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This poem is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

Perec Translations John Lee

The following poems are taken from a forthcoming translation of Georges Perec's novel La Disparition which, like the original, forgoes the letter e, the commonest in both languages. The trouble of course with the lipogram, or letter-dropping, is that it can easily go unnoticed, for all utterances except pangrams such as "a quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" omit one or more letters anyway. Hence lipogrammatists' tendency to announce their exploit: E.V. Wright, for instance, subtitles his Gadsby, "a story of over 50,000 words without using the letter E". Unfortunately, such absolute explicitness is itself of necessity unlipogrammatic. Perec's innovation is therefore to explore the many ways round the problem of self-designation within the lipogrammatic constraint.

One way is to remove e's from well-known quotations. Examples range from almost correct Shakespeare ("it is a story told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing") to a mini-anthology of poetry familiar to all French schoolchildren culminating in a fairly explicit four-vowel version of Rimbaud's Voyelles. Whether faithful transcriptions or something else (none of the characters is very sure), the poems serve as a clue to the fate of their author, the missing Anton Voyl: he has merely reintegrated an e-type environment, and accordingly left the world of his novel, on discovering his lipogrammatic status.

In order to obtain an equally familiar English version, one is tempted to substitute poems like, say, Thomas Gray's Stanzas in a Country Churchyard - a costly solution in translational terms, however; translation is, after all, about rendering, not suppressing, what is specifically foreign. For this reason, I have settled for a slightly increased emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon yardstick already present in references to Macbeth and others, whilst staying close to the French text, only transposing here to the extent of translating the original poems rather than Perec's lipograms.
John Lee

Lo' Wind

Alas, my body was sad! I'd finish'd all my books.
To flit! To fly away! Soaking drunk I saw rooks
From running, soaring 'twixt unknown foam and sky!
Nothing, not old black parks so bright for ay
Shall hold this soul from salty swamp
Oh Nights! nor solitary light cast by my lamp
On this blank foolscap with whiting wild
Nor that young woman with milking child.
I shall go! Oh craft, swinging your boom,
Lift anchor! Wing off to distant broom!

A chagrin, gloomy with disappointing wish
Still holds faith in hanky's waving swish!
    Or is this a storm-inviting mast?

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