Telling and untelling: Oana Avasilichioaei’s We, Beasts

Oana Avasilichioaei. We, Beasts. Hamilton: Wolsak & Wynn, 2012.

~ reviewed by rob mclennan


In her third solo trade poetry collection We, Beasts, Montreal writer and translator Oana Avasilichioaei continues her attraction to translation and the twist of expectation, grammar and meaning, working deliberately to alter the possibilities of poetry. The collection, as the press release tells us, is “[a] story told in four languages,” deliberately working to quote, misquote and translate from an array of other’s texts interspersed throughout, and her list of authors and titles at the back include Paul Celan, Mihai Eminescu, Erín Moure, Elisa Sampedrín, César Vallejo, Angela Carter, Lorine Niedecker, Stephen Collis, Caroline Bergvall, Les Murray, Jacques Derrida and Laynie Browne. On the back cover of her chapbook Songs (Edmonton AB: The Olive Reading Series, 2011), a selection of the full manuscript, Avasilichioaei describes We, Beasts as “a rhizomatic exploration of telling and untelling,” and the chapbook/section Songs itself, as “transformations (effervescences) of the lexicon and music of poems by Galacian poet Álvaro Conqueiro in Herba aquí ou acolá, Galaxia, 1991.”

In We, Beasts, Avasilichioaei explores elements of the fairy tale, a la the Brothers Grimm, walking a dark path towards knowledge, and the open questions of morality, writing tales and fables, stories and lessons hard-won of ogres, tyrants, foxes and bats. “Birds, their own servants, bird us the longing / of landscapes, orating distance, milled years,” she writes at the offset, in the poem “The Distant Song.” Much of Avasilichioaei’s work so far has been exploring the idea of the translation, ranging from the relatively straight translation to the creative or even mis-translation, exploring what can appear through accident or even deliberate mis-reading and mis-understanding, using the translation itself as a device to open the door for new works. I’m intrigued by what the direct use of multiple languages in a single work gains, and by what might be lost, to those of us not fortunate enough to be able to comprehend all four languages. Is the loss meant to be deliberate, or are we meant to explore our own mis-readings and mis-understandings? The possibilities are certainly appealing. I wonder too, about her work in multiple languages, in a book-length poem produced by an English-language publisher, which one might imagine would be aimed toward a predominantly English-speaking readership. Might Avasilichioaei be exploring further publications in countries and cultures that focus on one of her other languages? I think of the bilingual shifts in the writing of Canadian poet Nathalie Stephens, otherwise known as Nathanaël, some of which appears through English-language publishers (in Canada and the United States), and some of which appears through French-language publishers (in various countries), even before works that are beginning to appear in further translation. Is there a way to focus on more than one language of composition without having to exclude, slightly, one?


rob mclennan is author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. The most recent is Songs for little sleep, (obvious epiphanies press, 2012). He blogs at


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