Letter from Paris in June

from Margo Berdeshevsky

Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky

Paris in June has many—but one—particularly small and yet  grand event: Le Marché de la Poésie, a country-fair type idyllic market place, in the middle of the city of light—for poetry. Not the football field size convention center fairs the USA has in large numbers; not the AWP with its 9000 wishing and publicizing authors and publishers, but something more delicate, if I may say so;  a little more old world cultural and handmade, humble and elegant, and pounding with the spirit of the ancient, and the new. And held in front of a baroque 17th century church—and surrounding a fountain of hungry stone lions.

Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky

The French publishing scene is vastly different from the American, in that there are huge numbers of small and dedicated publishers who print much smaller editions than Americans for the most part (300 or 400 is a respectable run) : some of them printed on handmade papers, broadsides, even sculpted art objects, (none really hungering after mega awards or distribution, but housed for a few days in mini kiosks set around the lion fountain, and  overflowing with precious books more akin to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass than a  Billy Collins sized publication run…

Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky

And in the middle of the French array, wandering in thealternating sun and slate skies of a Parisian Saturday, two new friends (who are visiting from faraway San Diego) pick out and hand me a book I fall in love with, almost instantly. It’s a small French translation of the earliest poems of Portuguese Nobel laureate and controversial author, José Saramago. And it happens to be the day, June 18, 2010, that Saramago, (in self imposed exile in the Canarias archipelago,) has died. The news has just been announced. I accept the French edition with curiosity, first, and then with a rising passion. Why don’t you translate these, my friends say—they are not available in English. Yes, I say. Yes. And with a pounding heart, I set to it that very evening. Eyes and heart wide open to this author of “Blindness,” whom I’ve long admired. The work will go on, I think…these first outs… are  from my room in Paris, overlooking a cobble stoned courtyard that whispers with Madame de Sevigné’s once upon letters from Paris (it is my neighborhood, and hers,) whispers with vignes vierges, climbing the opposite walls (the French version of Virginia Creeper,) and window boxes of flauntingly red geraniums, and maybe even, a few poetic ghosts… these are  from … “The Poems That Are Possible,” a translation of two early poems by José Saramago.

Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky


Of the simplest words, the most common,

The ones to bring home and to trade,

When converting to the language of another land :

It’s enough that the eyes of the poet, fierce

with the sunlight, clarify them.

Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky

If I have no other voice…

If I have no other voice that doubles me,

This silence of echoes of other sounds,

It is to speak, speak again, until I flay

The hidden speech of what I believe.


It is, shattered, the said between detours

From the arrow that has poisoned itself,

Or a high sea coagulated with ships

Where the drowned arm beckons us.


It’s to force a root to its base

When the rigid stone cuts off the way,

It’s to hurl all that one says


Because the more a tree is a stump—the more lonely.


It will tell, its words discovered,

Tales of the habit of living,

This hour that tightens and loosens,

The not seen, the not had, the almost being.














Translations by Margo Berdeshevsky

from The Poems That Are Possible, (1966) by José Saramago


Margo Berdeshevsky :



“Beautiful Soon Enough”(Fiction Collective Two /2009)


Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky

Amazon Author page: http://tinyurl.com/ygft9wu

Photo Copyright 2010 by Margo Berdeshevsky


Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap