I had a short poetic excursion yesterday as a result of what seems an extraordinary co-incidence. I have just received my copy of Writing the Real: A bilingual Anthology of Contemporary French Poetry from Enitharmon Press. I was very excited by the book – living in a rural, fairly unknown cultural space with no easy access to bookshops or French literary journals, I have no knowledge of contemporary poetry in France comparable to pamphlets, small press books and readings in England.
I took the book to my French lesson and showed it to my French teacher who has been teaching me grammar through carefully chosen poems for a long time now. Her daughter happened to be at home with her and she read aloud the first poem to her and they both collapsed in giggles.
It wasn’t the poem or poet I would have chosen for them to assess the book! It is called ‘bref sur la method’ and is by Christian Prigent and translated by Jerome Game. ‘Christian Prigent has authored over forty works of poetry, fiction and criticism…he is a radical experimenter of form and his works attest to his battle with language’ say the end notes. Yes. Not the best of ones to start with! Not the easiest either – I didn’t understand the English translation let alone the French. Here is a taster:
Premièrement : and here is the English translation
D’entre tes dents From between your teeth
lâche du Petant, drop some fartsy,
du caréné carapate some skedaddled streamlined,
en maque mic-mac in carry-on pimped
cake chiose qui saque soyme fing that gives the slack
le mou, the sack
la soumission a tout ! the submission to all
It was the mic-mac which they repeated and laughed at the most.
I was reading Wallace Stevens ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ yesterday morning when I was startled to read this line:
‘Dangling and spangling, the mic-mac of mocking birds’.
I love inter-textuality and immediately thought of my French poem. It started me off on a morning of total joy as I started to fiddle with the meaning for myself. I ended up with this, after much dictionary searching.
Between your teeth
release a breath of wind – a fart
a cheap gift of Carapote
a squeezed out call of the mocking bird
the fruit cakes that obscure the truth
the submission to everything conventional.
My translation leaves a lot to be desired but does make the point that I think Prigent was trying to make – the weight of defined and conventional poetry can become a blockage, we need to break through with the strange and the truthful. I love ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ it is late Stevens and for me it is a wonderful rumination on the meaning of poetry:
‘The poem is the cry of its occasion,
part of the res itself and not about it.
The poet speaks the poem as it is.’
The poem of pure reality, untouched
By trope of deviation, straight to the word,
straight to the transfixing object
At the exactest point at which it is itself,
Transfixing by being purely which it is,
A view of New Haven, say, through the certain eye.’
Poetry needs to speak its truth to us whether we are readers or writers. The end stop seems to me to be a time when reflection, observation, recall all together are laid out so that the truth can be seen, so that
‘its adventure to create
Forms of farewell, furtive among green ferns’.
Apart from obscure researches I have had lovely times with family last month. This photo shows four generations of the women in my family – my daughter Morag, granddaughter Hannah, me – le femme sage of course- and my new great granddaughter Florence. Beside this august group is the whole wild lot of children.