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Tristran, traduction anglaise (Lx Press, 2016)


Translated from the French by Genève Chao
([lx] press, Los Angeles, 2016)
French version 

The book (whose first traces can be found in The Chance, published in 2004 by Obsidiane) carries the legend of Tristan into the end of the last century, amidst the Irish crisis which was then shaking the UK. But all that matters is the wild and desperate love uniting the lovers, which can not be resolved but in death:

They wish to suffer this passion that wounds them
And that all their reason condemns...

The poem freely interprets the story, restoring the ambiguities that time's alterations give to the ancient manuscripts.

To order: [lx] press - Make Now Books
The French version was published by éditions Obsidiane (2010)




The Broad Island



They had dreamed too much haunted too long
The marsh mists So many strange fables
Flood so soon withdrawn so many magics
Men and beasts intermingling and begetting
Longhaired bulls Morholts
Then in the east a black company disembarks:
Over his thigh Cromwell exsanguinates the golden
Horned goat An poc ar buile
And extends his pattern on this light isle
Henceforth may need govern Passions
Laced up in a tight corset and the stone
Of eloquence broken Henceforth
Silence and digging ditches
Faces turn toward Tara Headstones collapse
The island tumbles in the wind
Exhausted given over to hunger’s grass
Heavy boats filled with children
Sail into the west in the paths of monks
Lost at sea in their leather troughs
Such sadness as far back as memory
They have listened too much to curses loved
Death too dear...


On the sticky table a ripped newspaper
IRISH INDEPENDENT four stained pages
A half-moon of beer and ashes The title
Drowned in paper the names mutilated
Trembling I decipher the wayward words
Death and tears and again death
But the truth tonight is not my pride
And alone apart amid the shadows
I make despite myself of these mean shreds
A sweet honey Tristan! The hand hurries over
The back of a raffle ticket
And I dream carried off by the bittersweet ale
O to fall in love again kneeling
In the soft earth and praising the lovers
Freeing from the peat entwined forms
Their dislocated limbs taken by the roots
Prey to petrified desire that a breath
May bring to life and render to their folly eyes
Reopened limbs washed the soft parts
Swollen by the humors seats of virtues
And passions Such great joy such great…
A finger on their wounds to suffer
Their fate...


He gives himself over to providence Buttes and valleys
Arm knotted in a kerchief teeth gritted
Staggering between two floating worlds
Woods and colorful moors wandering clouds
Running to the border an indecisive track
One evening in the glens an abandoned hamlet
Where for two hundred souls a priest founded
A communist eden He breaks a pane
And slips into the school A mean amphitheatre
With desks oily under dust To find
One’s place in the row and come back to oneself
Crouched in dim light Planks
Lined with vials and historiated books
On the wall the world map where under the chalky fingers
Of generations of masters Ireland has disappeared
Sucked into a deep whirlpool
Like another Atlantis abandoned to the sea
To escape shame and famine
Then laid on a bench in the middle of this world
Filed by order and kingdom Fuchsias and ferns
And animals vanished with childhood
The Badger and the pale Stoat the Salamander
To rock in naive sleep...



She is kneeling close and terrible
Begotten by fever Her curls
Tinged red by ass dung Lips swollen
Frail and milk-white a block of magnesia
Tepid moon in the rising sun If the eye
Could withstand this dawn without blinking
The hand push back the inexorable hand
That rips linen and slowly searches
The body Charity a blade
Sharpened in fire But does it matter
If burns this miserable flesh
There is a sharper pain the heart
Quails and holds to life
Only by this eye that pours with mighty fire
Chance does its work Tristran
Gives himself shivering May God make it virtue
Nothing can heal him now Love
Nor refusal Nothing can free him
Fleeing nor staying Nor merging
With the deep peat...


Sun cleaves the dust The room
Opens like a crypt She is before him
Stern forehead chastened hair arms
And ankles covered and all magics
Obscured I see her again beyond years
Black nun escaped from centuries of plague
Leaning over my bedstead black hair shirt…
He closes his eyes ether dissipates fire
Makes the flesh shriek Pain faithful and firm
To which he gives way without restraint Benediction…
To escape the light breath
That flows over him in anima vili
Searching blindly in knotted linens
The chink through which to penetrate under which beats
The soft substance of feeling How
To shy away           He cries out a name that his throat
Cannot contain vinegar or honey
Ysé pales her hand held out
Wide-eyed What curse this…
Overwhelmed by a madness beside which
There is no wisdom...


The sun is already high and the light thin. in the window frame a garden of box trees. a chalky alley ends in a wall. his mind slips away. he dislikes this cruel fable, a savage love unknown here. he counts and numbers the lines. such long arithmetic before getting to this lesson he cannot formulate. I know not what I say…

Forty lines per column, two columns per page. week after week, the company of blackbirds, then fine hail that makes the roofs sparkle. long labor to reinvent a lost emotion. uncertain names, words half forgotten, crossed out one by one from the nomenclature.

Then the book is lost. devoured by cockroaches. moldy from storms. butchered for its red chalk images. covered over by the epic poem of a country demi-saint. carried away in the fire of a protestant seminary.

One day, in the binding of a cartulary, a leaflet cut in two at mid-height is found. the knife has taken away one edge: on the front, the beginning of the lines of the first column; on the back, the rhymes of the second. a stanza is hidden in the binding. the tale stumbles over a shaky line: such great joy such gre[at]

Of the 13,000 lines only 3,000 remain, some half-cut off. five fragments: the island, the union, the orchard, and the hall of images. then it’s the end. in a vignette, the lovers sit side by side. he holds her hand, she bows her forehead toward him. they are enveloped in red as if in a blaze.

We piece together snippets. we reckon. we dream of a lost unity.


The Marsh



One could imagine a swamp in the middle of the moors         at the foot of the slag heaps an abandoned orchard

prune trees with wild fruits         tiny snow flowers

I could describe paradise

not a roof for more than thirty miles

sometimes         crossing the hills         a quail or a pheasant         just out of the naturalist’s notebook 

spring makes tall the fields         the colors spread         like malmsey wine 

with the evening dew nights beautiful with stars

In orchard         under the hawthorn         she has her lover till morn...

one could imagine         the gleaming water and the cool planets         and the lovers         taught         at the school of the Garden


I too         as soon as my eyes could focus         and my lips promise         I too         faced with the empty mountains         I dreamed it         a book in the left hand         coming back to the beginning         and finding         primitive virtues         an elegy for a wild land         and still today         cloistered in this dark city         a room delivered to the north         exhuming         the first words         nostalgia tears me         from my austerities

But coming after all         bringing together what is no longer         what is erased in the powder         of formless snippets         how         to glorify the desert         a a poor elegy         difficult as         the mountain of paradise         the rules so slack         so troubled the passions         that saying joy         or innocence         our praise turns against us         that finding in a breath         the infancy of language         in bright images         we mix in         bitterness...


Woods and moors all this vast land
There was no acre that wasn’t theirs
Shut in between three landmarks in the Morois
Three hills as mobile as thought
What united them must yet be left
Eyes turned away Here is our end
A windy tower in an orchard of thorns
And mines crumbling under a yard of grasses
Only the jackdaws’ cries will praise the moor
The peat will swallow this slim monument
Where they have engraved the words of paradise
Their love will be less than a winged seed
He looks north in a furrow a fire
Tortured by the wind The common world
I will go alone in winter without joy without desire
There is nothing beyond this desert
She implores him in vain Their farewells
Are a cleft stone She says Love me
From afar as from near and forget
Me never May my love bind to you
Like this ring May it protect you
And never let you rest...



Tristran flees and looks for the way north
To love him and follow him at a distance a finger
On a creased map He passes the Tone
And the Quantocks Drunk and sad like Tu Fu
Ugly counties in the shadow At evening
Station in a holly wood Sows
Ransack the marsh Heavy and penitent sisters
Fed on earth and sorrow
And beyond a double cloister
A chaotic field where tombs collapse
And a narrow oratory left open to rain
He lies down The cold descents In a hole
A bird struggles under the wind’s tail
The last tenant of this smokeless place
Without grace or horizon How did they abide
Sitting on a crate before a broken wall
A ray of silent color How
Sleep and watchfulness Can this abstinence
Fulfill the heart Madness of pride
To see oneself among them and for an illusion
Chase away the world...

.The Separation.

They refuse pleasure. they seek each other night and day without finding. they know it in their tongue: Nothing to lean on… of absence they make their bed. Nothing to touch with one’s lips… an exercise in solitude.

Nothing can appease their anguish. they close their eyes to see. they praise a disappointing name. their desire is this pure limit, this order that can exist only in absence. Nothing of you ever....

Love is a bitter wine. the penitents confess it, the lustful know it and do not confess. poets and scholars argue it, as do philosophers of Reason. and clerics echo it, who know nothing of wine or of love.

And with them Thomas the talkative. That from which no good can derive… hammering it unendingly with his eight feet. That which wants nothing but torment… the bass string tight enough to break. seeking light by looking at the night.

What will become of us without our chimeras? cowardly and greedy, abandoned to this hazardous world. crude games and housekeeping books. of the shuffled cards, can only the ass or the hanged man appear?


He flees into the night A dry suffering
Blindly seeking his necessity The city
And the quays Heavy industrious mausoleums
And buildings severe as a turn of whist
At dawn in the oscillation of the first headlights
A dusty store window TRISTAN
Old seamstress’s workshop
With a female mannequin on display Forehead
Covered by a sack Skin pockmarked
Hips and breasts bound Two leather bands
A numbered embrace Slow torture
And strange instruments magnets for desire
A wooden ruler spindles of black thread
And stockings He remains immobile
Dizzy with sleep unraveling sense
In the shadow an old SINGER with a black wheel
Activating a delicate mechanism
Of nerves and internal organs Chance
Penetrates him like a hypodermic needle
In a low voice he implores this oily spectrum
That suffers in the half-light And tears
Suffocate him...



They run to their end without mingling
The sea between them like a knife
Tristran now that all is fulfilled
To lose oneself where nothing hinders evil
A mountainous desert closed up like a tomb
Here we meant to come here the central place
Parallel ridges in the middle of the maps
Long raised ravines chapped with lakes
Sometimes on an island an enclosure of fifty perches
Where at intervals between the wild holly
Filters the arrow of a fixed sky Here
Naked and alone deep in Ireland
To keep oneself for she who will change no more…
Now that they are delivered of their tale
Those who labored over a hard chair
Raise their eyes from their dazzled dream
And finding in the shutters the weak light
That descends on their lives they suffer at last
For themselves...


Far from the maritime provinces Far from the roads
Ghuagán Barra Two mountains for a cloister
And a lake spread out where an island flickers
Drifting in the wind on its bed of reeds
Here to settle irritating one’s penitence
The passing shadow and the babble of beasts
A naked dog some consumptive sows
And three rows of pea shoots on their slender stalks
Praising the past under a century-old holly
Wounded each month by a copper coin
Blind devotion hammered into the sapwood
The silence grows The mountains slide at a foot’s pace
The slopes are covered with moss and snow
And blood festers as in a leper’s wounds
Here to forget and be forgotten
Hardly connected to the ancient world
By signs known only to oneself A vine
Twined round a rosebush A lodge under the trees
Pierced by morning light On a cross
A name eroded by rains...


They lied to dazzle us         knotting passions into braids         shining crowns         and long did they tempt us         far from walls a garden        where feverish         to join with the lovers         then they wreck everything         calling desire sin         a leprosy that consumes the flesh         and has no end         but this clothing of earth         that must be worn at last         and even there         embraced         like two plants mingling their roots

They reprimand the lovers         they swallow their name         repeating         what everyone has said         each his piece         his seed in the common earth         the spelling changes         and the countries         a field melting into a marsh         or a whispering island         but always         at the end of the road         this hole in the earth         where desire leads         and the madness of loving         perhaps         even never ending         in secret         to praise it...

.The Second Ending.

I’ve long pushed back this moment. a cold, grey room, a cot, a sickly sky in a shutter. evening and morning the shadow of the second Isé. a faraway bell, sometimes, chanting the common lessons. accompanying him soundlessly, a couple of leeches stuck to the throat.

He knows and hopes no more. in you I drank my death… the skin pulls back. the tendons jut. the stomach bloats. a thick breath on his lips sucks in and expels dust. for whom to keep this body alive? he is waiting for her yet, lying against the damp wall. the notches of days blunt in the plaster.

Ysé sobs, a finger on doubtful lines. She throws herself on the sea, the storm long carries her sail. then she is here, she trips on a blind body. I am not… in a piece of glass, unreachable, the sun crosses the meridian. I am not Ysé if I cannot follow you... without trembling she achieves her destiny. they tumble entwined to the abyss.

The brightness that enveloped them, was it only an illusion? those who were before us are now silent. they have led us without concern, traveling the two roads and calling evil the most desirable. time has perfected their work: corrupting the unspeakable joy and saving the last pages.


They lied to teach us         pandering to our moods         a gallimaufry of praise and tricks         erecting far from the world         a fragrant bed         in which to make of oneself an offering         and to possess         what is not of this world         if they said poison the gleam in their eyes         and desert         the wild hills         we didn’t hear         embracing with a shiver         a powerful vision         where reason did not speak

They fell silent in a hiccup         and sorrow takes us         kneeling in an acid marsh         that dissolves passions         and preserves the bodies         for the edification         of generations to come         thick peat where everything comes back         and the poison that ran in their veins         runs into the bright flowers         the thorns         sucked in by their black roots         coloring the berries in the ditches         the moss         and the stones...

French Critics

Combining political passion to the adventurous words of the legend and to personal memories, it is both myth and reality, challenge and intimate, dream and absolute that Gérard Cartier manages to reconcile. From this legend whose roots are lost in the mists of time, only fragments have  survived (...) Cartier adjusts these bits, transposes them, distils their charm and strength, retrieves their music and their silences. It is intense and addictive, serious and beautiful like a fire in the night. (...) He says commitment and love sanctified by what seals them, and gives voice to everything which, from Tristan and from Yseult, can still speak to us and reach deep in us       Richard Blin (Le Matricule des anges - July 2010)


This legend spun off across Europe, and become universal, is its original color, Celtic, Anglo-Norman and, if one may say, his british accent that Gérard Cartier aims to restore and to transmit in his very personal language; he is undoubtedly endowed with an historical extend of view and with the epic spirit that require this voyage of memory and this alchemist job of recasting the past into today. Gérard Cartier succeeds brilliantly, not without indulging sometimes in an excessive sophistication of his prosodic device. (...) So that we marvel to notice how Gérard Cartier was inspired by the legend of another century to invest ours with an idea of love which Eilhard and Béroul were the intercessors.       Charles Dobzynski (Europe - June-July 2010)


To reconvene the origin of the Celtic tale, from a nothingness of peat and mist. Erased letters, stained pages, beginning torn away, the poet is inhabited by shard and splinter. From the very start of the story, in the summer of another century, the body of the poet is the body of the book; there, it is not just question of pages and words, but of trembling clay and flesh. (...) To embrace the fault, to cherish it. All the strength of this book: to leave / To lovers from future centuries / An unwilting praise.       Nathalie Riera (Les Carnets d'Eucharis - June 2010 ; et Terres de femmes - July 2010)


As early as in The Chance, Gérard Cartier posed the encounter as emergence in the text of disparate elements, even dislocated or torned up, to try to inscribe in it a tale. Tristran appears to be a polyphonic writing, made of tangled voices: those of Tristan and Yseut  the old lovers , snippets of texts, of ancient landscapes, together with the modernity, sometimes the most sordid one, and with the narrator's voice. (...) The book of Gérard Cartier is one of a story that the reader is responsible for relaying, including for his own account, in order to adress and experience other stories, until the tales are definitively broken.       Bernard Demandre (Poète aujourd'hui- Mediapart - June 2010)


It is a constant in this poet's work of intertwining eras; let remember, for example, The Desert and the World (Flammarion, 1997). (...) When the text says "I am Tristran / This sad century spoils my blood," who is that "I", if not the author? But the I author speaks on behalf of all, questioning a love in which suffuse the Christian concept of fault, a land where everything get buried into the peat. (...) This is clearly about our century and Tristran does not let us forget it. In the legend, a live bramble unites the graves of Tristan and Iseut. Once cut, it grows again. Poetry is the perennial plant that unites centuries.       Françoise Hàn (Les Lettres Françaises - May 2010)


The present and the timeless are closely bound in this long canto of the impossible love, that death come yet to "sublimate". Due to its hieratic slow pace and to the constant richness of its language, Gérard Cartier's writing reaches in these pages a kind of enigmatic and tormented transparency. With regard to the stanzas of which he has invented over the years the exemplary form, both regular and tumultuous, they find with this Tristran a kind of completion  and of baroque wisdom  which bears in filigree the dream of erasure of his author "If any still sing it is in a whisper, and the song remains strange to the singer."       Yves di Manno (Blog of Cultures France - April 2010)


A novel in verse: can we say that of Tristran? Lines, here, are all kinds, verses, stanzas, free verse, a great variety of approaches that embrace either narrative or declamation, or confidence (the withdrawal dear to Seamus Heaney, whose presence is here discreetly perceptible): the legend is intertwined with the present of writing. (...) Surely, one must be a poet to write "in the years of this age" these pages as full of melancholy as of beauties.       Ronald Klapka (Lettre(s) de la magdelaine - The beauty indefinitely (on the web) - April 2010)


This book revisits the romance of Tristan and Yseult through poems that are, at first, passionate moments of Tristran for Ireland, its history, its culture, and which gradually mingle with the love for Ysé, echoing thereby the name of Claudel in Le partage de midi and signing a linguistic shift  which is reinforced by the reversal of Tristan in Tantris of the original tale, shift which can also be found in imaginative formal researches.      Jean-Pierre Balpe (HyperFiction, blog invited by Libération - April 2010)


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