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José-Flore Tappy: two poems

© Maurice Haas

On January 16, 2019, José-Flore Tappy’s Trás-os-montes (Éditions La Dogana, 2018), from which these poems have been selected and translated (by John Taylor), was awarded the highest Swiss literary distinction, the Prix Suisse de la Littérature. This intricately constructed sequence of poems depicts a village woman living in the remote Trás-os-montes region of northern Portugal. The isolated area of Trás-os-montes is known for its primitive nature, its poverty and its sparse population.

Amid pungent wool and deadwood,

when the tiles are misted up,

at the back of the kitchen, she's already dressed,

starts warming the milk,

attentive to those who are missing,

gone off without saying where

(or why)

as well as to those slumbering

in the upper rooms

Servant of the smoky fireplace,

she stoops down, straightens back up,

sweeps the walls

with her own smoke


I cross the threshold and slip outside,

long splinter in the black night

first the street with its dirty papers

lying about, then the trail

with its sinuous course, more sinuous

than my peeled sentences

clutching to the page

trail so spindly between the stones,

I reassure it with my feet

José-Flore Tappy is a Swiss poet born in Lausanne in 1954. Her first six books were translated by John Taylor and collected as Sheds / Hangars: Collected Poems 1983–2013.

Apart from Trás-os-Montes (The MadHat Press) John Taylor has also recently translated Franca Mancinelli’s The Butterfly Cemetery: Selected Prose 2008-2021 (The Bitter Oleander Press) – of which three pieces originally appeared in One Hand Clapping. His most recent book of poems is Transizioni, a bilingual volume published in Italy by LYRIKS Editore and illustrated by the Greek artist Alekos Fassianos.


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