Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why translator Oana Avasilichioaei believes language is 'alive and creaturely'

Oana Avasilichioaei won the Governor General's Literary Award for her translation of Readopolis, originally written in French by Bertrand Laverdure.
Readopolis is the second book by Bertrand Laverdure that poet Oana Avasilichioaei has translated. (Pam Dick/Courtesy of Oana Avasilichioaei)

Artist and poet Oana Avasilichioaei won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for translation for the book Readopolisoriginally written in French by Bertrand Laverdure. Avasilichioaei will receive her award on Nov. 29, 2017 at Rideau Hall.

Readopolis follows the erratic mind of a man named Ghislain, who is obsessed with Québécois literature and disdainful of many the disappointing manuscripts that pass through the Montreal publishing house he works at. 

Below, Avasilichioaei takes CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, and answers eight questions submitted by eight writers.

1. Pasha Malla asks, "Flannery O'Connor: 'All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real, but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality.' Where do your 'reaches of reality' extend to?"

While many aspects of "reality" may enter into my work, they tend to go through layers of linguistic filters, alterations, extensions, reverberations before they are enacted in a poem. As such, one could say that the poem offers echoes or vibrations of reality. Though I think that one of the most important things to me is how language matters, how it matters in the world at large and how it matters in the world of the poem/book. To me language is alive and creaturely, and therefore I feel a certain responsibility to its "life" in the poem.

2. Karen Solie asks, "At what stage of composition do you show someone a work in progress?"

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This varies but because I tend to work on long poems that are part of a larger book project/universe, I usually show someone else my work only once a part of the manuscript is starting to take shape. At this point, I find the feedback super engaging and useful… I am weary of sharing work at earlier stages, because there is a danger of losing the energy and momentum of actually creating the work. 

3. Donald Winkler asks, "In his autobiography, Maxim Gorky describes sitting in a tree as a boy, reading a book, and being so bewitched by the world before him that he peered behind the page to see if that world was lurking there. Do you have a comparable memory from your childhood of being wonderstruck by reading?"

One of the first books that I remember reading over and over again was a two-volume tome of the Greek myths (which I read as a child, at the age of eight or nine, while I was still living in Romania). I found them completely engrossing, their imaginative world utterly compelling, the human drama and various forces at work bewildering. I am certain that immersing myself in these stories inadvertently had an effect on some of the thinking and writing I would eventually do. 

4. Marie-Claire Blais asks, "Do you believe in writers' solidarity for each other?"

Sure, being able to have dialogues with other writer (or artist) friends one trusts and whose lives may involve some of the same concerns can be very helpful and encouraging. 

5. Sigal Samuel asks, "What are the trashiest guilty pleasures you enjoy (books, movies, TV shows) and is there any way in which they inspire your literary writing?"

I have a soft spot for sci-fi, both in film and literature. While I haven't written anything specifically in that genre yet, I find the speculative imagination of sci-fi inspiring, particularly for the ideas it gives me about possible directions of language, the body, the environment, etc.

6. Emma Richler asks, "What is your favourite reward for the moment you down tools for the day?"

Doing something outdoors, like going on a walk. 

7. André Alexis asks, "Are you conscious of the rhythm that paragraphs have, their length, when you're writing? Or is that something you work on as a form of sculpture afterwards?"

Form and content are for me intimately intertwined. When I am writing poetry, I am creating the entire sculpture at any one time, listening to the sounds, the rhythms, the vocabularies, attentive to the architecture of the words, lines, spaces, composing a choreography of thought, sensation, movement. 

8. Yann Martel asks, "What's the favourite sentence (or scene) that you've written?"

Because I mostly write poetry (so often not in sentences), I sometimes like the challenge of writing an especially long sentence. This is a recent favourite from the poem Bound in Limbinal:

"Planting our legs firmly on the ground, which is to say splitting our I's into two stillnesses, we sneak-preview a defiant stance, which is to say we politick in standing so politics elude us, which is to say that our projection is slack in sense and possibly repetitive, which is to say that our defiance is immobile."