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From the early fall of 2011 to the early summer of 2012, I worked as an English language teacher in the Lycée Raymond Savignac in Villefranche de Rouergue, France, a bastide of several thousand, situated one-hundred miles due North of Toulouse.
Knowing no better, I had always associated Toulouse and its environs, the Midi-Pyrenées, with Paul Blackburn, the American poet who, in his twenties, served as a lecteur américain for the Fulbright Foundation in that city, where he laid the groundwork for his important anthology of early Romance lyrics, Proensa (1978, Persea Press).
In Villefranche, it was apparently something of an oddity that a twenty-two year old Bostonian such as myself would be interested in the work of the troubadours, and word of my interest quickly spread to the school’s Occitan teacher, Clément Cellier, who took it upon himself to teach me about contemporary Occitan and its poetry.
So, that year, we and our friends in town took a number of day trips together: Clément brought me to the Maison de la Culture Occitane in Toulouse, to a handful of small cities and castles in the region, and even to a number of parties at an Occitan bar on the Garonne named l’Estanquet, where Occitan speakers come together to find respite from their exhaustion with the French language, challenge each other in drinking games involving streaming liters of white wine and porrons, and plan their political actions in the city.
Occitan didn’t die with Bertran de Born, he liked to remind me.
To my mind, the gem of everything Clément shared with me remains the work of the poet Clamenç Llansana, a French-born poet of American Canadian origin, based now in Rodez, France.
By the time I met him in 2012, Llansana had already long since given up poetry.
He only has a single book to his name, but it should be known, however, that he is sitting on a wonderful and hefty body of early writings in Occitan and French, which he stores in a milk crate in his living room, and which he has no plans to translate himself.
This one published book, Goliard Songs, written in Occitan and self-published in 1978 under Éditions Igor, is a fragmentary and caricatural internal meditation of a modern vision of those drunken and mentally insatiable medieval goliards, whom Helen Waddell termed “the wandering scholars.”
It is a book that constellates its curiosities among falsehoods (the false Latin to French translation of Hugh Primas of Orleans as epigraph), questions of cultural inheritance (the satirical use of Latin and religious symbolism, the citations of both French and Occitan poetry), and lamentations over the passage of time (especially the loss of love, of childhood).
Reading this early work of Llansana is something like reading the works of the troubadours, had their rigid formal concerns been dropped for open forms, had they read the Surrealists and weened their philosophical visions on Henri Bergson, as opposed to the Greeks, and had they sculpted their poetics after listening to Jack Spicer’s Vancouver lectures, rather than reading the works of Pierre Abélard.
I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness here to Clément Cellier, Estel L. P. Martinez, and Llansana himself for their patience in helping me parse the Occitan. I would also like to thank Erica Mena at Anomalous Press, for publishing my translation of Goliard Songs as an e-book, and Mark Cugini and Cassandra Gillig of Big Lucks for soon hosting one of Llansana’s uncollected French poems, written under the pen name of Marcel de l’Aveugle, alongside its English translation; the two works should be taken, according to the author, as complementary texts.
Thanks as well to Drunken Boat for picking up on this narrative, and helping diffuse Llansana’s work with a sample of these first English translations.
To conclude: these may well be the works of which Guilhèm de Peitieus dreamed, at the turn of the 12th century, when he promised to write his poems “while sleeping on a horse.”
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