Susan Wicks


Griffin Poetry Prize 2010
International Shortlist

Book: Cold Spring in Winter

Translator: Susan Wicks

Poet: Valérie Rouzeau

Publisher: Arc Publications

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.



Susan Wicks, poet and novelist, was born in Kent, England, in 1947. She read French at the universities of Hull and Sussex, and wrote a D. Phil. Thesis on André Gide. She has lived and worked in France, Ireland and America and taught at the University of Dijon, University College Dublin and the University of Kent.

Her most recent book of poems, De-iced, was published in 2007 and a book of short stories, Roll Up for the Arabian Derby, was published in 2008.


Valérie Rouzeau was born in 1967 in Burgundy, France and now lives in a small town near Paris, Saint-Ouen. She has published a dozen collections of poems and volumes translated from Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Ted Hughes and the photographer Duane Michals.

She is the editor of a little review of poetry for children called dans la lune and lives mainly by her pen through public readings, poetry workshops in schools, radio broadcasts and translation.

Judges’ Citation

Cold Spring In Winter is a sequence of poems occasioned by the death of the author’s father. Valérie Rouzeau takes as her subject grief and the daily management of grief with its flowers, its armchairs, its special black clothes, its stupid idioms of consolation, its bundles of old Scrap Merchant magazines tied up with string (her father was a scrap metal dealer). The pages look like sentences of prose but they are often unpunctuated and the grammar invents itself in surprise jolts and slangy plunges. She makes the surface of the language dissolve and reform constantly as if it were aghast at itself. She pushes holes in the syntax and dives in and out of them, pulling the meaning after her. The tone seems controlled but it is the control of a shocked child. Overall a strange domestic dislocated voice and a crackling decisiveness of method. Grief is a very old room but here we walk into new air. The translation by Susan Wicks is alert, inventive and gives a real sense of the level of linguistic risk and emotional force in Rouzeau’s original.”


Valérie Rouzeau’s Cold Spring in Winter is an urgent, stammered lament for her dead father, a scrap-merchant, in which the poet’s adult voice and that of the little girl she used to be combine in an extraordinary blend of baby-talk, youthful slang, coinages and puns – a breathless delivery of tremendous power. The influential poet and critic Andre Velter has described Rouzeau’s poetry as ‘violent in its capacity to exalt and disturb.’ This quality comes to the fore in Susan Wicks’ remarkable translation, which, as Stephen Romer concludes in his introduction, ‘make good the transposition of this pure and singular voice into English.’

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.

Susan Wicks and Valérie Rouzeau read from Cold Spring in Winter

From Cold Spring in Winter, by Susan Wicks translating Valérie Rouzeau

From Cold Spring in Winter

You dying on the phone my mum he will not last the night see dad.
The train a dark rush under rain not last not die my father please oh please give me the get there soon.
Not deadying oh not desperish father everlast get up run fast –
Hand watch the time we’ve got to Vierzon outside it’s tipping hail.
We miss each other I have no idea passing through Vierzon that in these train arrival times you’ve died.
Not die oh please but everlast until the nurses’ corridor of white.
Until your bed as fast the engine into Lyon la Part-Dieu.
Until your forehead over now and all together in the little room and not forget.

Tell me, daddy dear, dadarling, daddy poorling: do you remember my little horse?
How it went round the table on its little kitchen wheels its mane our black hair streaming in the wind.
How the tins of tea the saucepans danced so fine as how we went for it to dada laughing daddy rear until it all breaks up not say no getting away.

Talk to you dad I managed a bit of daddychat a chitter ’cause we didn’t have that much time.
Outside the world its birds as white as planes, the barrier of sound.
Your hands on the white sheet were growing yellow yellow.
Surely they have no right to fly so low no right no fly so low you said.
Even the whites of your eyes were even yellow so we two forgave each other everything.

Okay when people ask I tell them fine especially when there are people round me yes I’m coping fine.
You don’t see me in the grocer’s weeping over the potatoes.
Nor waiting at the PO window when a portant package has to be packed off.
I’m fine it goes I say without saying my head my head.
It makes no sense your dying inwardly poor song.
Some stamps I need and some potatoes please a book, a bag.
Thanks a bundle.

Toi mourant man au téléphone pernoctera pas voir papa.
Le train foncé sous la pluie dure pas mourir mon père oh steu plaît tends-moi me dépêche d’arriver.
Pas mouranrir désespérir père infinir lever courir –
Main montre l’heure sommes à Vierzon dehors ça tombe des grêlons.
Nous nous loupons ça je l’ignore passant Vierzon que tu es mort en cet horaire.
Pas mourir steu plaît infinir jusqu’au couloirs blanc d’infirmières.
Jusqu’à ton lit comme la loco poursuit vite vers Lyon la Part-Dieu.
Jusqu’à ton front c’est terminé tout le monde dans la petite chamber rien oublier.

Papa dire papa dear dada pire: tu te souviens de mon petit cheval ?
Comme ça tournait autour de la table à roulettes de cuisine sa crinière nos cheveux noirs au vent.
Comme ça valsait les boites à thé les casseroles belles comme ça y allait à dada rire oh papa rear à tout casser pas dire?

Te parler papa j’ai put e paparler un peu un petit peu paparce que nous n’avions plus tout le temps.
Dehors le monde ses oiseaux blancs comme des avions, le mur du son.
Tes mains sur le drap blanc jaunissaient jaunissaient.
Ils n’ont sûrement pas le droit de voler aussi bas pas pas le droit de voler aussi bas tu disais.
Même même le blanc de tes yeux était jaune nous alors nous sommes tout pardonné.

Ça va quand on demande moi je dis bien surtout s’il y a du monde je prends sur moi très bien.
On ne me voit pas chez l’épicière sangloter sur les pommes de terre.
Ni aux guichets de la poste retarder l’envoi pressé d’un colissime.
Ça va je dis sans dire et la tête et la tête.
Ça rime à rien ta mort intérieurement pauvre chant.
De timbres je voudrais et de patates un carnet s’il vous plaît, un filet.
Merci beaucoup de monde.

From Cold Spring in Winter, by Valérie Rouzeau, translated by Susan Wicks
Original poems copyright © Valérie Rouzeau 2009
Translation copyright © Susan Wicks 2009

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Photo credits
Susan Wicks, by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey
Valérie Rouzeau, by Michel Durigneux

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