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1960 :Figuring
1970 :Settling
1980 : Articulating
1990 : Aggravating

French Poetry since 1950:

Tendencies IV

by Jean-Michel MAULPOIX - Translated from the original French by Catherine Wieder


My purpose is to run again along the poetical space of this half-century, « pointing » out the most significant tendencies that have emerged in the course of the most recent decades. In order to be clearer and offer a far better educational perspective, I will grant each of them a verbal determiner to sum it up, though I am well aware that it may not be sufficient enough to account for the complexity of tendencies taking place during each period.

1980 - Articulating : a new lyricism ?


Read the original text in French

Guy Goffette

James Sacré

Benoît Conort

Antoine Emaz

Jacques Réda


MC Bancquart


At the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties, what we sometimes call « a new lyricism » seems to surge. The « subject » then makes a prominent return upon the literary and the philosophical stage. It coincides with the times when Tzvetan Todorov publishes A criticism of criticism, a few years after Roland Barthes had slipped from the militant structuralism of his Essays in criticism and of S/Z to the more subjective writing of Fragments of a discourse on love or of Roland Barthes by himself. It is also the time when one speaks of a « new fiction », a « new history », « new cuisine » or « new philosophers », even if some of these newnesses sometimes conceal a mere « postmodern » re-reading of the past.
 Those who are labelled « new lyricists » are poets who were born in the fifties. They were adolescents during the days of the avant-gardes. They did not participate to the large subversive celebration of May '68 which they considered rather as a disconcerting show. On the other hand, they had begun writing and publishing in a context of crisis and of reflux of ideologies. They had fed on literary history as well as on Marxism, psychoanalysis and structuralism. They had most often found their voices against the theoretical pressures of former decades. They sound wiser, more conventional, less concerned with exterior signs of modernity.

Jean-Pierre Lemaire, Guy Goffete, André Velter, James Sacré, Benoît Conort, Mathieu Benezet, Hédi Kaddour, Jean-Louis Giovannoni, Jean-Claude Pinson are some of these very different poets who revive a lyricism in which the subject and the daily have their place. They find support with elders like Jacques Réda, Pierre Oster, Lionel Ray, Jacques Darras, Robert Marteau or Jean-Claude Renard. Through them, French poetry seems to re-inscribe itself in a larger, possibly more naïve tradition.

If the verb « to articulate » and the expression « articulating » seems to put together and to identify such authors, it is because their writing seems oriented towards a desire for a synthesis between tradition and modernity. They revive image and melody, nay a certain « phrasing ». They recapture and rediscover a taste for emotion and subjective expression, but, when all is said, without necessarily returning to the traditional romantic posture of the « promontory shepherd » or of the « sonorous echo » as celebrated by Victor Hugo.

Their writing seems to be more concerned by the other person than by the self. It is less « proferred » than questioning and critical. It aims at re-articulating together both presence and want, desire and loss, celebration and lamentation. The « new lyricist » is a lyricist seeking his song, his voice, nay his own features in the disconnectedness of prose. Such is the evidence suggested by Jacques Réda's poem :

«Listen to me, don't be afraid, I must

talk to you through something that has no name in the language

I've known

if not, yet precisely, something without expanse, without depth, and which

never hinders (but all is weakened).

Listen to me. Don't be afraid. If I scream, try to

understand : he who speaks

hears his own voice in his locked-up head ;

or else how would I,

who's just been thrown into the opening and who feels disjointed ?

There still remains, as you see, some liability of just a little comical but very little indeed :

I wish you'd listen to me &endash; without knowing whether I speak.

No certainty. No control. I have the impression that I articulate with a grotesque and undoubtedly useless vehemence - that will soon become weariness

or what should be called thus in order that you may understand it.

But if I speak (let's admit that I do so),

do you hear me ; and if you do,

if this unrooted voice comes to you with a breath under your door,

won't you be frightened ?

That's why I say unto you : Don't be afraid, listen to me

since it's almost no longer me who speaks, who calls you

from the bottom of an exhaustion you have no idea of

and having for you but those words which are my last shroud

now being dissolving. »

This address to a beloved woman is also an address from the poet to the reader or to anyone, nay, an attempt at linking a language to one's self, since the « disjointed » subject who here calls may not even succeed in hearing his own voice in his « locked-up head » and hence needs the understanding ears of the other person in order to acknowledge his own self, recognize himself and exist. It is almost as if the modern lyrical subject were to experience his being his own outcast in the quest of his own center. He can no longer keep to the mere « diction of a central emotion ». His emotion itself seems to be unaware of both itself and of himself as a subject who experiences it, and thus does he question his own capacity to articulate it. His seat is guaranteed neither in language nor in the world. Hence this is why he becomes transient, a passer-by, a pedestrian or a Parisian stroller, a creature in transit in a transitory world, a passenger and a crossing-point.

Such a frail, lost, unsteady subject cuts an aleatory pathway in his writing leading towards the improbable reach of his own figure. In James Sacré's works uprooting and extenuation are translated into an unusual limping of both verse and syntax.

« Nothing, no silence and no solitude the house

in the everyday spring the lawn

a non-cultivated grass what I wish to say

is not much, a little boredom due to

work to be done, and to go where and why ?

it ends up in a poem not too well-constructed

as a little tough blade

in a small noise going away a handful of dry hay

the wind blows it away or not it may stay here

all the rest too the very house too

in the spring solitude mechanical lawn

has to be trimmed to-morrow it is still no silence coming.

Are all these poems some kind of repetition

I don't know and at that very moment there comes a new one

with yet something like green

in all of a sudden the bushes in march a turmoil

with rather rotten leaves inside

because of the wind with the green now

it becomes a weird new and old season

was it the same last year ? I didn't say anything about it

yet I did write quite a few poems I wonder why words that were said disappeared

I heard it wrong. »

We may here read and hear the swaying or the limping of a defeated word, as though unsure of itself : an uncertain song seeking its language and its articulation. The poem is blurred as one would say of a photograph out of focus. This poetical or rhetorical blur means a blurred relationship between the subject and his own identity. Here the voice makes the grammar falter. Like Verlaine, James Sacré cultivates a scholarly art of mistakes, approximations, negligence, nay, defect and fault.

Such poets thus rediscover the qualities of being instrumentalists. They play the game of language despite it all. Their writing seems devoid of any formal a-prioris. It does not rest upon any postulate. The « new lyricism » sets off upon an adventure in language starting from its desire to setting its own tongue. It is well aware that language is a trap, that images are deceits, that the subject is a lure. Yet this does not prevent it from finding both an image and the subject in language. Perhaps one might here speak of writings without theories, i.e. being a-theoretical or post-theoretical. Weary of the theoretical, especially and above all of the exclusions which it implies, and of the intellectualism linked to it.

Such writings do not display external signs of negativity or of modernism ; rather, they experience an internal negativity. If, like Bonnefoy, Jaccottet or du Bouchet, they question place, it is in reuniting with a local or historical geography. To « the orchard » or to « the glade » (both abstract, essentialized places figuring plenitude being on the spur of the moment relinked with the world) concrete, and very ordinary places are being substituted : «train stations » and « suburbs » with Réda, for example, or «wastelands » with James Sacré, or an ordinary provincial kitchen with Guy Goffette. Here is an extract of one of his poems :

« Maybe men after all are

not meant to live in houses

but in trees

and yet

not even like the squirrel or the African monkey

who are fearful and mischievous children

but like birds

and yet

not like the garrulous oriole or the jay

haughtier than a farm dog or even nastier

than a streaking door

but like high-flying birds travelling far away

and coming here but to rest

and exchange few news meet

mingle and receive some new blood

before going deep into silence and the anonymous

glory of the skies (Ö) »

We here revive once more the simplicity of a speech that seems to follow naturally and which does not hesitate to put forward its apparent naïvety.


This essay is but a mere prospect, an opening, a very partial initiation to which only an individual reading of these works may give some meaning. The few roadsigns planted by the four verbs, which were meant to be significant of the typical tendencies that successively emerged in the course of this half century, should not obscure the multifariousness of possible parallels or crossings between the intertwining streams and the works. These four categories are not at all exclusive. Any kind of poetry, indeed, has something to do with « dwelling » since it questions the way in which the human being locates himself in the world, decorates it and occupies it. It is a matter of « figuration », since it is this space of language where the figures of language, the faces of the subject and the aspects of things work together. It constitutes a process of « decanting » in so far as it questions language, analyzes it, cares for it and proceeds towards a cleansing of the verbal situation. Finally, it remains a matter of « articulation » since each work establishes a singular relationship between a subject, a language and a world.


1960 :Figuring
1970 :Settling
1980 : Articulating

© Jean-Michel Maulpoix, 1999, all rights reserved.