INTERVIEW. The Belgian writer Lieve Joris decodes in nuances the debates which inflame the Netherlands on the translation of the collection of poems by Amanda Gorman.
We left her reading Fonny, here she is immersed in the writing of her new book. But once closed the computer, Lieve Joris follows with keen interest the debates that shake the Netherlands where she lives, in Amsterdam, when she does not travel the world, especially the Congo or Mali.
His testimony allows us to address other aspects at stake in the “MLR-Gorman” affair: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld-Amanda Gorman.
The Dutch writer, the youngest winner of the International Booker Prize for her first novel, was chosen by the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff to translate the poem “The Hill We Climb” and the collection of poems by Amanda Gorman. And in agreement with the African-American author, her agent is taking care of everything …
But, faced with the outcry over the news, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (MLR), being neither a translator nor fluent in English (by her own admission), nor familiar with oral and, above all, white poetry (a journalist and black activist Janice Deul, saying a black person should have been chosen to do this), gave up.
It must also be expressed in the form of a poem to appear this weekend in the Dutch press. In the meantime, Lieve Joris sheds light for Le Point on the nuances surrounding the still lively debate.
Le Point: How did you see the controversy arise in the Netherlands?
Lieve Joris: As soon as Rijneveld’s name became known on social media, she said how happy and honored she was to have been chosen. But this quickly triggered reactions in the world of “spoken word” (oral and rhythmic poetry, equivalent of slam, Editor’s note).
Black journalist Janice Deul, who fights for diversity in fashion and culture, wrote an article explaining that the choice of MLR was incomprehensible and that, decidedly, a black person should have been chosen instead.
The debate which arose out of this affair is interesting. I know the books of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld who is also a poet; she would surely have done a good job.
But, little by little, I realized that there may be other considerations in this controversy. We are like that in the Netherlands: we throw the pavement in the pond, then we work in nuances.
Because, if MLR divides people, with extreme opinions on either side, the matter also elicits reasonable reactions in the middle.
What are the arguments?
At the extremes, we find, on the one hand, those who denounce anti-white racism and, on the other hand, those who denounce the fact, once again, of being neglected in this world where whites always take all the power square.
In the middle begins to hear the nuance: because, in the United States, in fact, it is a very young black woman who was put forward to speak about her destiny, her ambitions and her dreams, not only alongside the president, but facing the whole world.
Given the symbolic value of this performance, wouldn’t it have been chic that in the Netherlands we acted in the same spirit? Moreover, that’s what you did in France by choosing Marie-Pierra Kakoma (whose stage name is Lous and the Yakuza, Editor’s note).
Why do you think the publisher turned to this young writer and why the question arose about her in the Netherlands?
She had just won the International Booker Prize.
However, this is the first time that a Dutch writer has won it, we saw it everywhere and this international dimension, added to his fight for gender equality, since it is non-binary, could liken it to an experience. a little apart in society.
And she would surely have done a great job! It has never been questioned here in the Netherlands that the translators of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are not black, nor that the poem by Elizabeth Alexander, read at the inauguration of Barack Obama, was translated by a white translator. . But spoken word is a genre apart.
Of the eight publishing houses that attempted to secure the rights in the Netherlands, Meulenhoff got the deal because the same company also signed the translation of another Amanda Gorman book, a children’s book.
Anyway, by contract, the translation will be proofread by “professional mourners” as someone called “sensitivity readers”. But you know, some also wonder: why translate this poem, because, in this country, everyone speaks English! If not because there is a commercial issue …
Who would you see to succeed Marieke Lucas Rijneveld?
At least this case allowed me to discover two very talented women! I was very seduced by Babs Gons, a spoken word poet who wrote the poem for the opening of Book Week, scheduled here from March 6 to 14.
She has, moreover, remained very discreet about this whole affair, as well as Lisette Ma Neza. The latter, a Belgian of Rwandan origin, wrote the day after Biden’s inauguration, a wonderful poem addressed to Amanda Gorman and which ends thus: “We are here. We are here. We have been heard.
The black girl wrote. The black girl has spoken. The pride that young black women like them felt that day, this poem tells.