Fabio Pusterla, translator: “Jaccottet told me to always choose simplicity”

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Le Temps: What did translating Philippe Jaccottet into Italian mean to you?

Fabio Pusterla: I started translating Jaccottet thirty years ago and it is one of the most intense literary and cultural experiences I have ever had. More generally, translating Jaccottet in Italy towards the end of the century meant opening up a new poetic horizon which could have interested all of Italian poetry. This horizon made it possible to get out of a dead end, with which we were confronted, the dead end of a poetry which deliberately kept itself far removed from reality and from the readers, which remained trapped by a certain intellectualism. Jaccottet chose to start from below, to put into words his own sensitive experience in front of things. His importance in the literary world is considerable, as evidenced by the number of translations of his work, in almost all languages, one might say. He was several times approached for the Nobel of literature.

Jaccottet allowed me to change the way I looked at things

Fabio Pusterla

Was the man you knew like his work?

Regarding the disappearance of the poet:

Yes perfectly. It was not easy at first, because he intimidated me, I was young, and he was not very expansive at first. When I arrived in Grignan, the first time, he asked me: “Do you like to walk?” I answered yes, and we immediately went for a walk in the middle of the hills. Everything relaxed, and we became, over the course of the meetings, friends. But there was no question of talking about poetry during these walks. He said: “There are two types of people who come to visit me: those who want to talk about literature, and those who talk about the landscape.” He clearly preferred the latter. Jaccottet allowed me to change the way I looked at things. When I got to know him, I was inclined to focus my attention on the dark and negative aspects of reality. Facing the landscape devastated by a fire in front of which he had taken me, during our first walk, he was able, him, to grasp the signs of life being reborn.

Was his work difficult to translate?

Philippe Jaccottet was generous and knew what to translate meant, moreover he knew the Italian language and literature very well. Our discussions were rich and intense. He explained to me: “I can answer your questions, say if the choice of a word does not seem adequate to me, but the translator is you.” The main advice he gave me, when I had doubts about how to interpret a word, was: “Always choose the easiest solution.” This is advice that applies to writing in general: not favor ease, but tend to simplicity. This simplicity that we can sometimes achieve by taking a complex path, and by working tirelessly; that “simplicity” which precisely characterized Jaccottet.

Jaccottet in our archives