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Getting Queneau All

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The French author Raymond Queneau (“ken-NO”) is probably best known for his 1959 novel, Zazie dans le métro Zazie in the Metro in its English translation, which in my view needs a refreshing, to better capture the wordplay and humour of the French. In fact, that need for more sensitive translation of Queneau is the second inspiration for this blog, the first being his Exercices de style – Exercises in Style, 1947.

The exercises there work a variation on the theme as detailed in Queneau’s first entry, Notations. Here is my translation:

   In S, during the lunchtime rush. A guy of about 26, crushed hat with string where the ribbon used to be, neck too long as if someone had pulled him from above. People get off. The guy in question bumps against this other passenger. Guy chews him out for jostling every time somebody goes by. Your usual cry-baby [pleurnichard] who tries to come off like he’s some tough dude. He sees a seat and makes a dash for it.

   Two hours later, I come across him at the Cour de Rome, in front of the Saint-Lazare station. He’s with a friend, who tells him, “You should do up the top button on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the neckline) and why.

There follow ninety-eight retellings in different styles – “Telegraphic,” for example: “BUS CROWDED STOP YNGMAN LONG NECK HAT WITH BRAID SLASH TRAVELLER… .” Then there are “Tanka” (a Japanese poetic form): “The bus comes/A young trendoid in a hat gets on/Jostling/Later in front of St.-Lazare/The matter of a button”; “Homophonic”: “Ah Jung geyser prizes an udder inner soft at buy cruising Kim far stapling Oliver is toasts…”; “Exclamations”: “Hey! Lunchtime! Time to take the bus! What a crowd! What a crowd! You’re completely shmushed! That guy there! What a puss! And look at that neck!”; “Interjections”: “Psst! ooh! ah! oh! hum! ah! ouf! eh! hey! oh!…,” etc. (my translations).

The third inspiration for (or infatuation behind) this blog is what began as an actual grade-school crush, from the time I was nine until more recently than I’d care to calculate (and which we might as well call lifelong), with a third-grade classmate in southwest Denver, Colorado. It provides the basis for my core narrative, which is not quite as mundane as Queneau’s and probably violates his protocols, but I hope it makes reading the posted poems more, well, be-musing; my story is a little sexy, after all, if frustrated at an O. Henry ending. It began in prose form, like this (as suggested by the third post, “Nostalgic Prosaic”):

When I was nine, a third-grader, I fell in love with a girl in my class. She was petite, shy, a study in beiges – a quiet brunette with mocha skin and big chestnut eyes, like a puppy’s. There was no sign that she thought anything of me.

Twenty years later I encountered her again, by chance. We were students, still, but young adults now. We met in a cafeteria at the student union and, at least notionally (you tell me!), I took her back to my room in a dormitory. In the middle of the night we got out of bed and she stood at my side, whispering to me as I sat at my little portable typewriter, taking down her words.

When I awoke the next morning there was no sign of the light-brown beauty. I hurried anxiously to my typewriter for some memento of the night.  On the paper rolled into the typewriter, I found a non-couplet:

        The quick red fox
             jumps over the lazy brown dog.

And, yes, I really did encounter my third-grade crush by happenstance, thirteen years later, when I was altogether hobbled and macerated by a clinical depression, as I obliviously sat down across from her, heavily bearded and chain-smoking, no less, at the student union of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Sadly, the narrative parallels end there, not O. Henryish in the least: I was in such a bad way during my early university days that I couldn’t muster the strength even to talk with Karen (who today is a successful artist), let alone ask her out. So the poetry/ “exercises” also comprise that regret.

To read the blog entries, just click directly on the word “Blog” in the top right or bottom left corner of this page (not on the Instagram symbol). I hope to put up a new poem/exercise at least once a week, until I reach 99 in total, following Queneau’s lead. The postings are numbered and appear in reverse order; to start at the beginning, scroll down to number one. (WordPress organizes blog sites from the most recent posting down.) Regarding more of my writing and other work, please see my personal website:  www.jeffreymiller.ca. From there, you can send me an email if you’d like to be notified of new posts/poems on this blog site. Alternatively, follow this site (via the button), and you’ll get the same notifications.

Blog Contents

  1. M’amuse
  2. Professional Translation – A-musing
  3. Prosaic Nostalgic
  4. Literal/ESL – Lost in Translation
  5. Journalistic Coupletic Quadrameter
  6. Ballad
  7. Plagiarism
  8. Myth Criticism
  9. Screenplay
  10. The Dark Lady of My Sonnets: Shakespearean (with a Touch of Thomas)
  11. Beat
  12. Psychoanalytic Notes: JM
  13. Feminist
  14. Marxist
  15. Exclamations
  16. Syllogisms
  17. Haiku
  18. Proper Nouns
  19. Villanelle
  20. Texto (Mobile Text)
  21. Limericks
  22. Middle English
  23. Quantum Physics
  24. Personal Letter, Unsent
  25. Macaronic
  26. Academic
  27. Old Yinglish
  28. Existentialist/Absurdist
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