It makes no sense to speak of contemporary French poetry—except in the sense that, increasingly, all literature that doesn't fit into any other category gets called poetry, a trend I highly champion, as it broadens the definition of the art. And that's also what contemporary French poets are doing: broadening the definition of la poésie to include and encourage an ever-diversifying array of approaches and forms. The one constant is exploration, and much of that is eroding the boundaries of the genre, of genre itself, and even of media.
Much pressure has been put on the line in contemporary French poetry, to such an extent that for many writers it has disappeared altogether as a formal principle, and in many cases that pressure has been transferred to syntax, either underscored through elaborately formal or distorted sentence structures or spotlighted through inventive violations and innovations. Where the line does remain, it is often given a performative stance and at times, in turn, performs an immediate graphic gesture on the page. (Cole Swensen, “Dossier: Contemporary Poetry in France”)
The tenth annual issue of the poetry journal Aufgabe, produced out of Brooklyn, New York by Litmus Press under the poetry editorship of E. Tracy Grinnell, Paul Foster Johnson and Julian T. Brolaski, includes a lengthy feature on “French poetry & poetics guest edited by Cole Swensen.” With works by various poets unknown to larger North American poetry audiences, it includes writing by Oscarine Bosquet, Marie-Louise Chapelle, Sabine Macher, Anne Parian, Nathalie Quintane and plenty of others, and seemingly extend a series of conversations throughout American publications, from Verse magazine's triple-issue on French poetry and poetics (2007), or even back to an anthology of French writing edited by Norma Cole, one of the translators of the current issue, Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France (Burning Deck, 2000). Given the amount of attention that English-language American journals and publications (Burning Deck features regular book-length translated works, and has for years), might the south-of-the-border audiences have the ability to be far better informed of such French-language works than we, here? Even translated works from French from Quebec seem harder to find, since the days of Coach House Press, or even more recent Anansi works. Where has all the translation disappeared to?
Africa is a Flat Tint
On the entirely devoured dirt the differencebetween consonants hardlydistinguishesO O / I OI O / IE IA /A /A E OU /the ones lilt in the othersit is between them that savagely we sayindistinct in the haze of the land far from here
Africa is a flat tint
I'm afraid of the you
shine up to here the precious names of ore bedand it is not about loosing your grip. (Oscarine Bosquet, “from Present Participle,” trans. Ellen Leblond-Schrader and Sarah Riggs)
I, myself, have been fascinated, specifically, with the movement of the poetic line over the past few years, and so many of the translators in this issue, themselves, are poets that have altered my consideration of what is possible with the line, including Norma Cole, Lisa Robertson, Eleni Sikelianos, Cole Swensen, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop and Andrew Zawacki (one of the editors, also, of Verse). Many of the translators and translated in this issue also seem to work heavily within the prose poem, some of whom are doing some quite magnificent things.
3.I myself will I haunt. Maybe one day find an elbow a hand of Harry to mark them later on their side of the wall to be a memory in the body of the other a shadow in a movement.
An elbow in a gesture in two parts for who knows how to play the rerun and when I'm already dead then while the one to feel immense sky the other to stay around friends become (Caroline Dubois, “from How's that I say not sleep,” trans. Stacy Doris and Chet Wiener)
On top of this, it might even be easy to overlook that the issue also includes over a hundred pages of poetry not included in this feature, with new works by G.C. Waldrep, Robert Glück, Catherine Meng, Alli Warren, Harold Abramowitz, Joan Retallack, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, her “Draft 107: Meant to Say,” that includes:
I wanted to know about making art and telling the truth.Where does this thing come fromwhy does this engineered apple taste dull, how did we get herefrom what to what andhow did we decide to? or what flood of sloughdrowned us where we stood.
The issue also includes a number of critical prose works at the end, including Robert Glück's “CUNY Talk: Uncertain Reading.” As he writes to introduce the piece, Glück's talk “was for TENDENCIES: Poetics & Practice, a series at the CUNY Graduate Center curated by Tim Peterson. My panel included Trish Salah and Rachel Zolf and took place on October 29, 2009. TENDENCIES explores the poetic manifesto as it intersects with writing practice, queer theory and pedagogy.” I'm intrigued by such a series; might a collection of such pieces appear in print at some point, or might these pieces be available somewhere online?
Many of Acker's strategies keep the reader off-balance. That's why it's rather difficult to write about her work, because the best reading is an uncertain reading. I want to offer my confusion as an ideal. Rather than drawing conclusions, developing identifications or thematic connections, that is, making judgements that lead to knowledge, Acker creates a reader who is lost in strangeness. She pitches the reader into a welter of contradictions that do not resolve themselves, but replace each other continuously: a text that hates itself but wants me to love it, sex that dissolves and amalgamates, a disempowered self that tops its heated bottom-act with cold manipulations, a confession that is therapeutic without the possibility of health. Her aesthetic is founded on double binds whose brilliance captivates me as I struggle against them.
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