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
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
« 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
not even like the squirrel or the African monkey
who are fearful and mischievous children
but like birds
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.