Interview with 2019 Cheuse Center Grant Recipient Lisa DesRochers-Short

Interview with 2019 Cheuse Center Grant Recipient Lisa DesRochers-Short

Lisa DesRochers-Short is an artist born and raised in rural Maine. She is the upcoming Poetry Thesis Fellow for 2019-2020 at GMU, and also a reader with So to Speak and WEND. Lisa traveled primarilyto Montreal to translate the poems of the great 20th French-Canadian poet Alfred DesRochers, who is a relative of hers.

What have you been up to?

I took an Amtrak train from DC at three in the morning and got to Montréal just as the sun was setting and stayed there for about two weeks. I explored the Université de Montréal, did research at the BAnQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationale du Québec), went to a culture festival by accident (that was mostly interpretive dance) in Longueuil for a weekend, then went to Sherbrooke for a week, and then hung around Mt. Orford for a week.

What did you hope to learn by the end of your trip? Was it what you expected?

I hoped to have a better understanding of the landscape and culture that my family comes from and to get better at conversational French. Speaking French was certainly the hardest and funniest part. I made a lot of people laugh with my mistakes. Going into this, I had no idea what to expect since I had never been to Montreal. It was bigger than I had anticipated and more culturally diverse. My favorite part was the bilingualism between French and other languages other than English such as French and Arabic or French and Vietnamese. Most people spoke an average of three languages. Overhearing families shift between languages and slightly understanding the French was exhilarating. Being able to only comprehend a little bit of everything was humbling and this encourages me to get better at my second language since most people speak three!

Were there any surprises on your trip? What's something unexpected that you came across during your research abroad?

The street art in Montreal and Sherbrooke was incredible and surprised me at every turn, particularly Sherbrooke. There was an abandoned hotel called Hôtel de la Poésie (yes, that’s hotel of the poet) that was all boarded up. The boards were painted with swirling scenes and haunting faces. A poet, Frank Poule, had written poems in white paint on black plywood nailed to the façade stating that (essentially) the beautification of the building is like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

What's something interesting you've discovered about your family name, or quebecois heritage?

In the Sherbrooke and Mt. Orford areas there were many tall cliff faces that I envisioned as the rocks describing my family name. Alfred DesRochers has not only a road in Mt. Orford named after him, but also an entire mountain. I should have easily assumed that Mt. Orford would have a ski slope on it and yet I was pleasantly surprised to see a huge one slapped onto the side of the mountain. My father, Jim DesRochers, has worked in ski lodges and hospitality my entire life. Spending time in a hotel next to a ski slope in summer reminds me of The Lodge at Mt. Snow in West Dover, Vermont, the hotel he has owned since I was 11.

How has your trip impacted the way you think about what you are writing about? What has influenced your work the most?

It is easier to imagine the landscape that I am translating in Alfred DesRochers’ poetry about Mt. Orford and the surrounding townships now that I have seen it with my own eyes. It makes me question why my family would move to the United States, in all honesty. It was more beautiful than I could have imagined and there were wildflowers everywhere.