Patrick McGuinness at The Guardian:
In a 1956 letter to Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery wrote: “I hate all modern French poetry, except for Raymond Roussel”, specifying: “I do like my own wildly inaccurate translations of some of the 20th-century ones, but not the originals”. The editors of this book rather solemnly gloss this as Ashbery musing on “his own hard work”, and his “difficulties in building a canon for his own new poetic journeys”. They may be right, but the comment is also funny and provocative, taking a dandy-esque line on the tired debates (tired even then and comprehensively exhausted now) about accuracy and fidelity in translation.
This book (along with its sibling, Ashbery’s Collected French Translations: Prose) is mostly non-canonical in focus. Though several poets may be familiar – Reverdy, Breton, Supervielle, Eluard – others, such as Daumal, Ganzo, Lubin, Blanchard,Roche, will not. The highlights include a few poems by the Swiss boxer-poet Arthur Cravan and the sequence of prose poems, from The Dice Cornet, by the the Jewish-Breton Max Jacob, who died on his way to a concentration camp in 1944. The contemporary with whom Ashbery feels most kinship is his friend and former companion, Pierre Martory, whose volume The Landscapist he translated in 2008.