ROBERT DESNOS died in 1945 in the death-camp of Terezin, but he survives as one of the most exciting French poets of the last 100 years. Witty, scabrous, tender, truculent, mysterious, patriotic or childishly playful, Robert Desnos is the poet par excellence of his age.
For over 45 years, Arc Publications has been at the cutting edge of new writing, experimental poetry, politically-conscious publishing, and the translation of the world's most exciting poets into English.
Our Arc Classic Translations series focuses on bringing a new, contemporary perspective to poets whose work has had an enduring impact on the world. When Timothy Adès, a leading translator, highly respected for his unique ability to craft beautiful, poetic English that preserves the rhyme and metre of the original, came to us with a proposal to translate an extensive part of the poetry of Robert Desnos, we jumped at the chance to add this essential collection to our series.
However, this project is a daunting one. The print costs are significant. The work is long and painstaking, and as one of the longest texts we will have published, it is a financial burden that we, a small independent not-for-profit press, can't take on ourselves. This is where you come in. With your support, we can take on this challenge with confidence. We will be pulling out all the stops to produce a book that Desnos himself would be proud of, and you can be an integral and essential part of this project.
Surrealist, Lover, Resistant: Robert Desnos
Rrose Sélavy, a torrent of elaborate and witty spoonerisms, was written by Desnos while asleep. The Surrealists’ leader, André Breton, hailed him as their ‘prophet’. He wrote an outrageous novel, Liberty or Love, and left Breton’s little group, taking Surrealism to a wider public. He wrote 'The Ballad of Fantomas', broadcasting it as a ‘superproduction’, and interpreted listeners’ dreams on air. His songs and jingles reached huge radio audiences.
Two women inspired his great love-poems: the singer Yvonne George, who did not return his love, and Youki Foujita (Lucie Badoud), who did, and became his life partner. Youki was the ‘Siren’ or ‘Mermaid’, Yvonne the ‘Anemone’. Robert was the Seahorse, also the Great Bear. Love and literature in crisis together produced great and complex poems like 'Sirène-Anémone'.
The gathering menace culminated in the occupation of France by German troops. Desnos responded with 'Against the Grain', 'The Bath with Andromeda', and 'Calixto': three great poetic sequences, full of meaning yet able to pass the censor. He never saw them in print. Other poems like 'This Heart Which Hated War' struck directly at the oppressor, heralding the return of freedom. He joined the Popular Front and the war-time Resistance, writing some of his strongest and most beautiful poetry in this period, until he was arrested. He died of typhus, a victim of the death-camps, on 8 June 1945. He is the only writer honoured with two quotations at the Monument to the Martyrs of the Deportation.
Our target, £1,500, is the absolute minimum we need to be able to produce and print the book. However, it leaves nothing for marketing and promotion or events. If we exceed our goal, we will be able to give this book the platform it deserves. We will be able not just to advertise the book, but also to spend time on the legwork of organic marketing – sending the obligatory free copies to reviewers, submitting copies of the book for prizes, contacting tastemakers directly, organising events at which the translator can read and discuss his work... The work of the publisher continues long after publication, and any pledges we receive beyond our minimum goal will be essential in allowing us to continue this important work.
Risks and challenges
We are a small, independent publisher, wholly reliant on Arts Council funding. Without your support, there is no way we could confidently take on a project of this size and importance.
If we secure the funds we need from this Kickstarter campaign, however, there is nothing stopping us – we are in our element with Robert Desnos and Timothy Adès, a combination of poet and translator that knows no equal, and we will be doing what we do best: producing a bilingual book of poetry, translated into English, of the highest calibre.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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