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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Interview: Claire Trévien

Claire Trévien is the ringmaster of online poetry reviews bible Sabotage, as well as a bilingual creative whirlwind in her own right. We hollered our questions across the rumpled swathes of the English Channel and she sent the following bottle back...

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I'm a Franco-British poet, translator, reviewer and editor of Sabotage. I'm also in the last year of a PhD in collaboration with Waddesdon Manor, which involves co-curating a small exhibition of prints of the French Revolution (open now). I like being kept busy.

Who or what are your main influences?

Who? As far as poetry goes, the first poem I fell in love with, around the age of eleven was Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Ma Bohème’, it’s hovered over me since, for better or for worse, as the pinnacle of poetry, it ensnares me like few other poems can and I’ve never managed to translate it in a way that’s done it justice, I don’t think I ever will, it’s become too personal.
What? I am most influenced by my birthplace Brittany, its legends, its landscape, its magic, I’m attached to it by some sort of umbilical cord.

What was the initial idea or manifesto behind Sabotage and has that changed?

I don’t think it’s changed greatly; perhaps it has refined itself. I started out wanting to put the spotlight on publications that don’t often get attention. It started out as a blog but I quickly started adding other reviewers, and then editors, but the spirit is still the same. We concentrate on poetry pamphlets, fiction anthologies (by small/indie publishers) novellas, literary magazines, and live performances. Occasionally we get something that doesn’t fit into the mould, so we have to judge it on a case by case basis. The rules aren’t set in stone, but if it’s getting a lot of attention outside of us, we’re less likely to take it on.

What are the biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of translation for you?

As far as poetry translation goes, they’re the same as those of writing poetry: deciding when to abandon it is the most difficult part. Learning not to do pyrotechnics is the other: sometimes plain language serves the original best. I always translate the poem literally at first, and I love the strange expressions that can come up during the process. Spending several hours under a poem’s skin is a great way to understand how a poet functions and sometimes, just sometimes, some of that magic rubs off on you and you just have to open a new document and spill some words out. It’s a great source of inspiration, especially if you’re having a dry patch.

How does what you've experienced of the French poetry scene differ from the British version?

I have mostly, shamefully, experienced the Anglo-American scene in Paris, which I have to say is particularly vibrant at the moment. It’s had quite the second youth. New presses, magazines and anthologies have been cropping up to capture this special moment. I am a regular at Spoken Word (at Culture Rapide) which is, I think, the centre of the hub. So it’s an exciting time to be in Paris, the community is fairly small but constantly rejuvenated by new arrivals from all over the world.
I am less excited about the French poetry scene at the moment, outside of the slam scene, which is fantastic, I’ve been struggling to find any zines of the kind Britain produces by the bucket load. It also seems harder for young poets to make it. That being said, I am renting a flat from the youngest Oulipo member and his bookshelves tell me the stories the internet is quiet about; that there is a very active underground scene. The main difference, I feel, is that you have to be in the know to be able to experience it, whereas the British scene is less hermetic. These are gross generalisations of course.

What frustrates you most about poetry, and what do you think the medium is best placed to achieve?

I get more frustrated about issues that surround poetry than poetry itself, and I have trouble thinking about poetry in terms of achievements… I often think of poetry as carnivalesque in the Bakhtinian sense: a second world that’s concrete, warm, that embraces all of the people but that is also full of mischief, imagination and misrule. If it gains a definition it will always turn it on its head.

Given ultimate power, what would you change to provide a more receptive environment to poetry?

I think the key is in raising children to love poetry. I’ve tutored some students through their English GCSEs and by then they’ve already been scarred. They think poetry is boring, difficult, not for them; they cannot read it without a clear list of things to find in them, as if it were a map or a wordsearch. So if I had any power it would be to change the syllabus and have poetry-loving English teachers installed in every school.

How have online tools helped or hindered your work?

I am an internet addict, for better or for worse, maybe I’d write better poetry without the distractions but I owe so much to online communities and, of course, Sabotage would not exist without the internet.

Whose work are you currently enjoying, and why?

I am still praising Roberto Bolaño weeks after I critiqued him for Horizon Review. His poetry is really quite bonkers, dangerous and oddly moving. I think the fact that it is translated makes it taste wonderfully fresh.

Finally, what future projects have you got planned?

Well, Sabotage is launching its inaugural Saboteur Awards this month, celebrating literary magazines, be they online or hard copies. I would love to find some sort of money for Sabotage to either put into the awards and/or to pay the reviewers, so that’s something I’d like to plot. Poetry-wise, I have a pamphlet of poetry, Low-Tide Lottery, coming out with Salt later this year, so that’s exciting. And finally I have to finish my PhD sometime soon so I better get cracking.

For further Claire, seek out Sabotage or www.clairetrevien.co.uk, or follow Sabotage on Twitter