I was holding the light
on either side of me

A selection of Pierre Peuchmaurd poems translated by E.C. Belli—four poems from The Nothing Bird and “Bull,” a Circumference exclusive.


by Pierre Peuchmaurd

Le vent est long
le vent court
le vent hurle
Le vent hurle, pas le taureau
le monde tourne, pas le taureau
il pleut, pas le taureau
la pluie est rouge, pas le taureau
tu mets ton chapeau, pas le taureau
tu enfiles tes gants, pas le taureau
la pluie rouge, l’herbe grise
les mains qui glissent sur l’arc-en-ciel
les freux les fraises les demoiselles,
pas le taureau
l’escarcelle, pas le taureau
le taureau est un sac
le héron vole, pas le taureau
le jour du mois, pas du taureau
la bave des filles, pas du taureau
je est un autre, pas un taureau
un souffle, pas un taureau
la neige aux doigts, pas un taureau
mets la littérature dans une corne,
pas le taureau
dans l’ombre, pas le taureau
le taureau est noir, il est blanc
le taureau est un frac
le soir tombe, pas le taureau
l’amour tangue, pas le taureau
tu touches ta peau, pas le taureau
tu noies tes yeux
tu fouilles ton sexe, pas le taureau
le vent hurle, pas le taureau
le vent flambe
le taureau est un rire un ange un tréteau d’or
l’amour tangue, pas le taureau
l’amour remonte les allées de sa mort,
pas le taureau
l’amour meurt, pas le taureau
il surgit du taureau
l’amour meugle, pas le taureau
le taureau est un chant d’oiseau
le héron vole la main passe,
pas le taureau
qui chante ailes arrachées
qui chante le ventre ouvert
le taureau pèse cent ans de corde,
pas la corde
la corde pèse le pendu, pas le taureau
les ailes, pas le taureau
arrachées, le taureau
le taureau est une jambe
le taureau est l’aubier sous l’écorce du taureau
tu est toi, pas le taureau
tu es là, pas le taureau
les chiens dansent, pas le taureau
les nains dansent sur les chiens, pas le taureau
j’ouvre la fenêtre, pas le taureau
le vent est long le vent court
la nuit aboie au ciel, pas le taureau
le taureau est le jour planté au cœur du jour


by Pierre Peuchmaurd

The wind is long

the wind runs

the wind screams

The wind screams, not the bull

the world turns, not the bull

the rain falls, not the bull

the rain is red, not the bull

you put on your hat, not the bull

you slide on your gloves, not the bull

red rain, grey grass

those hands slipping along the rainbow

those rooks those strawberries those damsels,

not the bull

the leather pouch, not the bull

the bull is a bag

the heron flies, not the bull

your day of the month, not the bull’s

the drool of girls, not the bull’s

I am another, not a bull

a breath, not a bull

that snow along our fingers, not a bull


pour writings into a horn

not the bull

in the shade, not the bull

the bull is black, he is white

the bull is a tailcoat

evening falls, not the bull

love reels, not the bull

you stroke your skin, not the bull

you drown your eyes

you burrow in your cunt, not the bull

the wind screams, not the bull

the wind’s ablaze

the bull is a chuckle an angel a gold trestle

love reels, not the bull

love sails up death’s alleyways,

not the bull

love dies, not the bull

it springs from the bull

love moos, not the bull

the bull is a birdsong

the heron flies the hand passes,

not the bull

that sings wings ripped

that sings with intestines showing

the bull weighs a hundred years of rope

not the rope,

the rope weighs the hanging, not the bull

the wings, not the bull

ripped, the bull

the bull is a leg

the bull is sapwood under the bark of the bull

you are you, not the bull

you are here, not the bull

the dogs are dancing, not the bull

the dwarves are dancing on the dogs, not the bull

I crack the window, not the bull

the wind is long the wind runs

the night barks at the sky, not the bull

the bull is the day planted into the heart of the day


translated from French by E.C. Belli

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Surreal & Elemental:
An Interview with E.C. Belli

by: Elizabeth Clark Wessel

Editor Elizabeth Clark Wessel talks with emerging translator E.C. Belli.

I was lucky enough to study translation with E.C. Belli at Columbia University, and I’ve been fascinated since then by her translation process, her fierce advocacy for the little known (in the U.S) French poet Pierre Peuchmaurd, and the work that has resulted from it. She has rendered the elemental, late surrealistic poetry of Peuchmaurd in an evocative, emotional English, and the collection she translated and edited is now available from Oberlin College Press. You can read more of Belli’s translations here.

How did you first become interested in translation and in the translation of poetry? And can you describe some of your first experiences with translation?

I suppose I’ve never experienced life without translation. I grew up speaking French with my Swiss father and my sister (in school as well) and English with my British mother. My mother was very firm about not letting us speak anything else than English with her as she wanted us to be bilingual. After living a day in French, I’d come home and attempt to recapitulate it all in English. It was constant and exhausting. 

As for the translation of poetry and literature, I first became interested in it when I started reading poetry as a preteen. Three authors in particular: Edmond Rostand, Alphonse de Lamartine, and Victor Hugo. But really I think it began with Edmond Rostand (best known for Cyrano de Bergerac): a teacher in junior high school, Madame Vera, gave me his out-of-print book Les Musardises. His poem “Le Petit Chat” had charmed me and I kept going on about it in class. She just pulled out this old book for me one day and sent me home with it. It was my first treasure.

I then discovered Rostand’s play, L’Aiglon, based on the life of Napoleon II (later called the Duke of Reichstadt). Specifically, an unfinished poem from 1894 that was featured in the supplementary materials. It’s called “Un Rêve” (a few lines actually made it into the fifth act of the play): the Duke and Seraphin Flambeau, an old soldier from Napoleon 1st’s Army, stand in a field after Flambeau has struck himself with a sword to avoid being taken alive by the police. In his dying haze, Flambeau imagines he is back at the Battle of Wagram and is dying an honorable death from battle-related wounds. The Duke joins him in his reverie and sees the field fill with dead and dying men, and finds himself helpless amid this widespread suffering. It’s so beautiful and dark and tragic.

I remember wanting, very badly, to translate “Un Rêve” for my British relatives, in particular my grandmother, who is a poet. I’d go at it line by line, on the fly, doing the best I could. Sometimes something magic happened and a line came to life, but more often than not it fell completely flat. It was very frustrating. Two years ago, I wrote an “adult” translation of the poem during a class. It has a lot of problems, but I love it and keep going back to it to make changes. It’s my secret project. I suppose that was my first experience with ‘real’ translation.

What attracts you to a certain project? And specifically, how did you come across the work of Pierre Peuchmaurd?

Oh, I’m hopeless. Love, death, and the carnal! I end up with terrible crushes on projects. And writers. They are often formally innovative and always very charming. I think I literally fell in love with Peuchmaurd when I first read him. I discovered his poem “It Will Come in My Left Lung,” shortly after his death, on the French poetry blog Poezibao. I just wept and wept, even though I didn’t know him. I then went on a rampage and devoured “A Treatise on Wolves” after which I bought all of his books. They were very hard to find. A lot are out of print. But his son, Antoine, has a bookstore in Montréal, Librairie Le port de tête, where he keeps a lot of his father’s works. Check them out on Facebook.

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An American in Dante’s Inferno

by: E.C. Belli

Mary Jo Bang speaks with E.C. Belli about the process of carrying this epic journey over into our English.

As if to leave a voice echoing in the hallway of years, as if to say This is now, This is us, Mary Jo Bang presents a volume of Dante’s Inferno that has gnawed at and digested the elements of our present. The filth, the grime, the greed is ours. We recognize it: it bears the marks of our today.

We know what purists will say—and yet Mary Jo Bang has done the most American thing you can possibly do: she has shown up to the fancy dress party in jeans and a white t-shirt screaming, We are allowed here too! This is our space to fill also.

What we have to thank Bang for above all is her willingness to break the sacrosanctity of an epic that has been held, for all these years, at arm’s distance, sheepishly, faithfully, terrorizing for its blue blood.

With an introduction that leads the reader, step by step, through the circles of hell before she experiences, as Bang puts it, her “Mind and body caught midmotion in the unfathomable,” and a translator’s note pearled with insights on Bang’s meticulous process, this Inferno calls to the reading public with generosity, telling to creep out, for a minute, of the large print sorcery, the emotional pornography, and the dystopias, and bask in a sublime classic.

E.C. Belli: Different translators have different methods. How did you approach this text? How did you start? Basically, what were your steps?

Mary Jo Bang: I would begin translating each canto by reading William Warren Vernon’s two-volume Readings on the Inferno of Dante: Based upon the Commentary of Benvenuto da Imola and Other Authorities. That 1906 literal prose translation traces the commentary on the poem, line-by-line, all the way back to Benvenuto, a lecturer at the University of Bologna who was born shortly after Dante died and whose commentary on the Divine Comedy was one of the earliest. I would then read Charles S. Singleton’s prose translation done in 1970, and then John D. Sinclair’s from 1954, examining the small differences between the two. Then I’d often go back to the Vernon to see what choice he’d made at the same moment, and I would re-read the surrounding commentary.

I think what is gained in this new translation is this sense of contemporaneity. The cost of achieving that was that I had to sacrifice, here and there, a strict allegiance to the original.

At some point in the process, I’d begin my own translation and then eventually stop to compare my attempt to other translations, primarily (but not limited to) those done by: Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, Mark Musa, Allen Mandelbaum, Michael Palma, and Ciaran Carson. If I still had any questions, I’d do a word-by-word dictionary translation for that tercet and the surrounding ones using the Sansoni Italian/English English/Italian dictionary. Sometimes I would do entire pages of word-by-word dictionary translation.

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