Kristen Renee Miller
Kristen Renee Miller is the director and editor-in-chief for Sarabande Books. A poet and translator, she is the recipient of the 2020 Gulf Coast Prize in Translation and the translator of two books from the French by poet Marie-Andrée Gill. Her work can be found widely, including in POETRY, the Kenyon Review, DIAGRAM, jubilat, and Best New Poets. She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, AIGA, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the American Literary Translators Association. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
To support the translation from the French of Heating the Outdoors by Ilnu and Québécoise poet Marie-Andrée Gill. Gill (b. 1986) grew up on the Mashteuiatsh reserve in the Saguenay region in Quebec, Canada. The reserve is home to the Pekuakamiulnuatsh community, whose native language, Nehlueun, is rapidly disappearing in favor of the French, now spoken by more than 80 percent of the community. An award-winning author of three books of poetry, Gill, who herself writes in French, crafts poems that echo the Ilnu oral tradition in their use of the colloquial, their self-deprecatory humor, and their interrogation and reclamation of language, landscapes, and interpersonal intimacies.
I first encountered Marie-Andrée Gill’s work in the most natural way possible: I picked up her book Frayer from the poetry shelf in a small Montreal book shop. As a poet, I was immediately drawn to her succinct, minimalist style—a quality we share—and her irreverent sense of humor—a quality I like to think we share. Opening to a page at random, I read the words “lécher la surface de l'eau avec la langue que je ne parle pas” (“to lick the skin of the water with a tongue I don’t speak”). It’s a line about having an intimate connection through an unfamiliar medium, a perfect encapsulation of the act of translation. I bought the book.
Before long, I found myself spending entire days with Gill’s work, immersed in the pleasure of her humor and subversiveness, the urgency of her decolonial project, the tension of her style choices—her simultaneously vivid and minimalist poems, her reversals of convention, her project of disruption. While I initially tried to develop a sort of prioritizing rubric for translating these poems (should image or idiom take precedence? music or sequencing?), it quickly became clear that each small poem came with its own set of priorities. In the end, what I developed was my own listening.
It’s without exaggeration that I say Gill’s poems made me a translator. And to receive this recognition of our project and fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts is a profound encouragement. I’m so grateful to the NEA for supporting my translation of Gill’s next work.
About Marie-Andrée Gill
What sets Marie-Andrée Gill apart from many other poets writing in French is her keen, personal awareness of it as a settler language. In Gill’s Mashteuiatsh community in Quebec, the native language Nehlueun is now spoken by only about 17 percent of residents, French by more than 80 percent. Gill, who herself writes in French, seeks through her work the refuge of a "parole habitable" (a habitable language, a sheltering speech), crafting poems that echo the Ilnu oral tradition in their colloquial style, self-deprecatory humor, and interrogation and reclamation of language, landscapes, and intimacies distorted by imperialism.