“Thanks to the Nobel Prize, Louise Glück's work has a chance to finally find the readership it deserves"
Romain Benini, lecturer in the French Department at Sorbonne University and expert in 19th century poetry, looks back on his "encounter" with the work of Louise Glück, an American poet who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Benini reveals how he's been moved by the poet and why he wanted to translate her latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night.
How did you discover Louise Glück's work?
Romain Benini: I discovered her work a year ago while reading the New York Review of Books, which always includes a few poems. Usually I scan over the poetry fairly quickly, but this time I was struck by a poem by Louise Glück. I was surprised by my immediate reaction because the NYRB covers all types of books (politics, history, science, etc.) so I wasn't expecting to come across a creative piece of writing.
After reading the poem several times over, I started translating it, trying to pinpoint this singular quality of her work that seemed so powerful to me. I then went and acquired every Louise Glück book that I could find. I continued translating and presented some of my translations to Guillaume Métayer and Laurent Fourcaut, who are on the editorial board of the Place de la Sorbonne magazine. They both encouraged me to continue my translation work.
What was until then a personal undertaking to better understand the textual mechanisms of Louise Glück's poetry has now become a real project of translating her work into French.
Why did you want to translate one of her poetry collections?
R.B: My motivation was twofold: first, I wanted to immerse myself in Louise Glück's writing. I told myself that by translating it I’d be obliged to delve into every detail to understand both the overall structure of her texts and their internal workings.
It was only then that I became aware of the importance of sharing her poems. I think it’s quite rare to be so impacted by a text, especially when they haven’t been presented to us in a traditional way, relying on the authority of a publishing house or scholarly discourse, etc. I found Glück’s writing so fascinating that I hoped to transmit its strength to other readers. This is one of the reasons why, in translating, I have tried to be as precise and faithful as possible, attempting to reproduce in others the feeling that I myself continue to experience every time I read Louise Glück.
Louise Glück’s work has been translated very little in France. At the time of her Nobel Prize win, there were only a few poems scattered across literature and poetry magazines. My translation company, which covers entire collections, was therefore the first— to my knowledge, to undertake work of this size. I was especially excited to translate her latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014), under the French title Nuit de foi et de vertu. This collection seemed particularly important to me for various reasons; the most important being that it feels to me like the culmination of the work of this formidable author.
How did you feel when you discovered that Louise Glück had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year?
R.B: I found it simply fabulous. I couldn't believe it, though of course I think her win was entirely deserved! I'm delighted that the Nobel has been awarded to works of poetry. Thanks to this prize, Louise Glück's work has a chance to finally reach the readership it deserves. I encourage every reader to discover her, in any language.