Paol Keineg: Triste Tristan and Other Poems


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Paol Keineg was born in Brittany in 1944. His first book, Le poème du pays qui a faim [Poem of the famished land] of 1967, became a manifesto of Breton militancy against colonization by the French State and put him in the forefront of the new Breton literature. While remaining emotionally rooted in Brittany and intensely interested in Celtic mythology, he lived in the US for about thirty years, teaching at Brown and Duke, before returning to his native village in 2009. He is both playwright and poet and has translated Breton and American poets into French. His most recent books of poetry are a collected poems, Les trucs sont démolis(2008), Abalamour (2012), and Mauvaises Langues (2014). Burning Deck has published a translation of Boudica.

Keineg’s poems began somewhere between song and angry scream. In his later years, they have given a larger place to humor, irony, and more nuanced language nourished by his living between three tongues: Breton, French, and English. When “all languages are always foreign” it is impossible to have a naive, unreflected relation to any one of them — or to their literatures.

“Triste Tristan” quilts early medieval versions of “Tristan and Iseult” together with a demythologizing perspective that “takes down the pants of the lyrical tradition.” Other poems layer the landscapes of Brittany and America with meditations on history, writing, memory, and exile. The work is both immersed in physical space and displaced by it.

Laura Marris’ translation projects include an animated translation from Paol Keineg’s Bad Language in Asymptote, Louis Guilloux’s novel Blood Dark (New York Review Books) and Christophe Boltanski’s The Safe House(University of Chicago Press).

Rosmarie Waldrop has translated, from the French, Edmond Jabès, Emmanuel Hocquard, and Jacques Roubaud, and from the German, Elke Erb, Friederike Mayröcker, Oskar Pastior, Gerhard Rühm, Ulf Stolterfoht.