1 → Cyrano fait hommage à l’italien rétif
de un deux trois cinq huit et treize indélicats rongeurs.
Répine à l’aquarelle fait de grands poissons plats
devenir congres roses gonflés au blanc de baleine. → 3
Bérénice admirative et muette
supprime un pur joyau de notre côte d’Azur. → 3
1 → Cyrano met de l’encaustique
sur de simples bagues nuptiales.
Amélie nous intime de prendre connaissance
d’une maxime qui dénonce la fange en nous, → 5
et Caton s’interroge aussi
sur le peu de réalité de ce qui semble nous appartenir. → 5
1 → Cyrano règne nous dit-on
sur une forme traditionnelle du théâtre japonais.
Molière est la chimère, l’hybride inouï → 7
d’un lexique grimpant et d’un herbier loquace.
Chaliapine eut l’atroce idée du nœud coulant → 7
pour tarir celui des eunuques.
1 → Cyrano salue la princesse grande bretonne
d’un « monsieur » qui la choque.
Babeuf fait monter en neige → 10
les grands rouquins de son étable.
Guignol a distillé près des branches d’un chêne
le sein qui danse au lieu du gland. → 10
1 → Cyrano reproche à ce ténor du barreau parisien
son excessive pingrerie.
Cléopatre ouvre grande à nos moutons → 15
l’idée même d’une ouverture.
Ronsard ira cueillir des mûres
pour offrir avec un poème à celle qui s’imagine. → 15
1 → Cyrano apprend avec stupeur
le nom du meurtrier de Robert Kennedy.
Esther gardera-t-elle le silence → 20
sur un souffle oriental qui nous endort?
Mallarmé cherche dans l’Azur
un révolver qui garde sa valise. → 20
Cyrano pays tribute to the rebellious Italian
of one, two, three, five, eight, and thirteen dirty rats.
Répine watercolors fish, large and flat,
to become pink congers swollen with blubber.
Bérénice, admiring and speechless,
pulls a pure jewel from our Côte d’Azur.
Cyrano applies wax
to simple wedding bands.
Amelie intimates we must heed
a maxim denouncing the mire within,
and Caton also wonders
about what little reality seems to be ours.
Cyrano rules, they tell us, over
a traditional form of Japanese theater.
Molière is the unheard-of hybrid chimera
of a climbing dictionary and a talkative herbarium.
Chaliapine had the horrid idea of a noose
to dry up those of the eunuchs.
Cyrano greets the British princess
with a “sir” that shocks her.
Babeuf whips up a storm
with the redheads in his stable.
Near the branches of an oak, Guignol distills
the dancing chest in lieu of the nut.
Cyrano reproaches the famous Parisian lawyer
for his excessive stinginess.
Cleopatra opens wide to our sheep
the same idea as an overture.
Ronsard will go gather ripe berries
to offer with a poem to his dreamy girlfriend.
Cyrano learns with stupefaction
the name of Robert Kennedy’s assassin.
Will Esther keep silent
about the oriental breath that lulls us?
Mallarmé looks to the Azure
for a revolver that guards his suitcase.
Madonna Instagrams facial routine:
a pic so dirty it’s mildly obscene.
Arachne finds new use for Hecate’s potion:
develops best-selling zit-zapping lotion.
Cher plays Mom to a boy in a mask
then starts a charity to help those who ask.
Madonna pays tribute to disco queen Summer,
moaning and groaning through “Love to Love you.”
Selena, whose concerts always sold out,
wondered if her followers were truly devout.
Aaliyah, once the Queen of the Damned,
at 21+1 rose up to the Holy Land.
Madonna, acquitted of gay propaganda
gives up her grudge against Mother Russia.
Britney, injured while shooting “Outrageous,”
wonders if herring’s legs make them famous.
Colette’s first husband Willy put his name on her books,
But after he died she extracted his hooks.
Madonna runs Soho staff through the wringer
(the first lady of Pop’s a well-known diva).
Persephone’s courtship is sidelined by Demeter
who finds Hermes’ manbag slightly irregular.
Adele’s “Skyfall” wins her a golden suitor,
so she buys herself an unfashionable computer.
Madonna is truly a heavenly mother:
gives birth to a ring of deep-fried flour.
Salomé, sick of the baptist’s head,
wants a link of hard lunch meat instead.
Uma may find her unctuous cooking laced
with the flavor known as the seventh taste.
Madonna studies both Kabballah and Quran,
but she’ll only watch football if nothing’s on.
Sinead becomes a world-class sprinter
running from cops until she gets injured.
Divine has a big heart, but her green thumb’s tiny:
works it out pulling weeds, like poison ivy.
When we first approached Paul Braffort’s Mes hypertropes, we were fascinated by the complexity and depth of his linguistic humor. His use of interlingual homophones, paranomasia, and mathematical constraint proved both an inspiration and a challenge. In order to bring this complexity into our work, we decided each translation would be accompanied by poems of our own that we call “transversions”—works that intersect with, subvert, and open up Braffort’s constraint-based polyglot poems. These transversions alternately mimic his form, explicate or include elements of the original that we could not work into the translation, and draw inspiration from his poems to craft work that reflects our own position and interests as twenty-first century poets. Each translation and transversion is a collaboration, both between the two of us, and between our poem and Braffort’s.
In order to facilitate the study and appreciation of Paul Braffort’s rich text, we have included brief biographies on the members of the Oulipo to whom the poems are dedicated and on the literary and historical characters who appear throughout. We have also endeavored to describe some of Braffort’s Oulipian techniques (which we also employ) and to decode the homophonic equations that are so abundant in the Hypertropes.
The notes are separated by stanza.
Elected to the Oulipo in 1969, Marcel Bénabou (b. 1939) serves as the group’s “definitively provisional secretary.” A specialist in Roman history, he has endeavored to find antecedents of Oulipo (known among the group as “anticipatory plagiarists”) in ancient Greek and Roman literature. In 1966, prior to joining the Oulipo, he developed several constraint-based projects with Georges Perec, including PALF (Production Automatique de Littérature Française) and LSD (Littérature Semi-Définitionnelle). His childhood as a Jew in Morocco (he was born in Meknès) resonates through much of his work.
The “Patronymics” of the title alludes to the name Cyrano, on which Braffort puns throughout, explicating, rather than transcribing, his homophones to create a puzzle for the reader. Our matronymic transversion pays tribute to a litany of foremothers, contemporary and antecedent.
1 Cyrano = Six (six) rats (rats) Nos. (numeros / numbers)
Raymond Queneau described the Oulipo as “Rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape.”
According to Braffort, Cyrano de Bergerac was one of Italo Calvino’s favorite authors.
rebellious italian = Fibonacci
1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 = The first six numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.
Répine: Ilya Répine (1844–1930), Russian painter.
Répine = Rép (abbrev. répéter / repeat, or repeindre / paint again, or répandre / spread) pine (penis)
Bérénice = Racine’s tragedy recounting the Roman king Titus’s love for the queen of Palestine, whom he cannot marry because of his duty to Rome.
Bérénice = Bée (agape) reine (queen) rêne (rein) Nice (city on the Mediterranean coast of southern France in the Côte d’Azur)
See also Raymond Queneau’s poem and song “La Croqueuse De Diamants.”
2 Cyrano = cire (to wax) anneaux (rings)
Amélie = Ame (soul) élie (élire / to elect), améliore (ameliorate)
Caton: Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC–149 BC), also known as Cato the Censor and Cato the Elder. He took a strict anti-luxury stance, passing numerous taxes on clothing, slaves, and entertainment.
Caton = qu’a t-on? (what do we have?)
3 Cyrano = Sire à Noh
Molière = Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Molière (1622–1673), 17th century French playwright and actor.
Molière = Mot (word) lierre (ivy)
Chaliapine = Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin (1873–1938), Russian opera singer.
Chaliapine = Chat lia (cat tied) pine (penis)
nœud coulant = the noose is a reference to Lacan’s “Signification of the Phallus,” in which the castration complex has the function of a “knot” or noose also in french noeud is slang for glans.
4 Cyrano = Sir Anne? No!
Babeuf: François-Noël Babeuf (1760–1797), Journalist and activist of the French Revolution.
Babeuf = bat bœufs (beat oxen), and also bat œuf (beat egg) because the phrase “monter la neige” refers to whipping eggs to a froth (literally, to peaks of snow).
Guignol: The protagonist of Laurent Mourquet’s early nineteenth century puppet shows is a poor but clever man with a strong sense of justice.
Guignol = guigne (small cherry) ool (a diminutive of alcohol).
le sein qui danse = le cinq y danse (the five dances there)
5 Cyrano = Sire: ah, non!
Cléopatre = clef (key) aux (to) pâtres (pastures)
Ronsard: Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585), French poet and member of the famous La Pléiade group.
Ronsard = Ronce (wild blackberry) art (poem)
6 Cyrano = Sirhan, oh!
esther = est (east) ether (ether)
Mallarmé: Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), French symbolist poet whose later work prefigures the avant-gardes of the early 20th century.
Mallarmé = malle (trunk) armée (armed)
We are grateful to the editors and staff of the following journals, in which these translations first appeared, in different form:
Intersections / Improbable Object: #2
Paul Braffort (born December 5, 1923, in Paris) is a French writer, poet, songwriter, composer, scientist and engineer. He is also an active member of Oulipo and Rhematology Regent of the Collège de ’Pataphysique founded by the group’s members. In the 1950s he worked as director of the Laboratory for Analogue Computation, then after assignments to Euratom, the European Space Centre, and the University of Paris XI at Orsay, he ran a data-processing company. He was invited as Visiting Scholar to the University of Chicago from 1988–1991. He also has a career as a singer-composer and has recorded several albums and composed popular songs. The first elected member of the Oulipo, his early contributions to the group, in 1961, concerned electronic calculating machines (later known as computers). Since then he has made his skills as a computer scientist an integral part of his writing as well as sharing them with members of the group, including Italo Calvino, Marcel Bénabou and Jacques Roubaud (with whom he co-founded ALAMO—Atelier de Littérature Assistée par la Mathématique et les Ordinateurs). He maintains a website with an extensive archive of his writings and compositions, http://www.paulbraffort.net/.