Translating poetry: Houellebecq

This workshop was developed for use in monolingual and bilingual classrooms, so students had a range of levels of French and English competence. First we discussed what makes poetry poetry, and we established a ‘poetry translation toolkit’ to apply in all circumstances. Then we experimented with whole-group translation of a poem from by French poet and novelist Michel Houellebecq. Discussions included Houellebecq’s gloomy, anti-religious outlook and what duck-feet might have to do with his worldview. Finally, having gained confidence, students or pairs of students ventured their own translations of another of Houellebecq’s poems, ‘Un moment de pur innocence’. The results were inspiring. Students are already finding their voice as poets and translators.