Faculty Translates Lost Poems

French and Humanities teacher Francoise Canter recently translated and published a collection of poems by Robert Nash, a mysterious figure who disappeared in the woods of Maine in 1995. The new book, simply titled Maine, brings alive the voice of a man who lost his son in the Vietnam War and his wife two years later.

“I was moved by the tragedy of Robert Nash’s life, his profound solitude, and his healing relationship with nature,” says Francoise, who worked on the project for a year. “His poems take you on a journey into the woods and to his death – his body was never found. It’s a deeply moving story.”

Last year, the poems were discovered in an old suitcase in the basement of French Editor Jean-Claude Tardif’s parents’ house in France. Jean-Claude contacted Francoise and invited her to take on the task of translation. Intriguingly, the poems were written in French, even though Robert Nash was American. There is no way of knowing who Robert Nash was or how his poems fell into the hands of Jean-Claude’s parents. They are now deceased so there is no one to ask.

Although the story carries a lot of sorrow, Francoise experienced the opposite while she was working on the translation.

“The process of writing and translation is cathartic,” reveals Francoise. “You allow the sorrow of the poems to be present, but by shaping it with words, there is a joy that comes from it – it is healing. It is a kind of literary resurrection.”

According to Francoise, translating the poems was an intense and absorbing process that not only bonded her to the writer, but also caused new aspects to emerge from the poems.

“What interests me is the poetry that emerges between the two languages during translation – a poetry that is created by translation,” confirms Francoise. “A translation is not just a translation – it is a rendition.”

Francoise plans to read from the book of poems at Elliott Bay Books in fall 2018.