‘A rare privilege to inhabit the psyche and the skin of the sasquatch’

The sasquatch, once seen as predatory and dangerous, is now an emblem of extinction

Amanda Bell: it was key to me to change the gender of the sasquatch

Amanda Bell: it was key to me to change the gender of the sasquatch

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last night
a sasquatch drowned –
none of her kind remain
to mourn her

Thus begins the loneliness of the sasquatch, but who or what is this creature?

The legend of Bigfoot, or the sasquatch, can be traced to newspaper reports in the American Pacific Northwest in the 1950s. On finding what appeared to be giant footprints, loggers speculated that they had come upon the equivalent of the Himalayan Abominable Snowman, or Yeti. This was an era when there were still great undiscovered tracts of land and sea, untouched by human influence. Uncharted territory was beguiling, spawning myths that defied human investigation or understanding.

But much has changed; today, just 15 per cent of the world’s land area is untouched by humans, and we are widely believed to be in the throes of the sixth mass extinction that the world has experienced. Whereas the sasquatch was once thought of as potential living evidence of the missing link between humankind and our closest primate relatives, today we think not so much of what remains to discover, but of all that we have lost. What allures us is their rarity, their uniqueness, their loneliness.

The figure of the sasquatch was thought of for decades as a solitary male, predatory and dangerous, but the perception became more nuanced as the decades passed, and today the emblem of the sasquatch has been woven into a narrative of extinction, and thereby taken on a new, and poignant, significance. As we increasingly understand ourselves as part of an elaborate web or network of existence, we become more aware of how any loss has reverberations for the whole of what remains. John Moriarty wrote of the shooting of the last wolf in Ireland, that “we have killed a portion of eternity. In killing it in our world we killed it in ourselves. Our world isn’t so tremendous as it was. Nor are we.”

If one strand of the significance of the sasquatch is its unique and precious nature, the other is its symbolic role as an outsider, a role frequently associated with the figure of the writer. Unsurprising then that the sasquatch should be used as an avatar by a poet. Gabriel Rosenstock first used the sasquatch as an alter-ego in his 1990 collection Portrait of the Artist as an Abominable Snowman. He returned to it in 2013 with the dual language edition Sasquatch (Arlen House), a sequence written from a desire to create a narrative of loneliness. “Profound loneliness is the natural condition of someone who realizes that all of us are divorced from what we really are by our slavish acceptance of duality.”

When I set out to translate Sasquatch there were two challenges facing me: that of language and that of gender.

There is some difficulty in pinning down the concept of “translation”. Mark Polizzotti, author of Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto , asserts that “A good translation offers not a reproduction of the work but an interpretation, a re-representation, just as the performance of a play or a sonata is a representation of the script or the score, one among many possible representations.” Rosenstock’s own approach to the question was illuminating. In our email interview at the back of the book, he says, “I don’t differentiate at all between creative writing, say poetry, and the translation or transcreation, of a poem. I honestly believe that they are sourced in the same pool of creative intelligence […]Translation is the most intimate form of reading imaginable and by ‘absorbing’ the nutrients of texts, you are strengthening and enriching your own body of work and adding something to the warp and weave of your own psyche.”

Rosenstock’s original Sasquatch consists of 66 short lyric poems, which form a haunting philosophical narrative as the last sasquatch perceives the world around him, and eventually merges with the totality. The sequence was published as a dual language edition in Irish and English. Although I don’t have fluent Irish, I began by translating Rosenstock’s Irish lyrics before looking at his own translations into English, so as to get a clear sense of the originals. Then, equipped with the Irish versions, my own English translations, and the author’s translations, I set out to write my transcreation. To do so in my own voice, it was key to me to change the gender of the sasquatch. This served two purposes – it let me inhabit the sasquatch better than I could have done otherwise, and secondly, I wanted to explore how a female sasquatch perceives herself, alone in all the world, because there is a dearth of such voices. The iconic 20th-century examples of the outsider are predominantly male. The effect of this gender change was far more powerful than I could have anticipated, and created a very different book.

Gabriel Rosenstock first used the sasquatch as an alter-ego in his 1990 collection Portrait of the Artist as an Abominable Snowman. He returned to it in 2013 with the dual language edition Sasquatch
Gabriel Rosenstock first used the sasquatch as an alter-ego in his 1990 collection Portrait of the Artist as an Abominable Snowman. He returned to it in 2013 with the dual language edition Sasquatch

Below is a selection of my favourite stanzas from the sequence.

a bird flits across the moon
for an instant
she thinks she’s becoming
bird
human
god

looks down at heavy sasquatch feet
**

watching a cloud
transform to a white owl
the sasquatch yearns to be something other –
other than a shadow
on a barren hillside
**

lean on me
she whispers to a tree,
sensing it’s about to fall –
lean on me
**

for three nights
she keeps the fire
nurses it
tends it
sings to it

when she drops off
it dies

at daybreak her cry
makes the earth tremble
**

by the sea
she dreams of a companion,
a father for her children –
wakes to bare rocks,
a barren reef
**

It has been a rare privilege to inhabit the psyche and the skin of the sasquatch, and I hope that others will take the same pleasure in her as I did. The Loneliness of the Sasquatch (Alba Publishing) will be launched at 7pm on November 22nd by Dr Lucy Collins, associate professor at UCD’s School of English, Drama and Film, in The Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square W, Dublin 1. All welcome

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