Constant renewal

Nicole Brossard at Kelly Writers House

Nicole Brossard at North of Invention. Photo by Aldon Nielsen.

Fearlessly and enigmatically experimental, Nicole Brossard’s work in French (and in English translation) embodies the writing life. Brossard, a radical Quebecois, lesbian, feminist poet presents us with a Poétique that is an invocation for anyone writing poetry now: “Whatever the sadness, the melancholy, the anger we carry around with us might be I doubt that it is possible to write poetry without an acquiescence to life, without enthusiasm, without zeal — these are needed to rip us out of reality and, paradoxically, to give us the intuitive comprehension required to understand the enigmas that comprise its complexity.” Brossard points us toward that complexity, that rift between rising and falling, where poetry happens: “The poem is always an event of fervor that oscillates between the pleasure of words and a powerful and renewed intuition of life. […] I am in poetry (as much as I can be) faithful to myself in thought, in desire and in imagination. For me, poetry is a consent to life, to life which nourishes, modulates and renews my relation to reality.” Brossard concludes by sharing a personal decree, one that should be at the heart of every writing life: “Language always incites me to take action.”

It is this “action” of Brossard’s that returns the reader to her body of work composed over 45 years. Brossard’s awareness of her own writing is revelatory. She confirms that the very best poetry is a variable force, likening it to “the features of the same face [which] can vary depending on the lighting and the feeling …” Brossard, with utmost humility, asserts that, “The two recent anthologies of my poetry witness […] how I have traversed personal and collective space” thus allowing her to “take an overview of what I am calling — in contrast with biography — my bio-semiology as well as what makes up the nodes of fervor in a life of writing.”

Brossard’s “nodes of fervor” are ever appealing, even for the many who come to her work as Anglophones, as outsiders dependent on the translator’s lie. And yet Brossard delights in the impossibility, describing our dependency on the translator “as a game of possible variations at the heart of meaning and value, but also as a subterranean current of strangeness when confronted with the elusive.” It is in the course of this “confrontation,” amid endless variation that we come to love Brossard’s work, where a multiplicity of meanings override all hope of rest amid such a delightful groundlessness.

Brossard’s contemporaneity is obvious as she accurately describes the present climate of post-postmodernism in poetry: “I also find this phenomenon of disfiguration and reconfiguration today in young poets at a moment in history when the real, the fictional, and the virtual are tied for […] first place as they are working to feed sense and nonsense simultaneously.” Brossard further elaborates, sharing her thoughts on community and solidarity amid a climate of apathy: “It is a phenomenon we have gradually learned to use for ourselves in untangling the impossible concatenation of images and values that characterize the political and the ethical in today’s essentially market-based society.”

In Nicole Brossard: Selections, published by the University of California in 2010, Brossard expounds on her theory of writing (and translation), while simultaneously sharing her raison d’être: “I think a mothertongue is oral and that written language holds nothing maternal. In this sense, French is not my mothertongue. While a mothertongue and reality flow together, gasping, full of holes, stammering, with dangerous liaisons and surprising constructions, written language is initiation, lesson, mistake, and castigation, a taught language with its rules to obey and its exceptions, a deliberate and conformist language strong in gender discrimination and outlawed meanings, a language of great taboos and a selective memory. The vivacity and vitality of written language finally depends on the adventurous ones, the dreamers, the audacious, and the amazons who take the time to write a book or to live a lifetime in the form of a book.”[1]

It is clear Brossard is one of the audacious ones, a dreamer providing “evidence for the unique energy that carves markers of meaning and hope in language.” And here we have Brossard at her very best, reading from and discussing her body of work in English, renewing the work once again as it transmigrates from the corporal-textual into the virtual realm.


Unless noted, all quotations are from the PennSound video recording “Nicole Brossard Appearing at North of Invention: A Canadian Poetry Festival, Kelly Writers House, January 20–21, 2011.”



1. Nicole Brossard: Selections (Poets for the Millennium) (University of California Press, 2010), 207.