Valérie Rouzeau (b.1967) has published some 12 collections of poetry since 1989. Her latest book, Quand je me deux (Le Temps qu’il fait) was published in 2009; in that same year, Cold Spring in Winter (Arc publications), an English translation by Susan Wicks of Rouzeau’s 1999 collection Pas Revoir, was nominated for the highly prestigious Griffin prize in Canada. In addition to these collections, Rouzeau has translated Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and has published a monograph on the poet. She has also written poetry for children.
This paper considers the nature of Rouzeau’s poetry, and to argue that she is the inheritor of the French Surrealist poets, none of whom were women. In particular, I show that through a combination of puns, slang, Anglicisms, baby-talk, inversions, coinages and hybrids, Rouzeau creates, in her poetry, a language that is new and violent in its capacity to exult and disturb. This is high-voltage poetry, its signature features being its angry energy and the audacious strangeness of its language. Less corrosive than Plath, the French poet has learned from her model about rage and refusal. Although clearly influenced by the Surrealists and the Modernists in her consistent development of experimental dislocatory techniques, Rouzeau’s poetry is not destructively ironic, but seems rather to be answering a psychological necessity – it is poetry that is painfully, and playfully, alive. Above all, she is putting the traditional purity of the French language – keenly guarded by the Académie Française – under extreme pressure, making it respond to the reality of her own lived experience.