s. Réda is still quite active and has published about ten titles in the last five years alone.

Prevots began translating “Return to Calm” while researching trends in contemporary French poetry. He decided this poetry collection would lend itself especially well to a bilingual edition aimed at new readers, since it features seven distinct sections in which Réda shares reflections on youth, on travel in open country, on seasons, on Paris and on remembrance itself.

“It piqued my interest when I noticed that his style could resonate with readers of American and English poetry, and that very little by Réda was available in translation,” Prevots says.

In fact, Prevots found that editors felt the same way he did. Also recently accepted for publication were his translations of Réda’s “Europes,” forthcoming in 2008 from Host Publications, and of “Thirteen Songs of Dark Love,” appearing soon from Editions VVV.

“Europes” features travel recollections in prose and poetry that take the reader through seven countries including France, emphasizing personal views of cities, landscapes and people closely observed. “Thirteen Songs of Dark Love” recounts a love affair’s twists and turns, in a melancholy yet playful mood somewhat reminiscent of early twentieth century French writer Guillaume Apollinaire. “Return to Calm” is now available at Amazon.com, in paperback and hardcover.

Prevots will present selected poems and discuss the translation process at an Oct. 22 Faculty Forum at Southwestern University. He also will participate in a reading by Host Publications authors and translators at the American Literary Translators Association 30th Annual Conference in Richardson, Texas, on Nov. 10, 2007.