Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Paul Belanger

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Ten Questions with Paul Belanger

Paul Bélanger is the author of several books, including The World Forgotten: Selected Poems (Guernica Editions, 2006) and Répit (Noroît, 2009). He spoke with Open Book about his inspiration and the uniquely Canadian voice he has cultivated. The Montreal Review of Books feels that, “In [The World Forgotten], the poet [Paul Bélanger] is preoccupied with the inner life and with poetry that probes it. The workings of memory and perception are his favorite themes, but the emphasis is on how they turn into poems.”

“Paul Bélanger’s words always rise from eyesight. Eyes are present in each one of his books. What the eyes see never stops at the surface of things, since there is no surface to encounter. His are the eyes of the voyeur,” said Claude Paradis of the Nuit blanche.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Paul Bélanger:

Répit is a book in which the poem and the poet enter into dialogue, seeking the poem, and trying to understand the direction of the writing.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote?

PB:

My concern was to write every day, in order to accumulate “facts” – the facts of language – that would enable me to remain in the realm of creation, within a rediscovered silence. I had to write a poem every day, and I forced myself to do it. Of course, I then had to rewrite each poem over a period of four years, until they were published in 2009.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

PB:

There is no ideal environment. I don’t need much in order to write – just four walls. But when a serious failure occurred, I would jump into the car and drive downriver, towards Notre-Dame-du-Portage (close to Rivière-du-Loup). I know that whenever I stand in front of those threadbare mountains and that flat expanse of the river, words will visit me.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

PB:

My first publication goes back to 1988: Projets de Pablo. This project was inspired by the Picasso exhibition (New York, 1981). The incubation period was quite long, and thus was organized in two parts that became my first two books. In my mind, Projets de Pablo (1988) and Retours (1991) are a single book: the first is about the exhibition itself, and the drifts provoked by the model; the second is about the return trip, New York-Montreal, a nocturne wandering, full of dreams, meditative.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

PB:

A Canadian experience? Noting other than the text I have just published in Contre-Jour (Fall 2009) occurs to me. “Le passeur du palais des ombres” is Pessoa’s recovered notebook, written while he was staying in Montreal. Well, it is true: there’s nothing Canadian about Pessoa other than Montreal which, despite the ambiguity, is still located in Canada. I guess I could say that Paul Bélanger is probably a heteronym of Pessoa.

To be more precise, there is no Canadian book per se that ever influenced my writing. If there is anything that triggered my writing, I would place the poet Claude Gauvreau at the top of the list of my primary influences… from Québec.

I am fortunate that my work has been translated quite a few times. But the experience of translation from which I benefited the most was when my first book of poetry, translated by Antonio D’Alfonso, was published. “The World Forgotten” taught me many things about my work. Translation is a threat to the self. It questions and provokes us as well as our creation. It is a great experience.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

PB:

I have no idea what a Canadian gift would be. I guess that one must read Fernand Dumont in order to understand Canadian duality, with its Québécois-French and Canadian components. I would probably also mention a disc produced last year entitled Douze hommes rapaillés, by the composer Gilles Bélanger, in which poems by Gaston Miron are sung. And I could also refer you to the book written by Gaston Miron, L’homme rapaillé. One could consider it essential in the sense that it makes us free. But is it a Canadian book?

Another title: The Rocking Chair by A.M. Klein, translated as “La chaise berçante”, published by Éditions du Noroît in 2006. A great Canadian book, if there are any. Here again, it is Klein’s perception of the French Canadian that is of interest.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

PB:

I recently read La barque silencieuse de Pascal Quignard, Les Pâques d’Andréa Zanzotto, some short stories by Louise Cotnoir, and some poems by Elana Wolff.

I am not writing anything these days, except for some notes for the future. In a few weeks, I will return to a book I have on the go, which connects poetry and prose. In this book, I interrogate the novels I esteemed in the past so as to pay tribute to them in a poetic form.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

PB:

There are several possible answers, but one of the best pieces of advice I received dates back to a few years ago. I was working on my poems with the late Michel Beaulieu. He liked to circle a word and ask me why it happened to be there. Not having any answer, I understood why I would also have to understand and respond to the question: why this word and not another one…Also, my favorite female reader always makes a minute examination of the syntax, of the “line of light” of my texts, or of their “line of brightness,” if you will.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

PB:

To question their text until they have quenched their thirst, as once it has become a book, it is submitted to the gaze (and the judgement) of the reader. You must find your reader in the text if you want him to “commune.” Kafka wrote “Writing means opening oneself up to excessiveness.”

OBT:

What is your next project?

PB:

Write, write and write more. Vivre, vivre, vivre encore.


Paul Bélanger was born in Levis, Quebec, in 1953. He is the publisher of Le Noroît in Montréal.

For more information about The World Forgotten: Selected Poems, translated by Antonio D’Alfonso. please visit the Guernica website.

Ten Questions translated by Stéphanie Roesler

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.
 

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