Hugh Hazelton


Photo credit: Edith Boucher-Hazelton.







for Oliverio Girondo


he picks up words in his hands wherever he goes

examines them, turns them over, rubs them softly between chaffed fingers

trying to feel and imagine what their ancient life was like

before they drifted to the bottom of forgotten linguistic seas

and later emerged encased in verbal sediment

he delicately removes the dust of the unaware, everyday

chips away years of incrusted banalities, the plaque of platitudes, scarred shibboleths, repeated insincerities, hidden hypocrisies encrypted in their sides

stripping them down carefully till each one, even the most common, shines with original


washes them in fresh mountain waters that restore their luminous immediacy

awakens them from their barnacled existence and brings them back to consciousness

freed and glistening with the histories of roots and connotations

he meditates on each of them as he lifts them up and breathes upon them

infusing energy as he resuscitates, moving calmly between inanimate and animate

and burnishes them as the sea polishes pebbles on unpopulated shores

each one shaped and smoothed and waiting to be used as if for the first time

as primeval as the other words he invents

mixing them with the grout of prefixes and suffixes and cognates

to create phonemic utterances that take meaning from suggestion fusion sonic resonance

sifting out agate words and garnet red-tissued living stone

bone words arranged in fossil skeletons as from the earliest spoken times

preserved in ossified marshes and river sand

he speaks them chants them intones them inscribes them on clay tablets

papyrus parchment paper screens

horizontally in new patterns for connecting bare radiance

or organizes them as drawings or geometric constructions or parts of paintings

with their own arrangements and rhythm and enunciation an unheard language spilled out

into the air now rising at different inclinations and angles ever more multiple and vertical

in intersecting lines and towers planes of words in outlined shape and form

speaking and murmuring among themselves

in clusters swarms constellations caricatures and clouds

verbal maps to imaginary places and vocalized cords

neverheard or seenbefore thatrecombine forming unnamed now named entities

that go on creating themselves across untimed dimensions

with unexpected interactions connections and distances

building incanting engineering new shamanic structures new skeletons of creatures born of odd and unforeseen combinations

word buildings word animals wordbirds wordbugs wordwhales wordworms wordmoles

wordworlds wordsongs wordflutterings babelbeings returning from before the age of Ur

wordfields wordtales words and words and words that come

from the uttermostmarrow transmitted along endless networks of veins

humanlips tongues eyes and minds awakening




island city


volcanic magma of a mountain at the centre of a city that’s an island in a river of rapids

and currents and confluence with waters from the Great Lakes and the sea first village of Hochelaga indigenous continent Ville-Marie Montréal for two hundred years the major centre of Canada and forever of French America now with a Babel of migrant tongues and voices flowing together washing ashore inland like in New York Buenos Aires São Paulo a bilingual multilingual manyfaced city where words from a hundred languages mix and meld with traffic and cafés and métros and cars and dogs barking and the bouncing of bicycles over dos d’âne and nids de poule make an urban music a syllable concert to celebrate difference communality and understanding and not understanding but accepting a noisy city of implacable concrete and weathered bricks iron and lights and instruments and shows, flowers and tall grass on quiet street corners and children speaking on the wind that blows through the tunnels and monuments and high-rise canyons and statues of Christ and Crémazie and Bethune and Jeanne-Mance and Nelligan and sidewalks of people all saying yes, here I am now part of this future the multihued French fusion city of the world with belle époque buildings a port city of docks and ships and parks and sidewalk pianos and refurbished schmatta factories and abandoned foundries and warehouses silos and rail lines east west and south a city of the plain at the edge of the North where the great forest begins an urban dot in a puzzle landscape of elongated fields and myriad angular lakes and ancient mountains an outpost of people on the endless horizon of the natural world far from megacities and megalopolises looking out on taiga and tundra where the night sky is still black an isolate maze of triplex avenues stairway balconies and lanes and quartiers and carrés and barrios and bairros spread across an archipelago of artists and universities offices and refineries heat waves and blizzards hailstones and wind storms inhabited churches and homeless wanderers burned parliaments and gangland slayings jazz and songs from the chantiers d’en haut qu’est-ce que tu me dis? what are you saying? Madha qult? Nǐ shuō shénme?  the vernissages bars theatre poetry symphony school the garderie the festival the francofolies les nuits d’Afrique et d’Haïti the discothèques at 20 below the restaurants stores the boulevards filled with flâneurs the city that goes out and on that walks swerves runs strolls and stands around talking proclaiming its enjoyment its pleasure its fonne its uniqueness itself its history its newness its dancing to samba gafieira under the evening trees of the Parc de la Petite Italie next to the market and food and world of aromas and  Park Ex where every block is a different state of India people from the valley and fields along the fleuve wooded northern towns born here born elsewhere refugees escapees exiles or families going back centuries to farmhouses and longhouses bargaining sweating laughing looking at one another checking the style constantly being and moving and beginning to marvel and listen to each other



“island city” was written for a Te Deum composed by Éric Champagne to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal. It was sung in Montreal and at Carnegie Hall in New York in the spring of 2017.





for Walter Amaral  


the news

came yesterday

pulmonary embolism

he died almost immediately

in his apartment

before he could even get

to the phone

your forthright eyes

sense of humour

firm handshake when I’d arrive

and your “Bem-vindo, amigo! Como vai?”

the stories of your travels

your years as a Jesuit brother

bringing liberation

to the burnt villages of the Northeast

and classrooms of São Paulo

years studying architecture in Poland

crazy times as a tourist guide in the Yucatán

and arrival in Montreal

to spread the word

of Portuguese

your way of listening

serious or laughing, with such patience

during those endless conversations

to practice speaking the language but in the end

really for the pure joy of communicating

your comments suggestions advice

politics history philosophy literature

shared adventures and failures

suffering pain consolation

hopes for the future

your music and poetry

and when I’d leave

your “Até já,

see you soon,













Hugh Hazelton is a Montreal writer and translator who specializes in the comparison of Canadian and Quebec literatures with those of Latin America. He has written four books of poetry and translates from Spanish, French and Portuguese into English; his translation of Vétiver, a book of poems by Joël Des Rosiers, won the Governor General’s award for French-English translation in 2006. He is a professor emeritus of Spanish at Concordia University in Montreal and former co-director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. In 2016 he won the Linda Garboriau Award for his work on behalf of literary translation in Canada.




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