French poet Bouquet talks America, homosexuality

Speaking to a small group of Yalies, seated in an intimate circle, Stéphane Bouquet invited listeners “not merely to hear, but to engage in a conversation.”

A Parisian-born writer and translator, Bouquet addressed an audience of nearly 20 undergraduate and graduate students yesterday in St. Anthony Hall. Bouquet read selected passages from his works, occasionally interjecting with commentary and insight.

Bouquet, son of a French nurse and American soldier, said he places an emphasis on exploring the connection between France and the United State through his books of poetry.

“For someone of my generation, America has always been the biggest country,” Bouquet said. “So in some way, we are all Americans.”

Inspired by this idea, Bouquet’s poetry, though expressed in the French language, often focuses on concepts thought of as fundamentally American, he said. He listed the themes of neighborhoods, ethnic diversity, and public school culture as examples of American influences in his works.

Bouquet said he is particularly interested in the challenges found in expressing Americanisms in the French language. As both a translator and a translated author, he said he has directly experienced the relationship between translation and the integrity of personal expression.

“When you are translated, you are moved from one place to another,” Bouquet said. “Sometimes there is a translation of my text, but not of me.”

Bouquet is often referred to as a “gay writer” by literary critics due to his role as the screenwriter for gay cult classic films such as “Wild Side” and “Come Undone,” which the New York Times called “shimmeringly beautiful.” Bouquet said he has struggled with the concept of labels for many years.

Bouquet said it would be particularly challenging for him to identify as a gay writer in France because of the culture’s current lack of openly gay artists, he explained. Despite his unwillingness to categorize himself as a gay writer, Bouquet said he does not reject all labels: He embraces calling himself an American.

“I’ve known [Bouquet] for many years, but I was still surprised to hear him talk about the difficulty of coming out as a gay artist in France,” said Justin Taylor DRA ’13, who hails from Paris. “On the other hand, he still accepted categorizing himself as an American, which created an exciting tension.”

Bouquet said he was particularly uncomfortable speaking about labels because it could potentially pigeonhole him as an artist and constrain his creative process.

“I think he is very sensitive to the fragility of the creative process — and how in talking about it or thinking about it, you can hurt it,” Andrew Kahn ’14 said. “E.B. White once said that explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog: you understand it, but you kill it,”

Bouquet has translated Robert Creeley’s “The Charm” and Paul Blackburn’s “Selected Poems” into French.

Correction: December 8, 2010

Due to an editing error, the News misidentified the gender of Stéphane Bouquet in one instance. The News regrets the error.

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