ellipse, no. 84-5Photo: brokenjoe.blogspot.ca
ellipse, no. 84-5
Photo: brokenjoe.blogspot.ca

Ellipse (revue ellipse) (1969–2012) was a unique periodical that published poetry and other literary works in both the official languages of Canada. It was the only continuously running literary review in Canada that published literature in a multi-lingual format. Focusing on the promotion of the art of translation as well as intercultural awareness, it published two issues per year. Each issue typically featured poems in their original language located on one side of the page and the translated version on the other side.

Traditionally, ellipse featured translations of English works into French and vice versa, but it later branched out beyond the two official languages to include translations from cultures and languages around the globe.

The review began in the Eastern Townships of Québec, and sought to make French literature available to a wider audience through the art of translation. ellipse, then, grew from the same foundation that sparked the Canadian comparative literature department at Université de Sherbrooke.

D.G. Jones, an esteemed Canadian poet and translator, was one of the founders of ellipse (Whitfield 113). As an Anglophone professor of comparative literature at the Université de Sherbrooke, he was faced with many challenges. One of these was presenting the Québécoise literature around him to an English readership. When a colleague prepared an anthology of French-Canadian poetry for Oxford University Press, he had a model from which to proceed. It was then that Jones and his then-wife Shelia Fischman, and colleague Joseph Bonenfant, came up with the notion of a review that would feature both English and French-Canadian poets. Bonenfant acted as the review’s Francophone editor (Whitfield 113).

With the help of a few other colleagues (Richard Giguère, John Glassco, and Philip Stratford), Jones published the first issue of ellipse in 1969. The issue featured five Anglophone writers and five Francophone writers including works from well-known poets such as Gaston Miron, F.R. Scott, Paul-Marie Lapointe, and Earle Birney (Whitfield 114). Jones stated in the first issue that the magazine’s goal was “to generate a more intimate commerce between the two languages” (5).

The issues that followed continued the format that became the standard: a poem in its original language on one side of the page and a translation of the poem on the other.

The title of the magazine was inspired by a short poem by the same name from French poet Eugène Guillevic (Whitfield 114). The editors chose this name because they believed it conveyed the sense of the two languages merging as one, similar to the sun and the moon merging to form an eclipse.

Fischman, who later became one of Canada’s leading literary translators, was on the editorial board of ellipse from its beginning until 1972. After divorcing Jones in 1972, she acted as a consulting editor from 1973 until 1979 (Whitfield 172). Jones also remained an active editor of the magazine as well as a participant in the Seventh Moon poetry readings, which echoed the bilingual format of ellipse, with each reading followed by a translation. Jones was active in ellipse until a transitional phase in 2001 when the review moved from Sherbrooke to Fredericton, New Brunswick (Whitfield 108).

In 2002, New Brunswick’s Jo-Anne Elder attended a conference in Sherbrooke, Québec where she had completed her PhD. She was interested in translation and discussed the possibility of bringing the review to New Brunswick with her colleague Marie-Linda Lord (now at the Université de Moncton).

That same year Elder and her husband Carlos T. Gomes drove to Sherbrooke in a moving van, packed up the back issues along with the paperwork required for government grants, and returned to New Brunswick to restore ellipse with a new team of editors (Personal interview).

The biggest change to the review since its move to New Brunswick was the larger multicultural audience and multilingual focus, both of which expanded the mandate of the magazine beyond what it was for thirty years. In New Brunswick, Ellipse featured works from other countries and languages such as Argentina and Brazil, and featured Indigenous languages as well. Because of its location in New Brunswick, the magazine also focused on Acadian literature rather than the Québécoise literature that had been its foundation (Personal interview).

In Elder’s hands, issues included up to four poets (two English and two French). The second issue published each year was a special issue that focused on a specific group of writers or a theme. At times these special issues highlighted Governor General Award winners, which was something that the Sherbrooke editors had traditionally done. Rose Després’ “Dépaysement / Outlanders” is an example of a side-by-side poem featured in a special issue of works in honor of Northrop Frye’s 100th birthday:

Un pied dans L’Amerique
l’autre sur Paris
klaxon d’ambulance
parmi les voltiges mexicaines
et Xanadu itou

le refuge de receleur
gronde et dans le vrombissement
des murs trop fragiles
de l’orgueil dépeçant
qui dépasse encore les frontières
du permissible
et de l’impossible
on s’esquive
s’efface du
paysage imaginaire
sans reconnaître aucunement les terrains
les esplanades et les si beaux parcours
et moi
j’atteris à toi en dansant
un gigantesque bouquet de roses
pour ton si court escale sur la planète.
(87-88: 128)

One foot in America
the other in Paris
amid ambulance horns
Mexican aerobatics
and Xandu too

A den of thieves
rumbling and groaning
the too fragile walls
in shreds
as our fragmented egos
crossing some permissible
yet impossible borders
we slink
over imagined landscapes
unrecognizable terrains
on esplanades and oh so wondrous paths
And I
I circling for a landing
hover to reach you
bearing an armload of roses
for your too brief stay
on the planet. (87-88: 129)

In parallel with the Seventh Moon poetry readings in Québec, Elder organized the Side-by-Side Festival in which poetry readings were followed by their translations. These festivals were held mainly in Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John.

Elder was the editor of ellipse for over a decade. The magazine, however, ceased publication its eleventh and final year of publication in New Brunswick (Personal interview). It has been defunct since 2012.

Ashley Culliton, Winter 2012
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Després, Rose. “Dépaysement / Outlanders.” ellipse 87-88 (2012): 128-129.

Elder, Jo-Anne. ellipse 22 (2002).

ellipse. 1-86 (1969–2012).

Jones, D.G. Editorial. ellipse 1 (1969): 5.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Éditions Ellipse Inc. Ed. Jo-Anne Elder. 12 Oct. 2012.

Elder, Jo-Anne. Personal interview. 3 Oct. 2012.

Whitfield, Agnes. Writing Between the Lines: Portraits of Canadian Anglophone Translators. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier UP, 2006.