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A matter of blue, a book by JM.Maulpoix, Boa edition Ltd.

A wide presentation of this essay in Adieux au poème, by Jean-Michel Maulpoix,   José Corti ed. 2005. Louis Barthou award from Académie française.

Victor Hugo


Anna Akhmatova

Charles Baudelaire



Philippe Jaccottet


Emily Dickinson


Paul Valéry

Henri Michaux


Yves Bonnefoy

Michel Deguy

Du Lyrisme, an essay by Jean-Michel Maulpoix, José Corti ed.

Aimé Césaire

Pablo Neruda

Guillaume Apollinaire

Juan Jamon Jimenez



M. Darwich

Louis Aragon


Robert Desnos

Boris Pasternak

Antonin Artaud

Ezra Pound

Samuel Beckett



Des Forêts











What about poetry?

 by Jean-Michel Maulpoix


            Poetry is not well loved by criticism.  It constitutes an object of study that is difficult to discern, in constant mutation throughout history, and free from the hold of theory.  Although it gives rise to those clean slices of language called poems, so solidly established in their own form that not a single word can be changed, it seems that it always refuses to fence itself in.  So much so that to speak of poetry often leads to inappropriate discussion: too technical or too subjective.  The theoretician wanting to construct a rigorous system must resign himself to a distressing loss of critical efficacy.

            How could it suffice to describe poetry using formulas found in manuals, such as “nature’s song”, “celebration of gods”, “expression of personal feelings”, or “disorder of language”?  These are stereotypes that stifle the real stakes of writing.  Without being completely deprived of sense, they neglect the singularities.  This is where the undefined finds refuge.  In discussion, poetry becomes dissolved in generalities, rather than placed at the center of a crucial reflection on language.

            “Poetic Dictionaries” hardly offer anything but tools to facilitate the observation of forms, without approaching the question of meaning… In many regards, poetry remains criticism’s orphan.  It is rather in the work of poets, either in the margins or at the heart of their poems, that we find the clues: In Victor Hugo’s prefaces, Rimbaud’s letters, Mallarmé’s Divagations, Valéry’s Cahiers, Rilke’s Correspondance or Elégies, etc…

            There does not exist, to my knowledge, any serious study of critical discourse on poetry.  Its history, so to speak, has not yet been written.   The latter would, however, hold some strange surprises.  It would verify just how much commentaries oscillate between subjectivism, mysticism, spontaneity, and formalism; but it would also uncover that poetry gives rise to as much vague discourse as it does to trenchant bias.  Throughout modernity, it seems that the gap has not ceased to grow between the rigor of analysis conducted by the poets themselves and the rough character of the remarks belonging to the university tradition or to critics.  Is there any other art whose history has been marked by such quarrels, ruptures, and proclamations, only to be turned against itself?  In its own intense trial, poetry must ceaselessly account for, justify, and redefine itself. 

            The fulminations of Charles Baudelaire or Arthur Rimbaud against Alfred de Musset, René Char’s raging remarks against the “lazy”, Francis Ponge’s vindication of elegiac lyricism, Yves Bonnefoy ’s suspicion of the image, and Philippe Jaccottet’s radical questioning of poetic deception are all examples verifying that poetry is a hostile terrain, a battlefield of language and its stakes…

            This intellectual intransigence is the act of poets reaffirming much more than their aesthetic biases: it is their very raison d’être that is concerned.  Because they interfere with language.  Because there they tie the subjective and the objective.  Because they run the risk of lying and illusion.  Because they often cause the inanimate and the dead to speak.  Because they turn toward something else over which reason has no hold.  Because they allow themselves to be guided by the flesh and write without any control other than their own vigilance…

            Once these stakes are recognized and fully illuminated by the modern era, it is not surprising that poetry strips itself of every definition… Its purpose does not exist outside the very work that it accomplishes; it is a moving target that each poem locates in its own way, yet never attains.  No one can claim to define poetry, if in a strict sense this consists of extracting its essence, and thus to say what its necessary conditions must be.  The principle of poetic writing is to always go beyond: to “burn the enclosure”, in the words of René Char.

            And yet it is also the task of poetry to work endlessly to define itself, to redefine itself.  As Michel Deguy wrote: “poetry’s restlessness over its essence inhabits poetry since its Greek beginning.”  Strangely, poetry is the blind and the restless attempt of language to learn more about what it is doing and what is playing inside it.  Through its formal propositions, poetry simultaneously puts language into play and its own existence into question.

            It is certainly one of the distinctive traits of modernity to have released poetry from exterior motivations, such as “the moral” and “the lesson”, causing it to increasingly take care of its own self: to observe itself, to scrutinize itself, to describe itself… Abandoning the marks of its past, modern poets have put poetry outside itself, outside of verse for example, even outside the poem.  Removing it from the good and the beautiful, they have turned it against “poeticism”.  They have made it throw away its riches.  They have stripped it, simplified it, and flattened it to the extreme.

            By wanting to isolate its uniqueness in order to better understand itself, modern poetry has exasperated its own critical dimension.  More “problematic” than ever, it has engaged the trial of its own excess, even harshly questioning some of its oldest attributes: the image, the sentiment, the hope, the celebration… Some of our most lucid contemporaries have tried to show that poetry could be entirely different by distorting its ordinary excesses and dreams without sacrificing any of its relation to the inexpressible, possibly to the extent of reinforcing poetry through the implacable work of stripping the word.

            One could also say that the modern poet never finishes, or that he will continue to force himself to finish: in turning poetry against itself, he tests its resistance.


            As Michel Deguy again once wrote: “Poetry is suspended; today it questions itself from within itself.”  Thus throughout modernity, a mounting tension of philosophical questioning can be found within poetry: the poet questions its sense and purpose in the very poem that at times only exists through these questions.  An example is presented here from an excerpt from Philippe Jaccottet’s WinterLight:

It’s easy to talk, and writing words on the page

doesn’t involve much risk as a general rule:

You might as well be knitting late at night

in a warm room, in a soft, treacherous light.

The words are all written in the same ink,

‘flower’ and ‘fear’ are nearly the same for example,

and I could scrawl ‘blood’ the length of the page

without splashing the paper or hurting

myself at all.[1]


            The spoken reflections of modern poetry do not mean that it has become speculative (which it was during the classical and Romantic periods), but that it is more and more specular : it acts like an optical instrument that favors the internal reflexivity of language.  To carry out the « cleaning of the verbal situation » : Paul Valéry’s famous formula summarizes this demand fairly well.  Whereas philosophy defines concepts, poetry fragments language into objects which renew our understanding of the real, the subject, and language.


            The most obvious reason for the existence of poetry is the simple fact that we are creatures who speak.  Unlike animals, we hold on to the edge of the world by this human word that defines our being.  We are linked and separated, simultaneously immersed in language and confronting it, as curious about what exists as we are troubled by what does not exist.  Because we are speaking creatures pierced by care and desire, a place is created inside us for these strange notions of the ideal, the absolute, the impossible or the eternal…  Poetry exists because articulated language inscribes in us much more than what we can say, or because words are not a simple currency, but instead carry us beyond what we can think or grasp.  It is the preeminent place where our dissatisfaction and contradictions are articulated.  Poetry traces our lines of passage from poem to poem and makes our clumsy and thwarted walk understandable.  It constantly confronts opposing notions, such as real and ideal, cut and link, advance and retreat, search and find, even finding its force in their contradiction.  The poem is the stage where the drama of expression unique to human creatures is realized.  It is here that language is seen struggling.  It is here that the effort of the human creature to find itself in its own unknown is understood.  Recall, for example, the strange opening of Paul Valéry’s La Jeune Parque (The Young Fate) :

Is that the simple wind?  If not, who’s crying

There at this hour alone with furthest diamond?

Who’s there, so near me at the point of crying?[2]


            Far from attaching myself here to an improbable definition of poetry, I have chosen to describe it grappling with the contradictory forces that it puts into play.  Describing what I could call its actions and gestures while observing some of these pairs of notions that insistently reappear under the poets’ pen.  This will be my way, unavoidably limited, of responding to the question, What about poetry

            In the limited time of this conference, I will only deal with three pairs of conflicting and interdependent motifs, presented in the following order: advancing / retreating, searching / finding, cutting / linking.


1.Advancing / Retreating

            Anyone who opens a poetry anthology will unavoidably be confronted by two apparently antagonistic motifs : forward and backward.  On the one hand a celebration of awakening, of departure and moving forward, looking ahead to the future.  On the other, a melancholy twilight, oriented toward the recollection of the past.  At times narrowly combined (as in Victor Hugo’s famous poem « Demain dès l’aube » [“Tomorrow at Dawn”]), these two motifs have a strong structural value: they inform us of the stakes of the lyrical experience.

            These two motifs have been present since the myth of Orpheus, which Western poetry repeatedly returns to and stylizes, recognizing in it something like the tale of its origins.

            After losing Eurydice to the bite of a serpent, Orpheus courageously descends to the Underworld in the hope of bringing her back.  He charms the ferryman with his song, softens the three Judges of the Dead, suspends the punishment of the damned, and finally obtains permission from Hades to bring his wife back among the living.  To this Hades imposes one condition: that Orpheus does not look back until Eurydice has returned under the light of the sun.  Due to guilty impatience, Orpheus does not keep his promise: seeing the light of day, he looks back to assure himself that his companion is following him and loses her forever.  From here on begins his painful wandering, turning him into a tearful singer capable of entertaining the mute lives of trees and wild animals…

            As the myth explains, the song of love arises from loss: In order to bring back to light the lost Object, poetry goes among the shadows and negotiates with them.  It will possibly charm them and come close to defeating them or convincing them… It does not descend to the underworld out of spirit of conquest, but rather out of love, to try to save love…

            Poetry has its origin in a look behind toward death.  Orpheus’ « wandering voice » supports itself against the void.  It belongs to the first great « failure » that founded the lyrical.  Wrung like a thyrse, Orpheus is both memory and prophecy: he creates from a loss.  The inconsolable widower is also a civilizer : a legislator, a philosopher, and an inventor of alphabet, music, and poetry at the same time.  As the first figure of elegiac reflexivity, he transforms his fatal loneliness and hopelessness into offerings for the community of men.  He thus turns loss into gift.  Already in the Underworld, his pain and his song were able to move irresolute shadows: a fleeting community was able to construct itself around his pain.  He turns separation into reconciliation.  He regroups what is disjointed.  He brings back what is lost.  His legend tells a story of words and creatures who flow around a song.  His biological father was a river-god.

            Like Orpheus, the poet at first appears as a man who looks back, Orpheus toward Eurydice, Villon towards “les neiges d’antan” (“the snows of yesteryear”), Du Bellay towards his little Liré, Lamartine towards the voice of Elvira, Baudelaire towards “le vert paradis des amours enfantines” (“the green paradise of childhood loves”), Rimbaud searching for “la petite morte derrière les rosiers” (“the little dead girl behind the rose bush”), Apollinaire on the Rhine, seeing the cherry trees “that froze behind” losing their flowers in “May”, or again exclaiming, “Je me retournerai souvent” (“I will turn back often”)…  Such is the diligent declination of an ubi sunt that feeds the elegiac dimension of writing: “Where are our lovers?”, “What have our friends become?”…  Poetry says “I remember” as well as “Nevermore”…

             What does the poet see, what does he show in turning back?  That which was formerly united: a conjunction, a conjuncture.  He turns back toward unity, as well as toward places or toward a time.  Turning back unites space and time.  It is a work of memory.  This is how the poet proves himself to be, according to Mallarmé’s formula, “le Montreur des choses passées” (“the Projector of things past”), the one who makes Time visible.  His gaze falls on that which is no more, as well as on that which is destined to fade away.

            For Nietzsche, this turning back is also a way to alleviate life:

            Insofar as they want to alleviate the life of men, poets either turn their eyes away from the toilsome present or they procure for the present new colours through a light which they direct upon it from the past.  To be able to do this, they themselves have to be in many respects backward-looking creatures: so that they can be employed as the bridges to quite distant ages and conceptions, to dead or dying religions and cultures.”[3]

            These epochs, these “quite distant conceptions” which Nietzsche speaks of, is what Pascal Quignard calls le jadis, the time past[4].  He points out that the oldest human figurations are retrospections.[5] “Un présent intense est du jadis vivant” (“An intense present is alive because of time past”), he writes.

            The founding act of poetry is certainly nostalgia.  Nostalgia for the recent past, nostalgia for the lost, for the origin, for the impossible.  “Nostalgia,” comes from the Greek word nostos, which means “return.”  As Quignard writes, “le nostos est le fond de l’âme.  La maladie du retour impossible du perdu – la nostalgia – est le premier vice de la pensée, à côté de l’appétence au langage” (“nostos is the foundation of the soul.  The despair arising from the impossible return of what has been lost – nostalgia – is the primary vice of thought, aside from the appetence for language”)[6].  These are very old links that in poetry constantly come undone and then tie themselves back up: the  love song of the mother, a lullaby whose words require breath and flesh, warmth of discourse and lyricism…  It is up to poetry, through its music as well as through its images, to reunite us again with that which has disappeared.

            The poet is not content with evoking the past, watching over it, or commemorating it with nostalgia.  He works it like a living substance, a precious material, mental and verbal:  he reawakens its lost shine, he designs the stage within it, he brings it toward the present, to presence.

            This past is the originator, the founder, which is to say the obscure foundation of the subject’s existence, as well as culture’s buried memory.  Like the Prince’s kiss, writing reveals a happy memory as well as language’s dormant past, dissimulated, for instance, in the etymology of words, the syntactical rule, or in the myths and symbols to which the images correspond…

            But if the past is the originator, then turning back is also starting anew.  Repeating the way in which chaos became tied to the world.  It is reproducing the genesis of the person and his desire, as well as of the still imaginary world in which we live.  And it is revisiting the poem’s reason.  Pursuing the indefinite search within it. 

            “Searching” will thus be my second motif…



2. Searching / Finding


            During the Middle Ages, the poet was called a troubadour or trouvère, which means finder.  The Romantics also made him into a chosen one, an inspired one who received from nature or dreams the same happily “found” words formerly dispensed to him by the Muses.  To surprise and take aback as Baudelaire wished to do, to explore the unknown like Rimbaud, “to leave room for the lucky find” (“laisser la place à la trouvaille”) as Apollinaire claimed, are all motifs that place poetry near the don gratuit, a singular phenomenon of understanding and reception, without a specific cause.  The luck of the find, applying this time to the exterior world, constitutes one of poetry’s favorite subjects: whether it speaks of nature’s awakening, of the sudden appearance of a beloved figure, or of the “found objects” (“objects trouvé”) dear to the Surrealists, poetry privileges the unexpected meeting points, the instants where life’s ordinary trajectories are suddenly crossed by a miracle.

            But if the poet is the finder, he is also the seeker.  Curiously, one of the often-proposed etymologies of the word “rhyme” associates it not only to rhythm but also to the Latin verb “rimare” which means “to search for, to examine with care”. 

            “He goes, he runs, he seeks.  What does he seek?” wrote Baudelaire when discussing “the painter of modern life.”  What does poetry look for if not, as Henri Michaux, to “approach the problem of being”?  In asking questions less concerned with being than with identity and circumstance: “Where are we?” “When are we?”  Such as Baudelaire questioning “the stranger”, Rilke asking in his fifth Eulogy: “Où donc, où est le lieu?” (“Where then, where is the place?”) or Verlaine engaging the soul and heart in dialogue in the seventh “forgotten Ariette” of Romances without words:

            Mon âme dit à mon Coeur: Sais-je

            Moi-même que nous veut ce piège


            D’être presents bien qu’exilés

            Encore que loin en allés?


            (My soul says to my heart: Do I know

            What this trap wants from us


            To be present and exiled,

            As well as long gone?)


Less sing-song than interrogative, less inspired than questioning, modern poetry is a weaving of words in perplexity.  Through the precision of its tricks, it cracks open language onto our ignorance.  The poet is the one who declares from the very heart of language that the world is uncontrollable.  The one who reopens (in its depth) the space that we considered closed.  The one who invites us to continue on our path.  The one who enjoins us to exist, quite simply.  “Que reste-t-il?  Sinon cette façon de poser la question qui se nomme la poésie” (“What else is there?  If not this way to ask questions called poetry”) writes Philippe Jaccottet in Elements of a dream.  He illustrates this motif in a new way in a text in Winter’s Light  entitled “Autres chants”:

            Cherchons plutôt hors de portée, ou par je ne sais quel geste,

            quel bond ou quel oubli qui ne s’appelle plus

            ni “chercher”, ni “trouver”


            (Let us rather search out of our reach, or through some gesture,

            some leap or some forgetfulness no longer called

            “to seek”, nor “to find”)


Thus modernity allows us to witness a radical turning back: the inspired former protégé of the gods has become a perplexed being who guards the question: the one who takes care of the gods’ absence. 

In one of these essays, Heidegger affirms, “To be a poet is to calculate.”[7]  Poetry, as a matter of fact, is a metric language that measures the sites of human “habitation between heaven and earth.”   There the creature measures what belongs to it and compares itself to what exceeds it.  It looks toward the beings and the objects of the nearby world, as well as toward the invisible distance or toward the azure peaks.  The poet’s job is to measure the in-between where the path is familiar as well as perilous and where saying ordinary things about life is as necessary as setting out for the extreme regions where comprehension becomes lost.

The poet’s peril would be to lose (good) sense and to lose himself in the insensible.  To find himself, like Rimbaud, journeying through Hell, the victim of madness…  Because the poet’s path is much different from that of the philosopher.  When the latter decides to retrace the limits of the human condition, he first goes to work methodically unmasking illusions.  When he asks, “What can a man do?”, it is with a defiance of the impossible.  Poetry, on the other hand, remains in contact with illusion, it is written from what perturbs, inspires, mobilizes, and problematizes the subject: sentiment, passion, sensation… Reason is not its master.

Poetry seeks knowledge through inflammation.  It moves toward clarity, but remains faithful to the shadows.  Its purpose is not to point to a direction, nor to lay down boundaries, but rather to know the unsteadiness of our origins.

It definitely seems to me that the play of seeking is none other than the raison d’être.  In its ultimate aim, regardless of its pretext, its point of departure more or less circumstantial, poetry sets out to reevaluate our reasons for being in life (in the living experience).  Keeping the real and the ideal vis-à-vis one another, in confronting on the axis of time what is, what has been, and what may be, in summing the possible and the impossible, poetry values and evaluates our reasons to live.  It falls on the side of value.  Or it leans toward value.

To make life a bit less absurd, here is what one can ask of the poet.  Do not embellish artificially, do not fool us from the truth of things, but rather show us what we are made of and how it plays into our actual dreams and desires.  Explain to us in a word, from the view of the passer-by, the conditions of hope and love.  Tell us when to live and when to die.  Prevent us from losing and sacrificing ourselves to what devours us.  One should expect nothing less from the poet than the entire, naked truth, not abstract or general but concrete and radical, and above all such that we can find within it new reasons for living.

It is up to the poet to establish a space for our complaints and praises: to derive language from value and sentiment.

It is up to the poet to institute the meter’s resistance tonumbers, the measurement’s resistance to speculation, and the human word’s resistance to the noise of technique and trade.

It is up to the poet to show a certain standard (another form of resistance) in what exists as well as of what exists: cohesion and coherence, finally, of a being and of a milieu sustained by its speech.

It is up to the poet to show the links, because through history man has done nothing but create distance and separation.

This motif will constitute the last part of my presentation…


3.Cutting / Linking

Since the nineteenth century, poetry has not ceased to accentuate the effects of cutting.  Christian Prigent ’s title Ecrit au couteau[8] is in many ways emblematic of the modern poetic gesture where critical conscience and separation overtake the inspired and singing word.  Cutting, rather than sewing, will define modernity:

Le fragment, il faut le faire.  Casser, fracturer, fragiliser, tracer l’arête: affaire de décision tranchante de coupures: écrire..[9]

(The fragment should be made.  To break, to fracture, to make fragile, to trace the line: the work of cutting decisions: writing.)

            Present in Orpheline’s severed head since the original fable of Western poetry, the cut is truly inherent in all written poetry.  It directs the syncopated rhythm of poetry.  Poems are neatly cut language objects that could be said to create imagery on the page because they start with the eye.  Unlike the novelist, the poet works with “frequent stops”: he should endlessly renew the beginnings of language and establish new links to the origins.

            Poetry is a fragmented language that cuts prose with the interruption, the segmentation of verses that are like so many more of less broken segments or phrases carried away into a “turn”.  Using heterogeneity, juxtaposition, anacoluthon, and all sorts of short circuits, poetry fights rhetoric and manages to electrify language.  It takes up the scissors and hollows out or exposes hollows, bumps, and lines of force within its figures.

            Made of outbursts, surprises, and intensities, poetic experience imposes a violent scanning on existence, one that is punctured by anger and falls.  It sums up moments, focuses attention on encountered objects, and takes “existing” over fact.  Its epiphanies resemble flagrant offenses.  It spaces out and fractures the repetitive unity of common life.  This is how it designs what Christian Prigent calls “a place of indecision, a space marked by the indetermination of the senses, to show this place (and to affirm that this place is specifically human)”[10]

            Poetry results from the knowledge (however deaf, confused, or obscure…) that man has of his broken nature.  Accordingly, it drives language up to its point of rupture.  It knocks into silence, or stands out in it.  Quite close to silencing itself.  Threatened in delirium to make its last “squeak”: “I don’t know how to speak anymore” exclaimed Arthur Rimbaud.

            Perhaps the most touching poems are the ones where a voice on the verge of breaking is heard.  A language breaking or composed of breaks: “My glass was shattered in a burst of laughter” (“Mon verre brisé dans un éclat de rire”) wrote Apollinaire.

            However, as segmented as it may be, poetry is still the work of spinning.  The poet is really a rival of the three Fates of antique mythology: He spins out destiny in language, he measures it and cuts it.  Like Penelope, he ceaselessly weaves and unweaves his fabric…

            The capacity to discern, establish, multiply, and reveal connections lies at the heart of poetic creation.  Images arise from these connections.  This is how Pierre Reverdy defined the poet’s aptitude:

            Sa faculté majeure est de discerner, dans les choses, des rapports justes mais non évidents qui, dans un rapprochement violent, seront susceptibles de produire, par un accord imprévu, une émotion que le spectacles des choses elles-mêmes serait incapable de nous donner.[11]

            (His main ability is to discern, in things,  connections that are true but not obvious, that in a violent conjunction would be likely to produce, through an unseen agreement, an emotion that the spectacles of the things themselves would be incapable of giving us.)

            He talks about producing a second emotion, about aesthetic nature, the sense of connection itself, and nature’s renewed vision as well as its unexpected extension: in this new phrasing, the real appears both larger and narrower, more extended and more coherent.  It’s an answer to the wear and tear of daily life: to the monotony of repetition, to the servitude of fatality.

            More narrowly than any other literary object, the poem hatches its motifs at the mercy of sound and sense, in woven metaphors, assonances, alliterations, at the mercy of interruptions and repetitions that cause the turning of verse.  In doing so, it weaves onto the page a kind of dark cloth, similar to a spider’s web, whose holes and blanks are as important as the lines.  A number of unforeseen travelers are caught in this fabric of verses strangely knit together, much like in the trap woven by an insect: for the things of the world, the poem’s fabric is a threat, as much as it is a final resting place…

            To define his work, the poet Jacques Dupin , in Échancré, uses the metaphor of the silkworm.  Writing is “a work of manducation and insatiable metamorphosis that operates and can only be accomplished in solitude, obscurity, silence (…).”  In silk verse, as in words, he recognizes the capacity to corrode the world “in order to give birth to an imponderable and turbulent mouthful of thread”, this involuntary bulimia that leads to eating the page in order to unwind the thread, to swallowing pieces of paper just for “the sharpness of the line of silk”.  Writing consists of extracting from oneself a “muddle of traces”, a “cloud of fibers” that defy the very reason that the writer must undertake to follow, without submitting to the “obsession of the catch”, in accepting to stay within the undecidable.  Of course, the writer repeats the Fate’s ancient gesture on the page, but this time he unwinds a flimsy thread whose extreme fragility he knows only too well.  Dedicated to deprivation, to disappearance and to effacement, for a few pages he rules over an absurd empire of waste: like the worm clinging to its leaf, he fabricates a translucent beginning of beauty.  And if he occasionally writes in verse, it is because his life is hanging on by this one thread.  His own face does not exist: he denies it, stamps on it, and consumes it: it diffracts, becomes frayed and loses itself.  This is the modern type of “subject” that Roland Barthes wrote about in “The Pleasure of the Text”, one that unwinds in writing like “a spider that dissolves in the constitutive secretions of its own web” (“une araignée qui se dissoudrait elle-même dans les sécrétions constitutives de sa toile”).

            As much as the outside, its circumstances, its aims and its passer-bys, the darkest and most intimate of subjects also become caught in the web.  In weaving and cutting language, the poet creates a rhythm where his voice will be recognized, like a secret signature of his identity.

            Poetic writing works from strange psychic stakes, open to the regressive as well as to the future, renouncing links through its system of repetitions as well as accentuating the expression of cuts.

            In his “Apologie du poète”, Pierre Jean Jouve compares it to a state of agglutination:

            “La Poésie est une penseé – un état psychique – d’agglutination; c’est-à-dire que des tendances, des images, des échos de souvenir vague, des nostalgise, des espérances, y apparaissent en même temps et comme collés ensemble, provenant de hauteurs tout à fait différentes.”[12]

            (“Poetry is a thought – a psychic state – of agglutination: which means that tendencies, images, echoes of vague memories, nostalgias, and hopes belong to it simultaneously and as if they were stuck together, coming from completely different heights.”)

            The poetic combines the distinct and the indistinct, determination (accentuation, underlining, borders) with a prolonged hesitation.  It seems that poetry works to reestablish or establish distinction from the very heart of the indistinct.  It recaptures the ipse in the idem, the singular in the identical.  But the poet is above all the one that enters and moves about in the indistinct, indeed the one that most directly confronts intimate confusion: no clarity opens itself up for the poet without his submitting to illusion first. 

            To write poetically consists of sewing the black threads onto the white page, as well as unstitching with sense, nonsense, the real, the fanciful…. And of forcing to mend our holes, our separations, and our wounds.  Ceaselessly picking up and mending a seam that comes undone.  Repeating indefinitely the act of our birth.  It is going back to the world as well as strengthening the tie to the mother tongue.  Forcing itself to reenter, to return to itself.  Sometimes turning against itself: going and coming, midway between birth and disappearance, in the in-between that is ours.

            Writing is advancing on a thread, a fine thread of voice, in the double ignorance of origin and end.  It is expressing and questioning life between the two unknowns that border it.  It is naming with precision the present, such that it will ignore what preceded it and what will follow.

            It is well-known that poets favor transitional places and moments: borders that  separate and link at the same time.  What borders, defines, but can also open onto the limitless, like a beach.  Poetry is a border of language that faces overflow.  It sees our life bordered in black by death.  Life in the dark light of death, “dark drop” at the bottom of the ink-well.  To us it is infinitely precious, and thus must be taken from us.  Window of day between two nights.  “Between earth and myself I find death”, wrote André Chénier.

            If one day I should come upon a definition of poet or poetry, it will be much like a mosaic: made of joined pieces, of different colors and forms, but with touching sides.  And if I should assemble the fragmentary propositions that constitute it around a central motif, it will certainly be the question of our destiny.

            Gladly, I will define the poet as someone awakening in time, more attentive than anyone else to what happens and changes, and curious to know what lies in the passage of time, which for him is never an impure milieu, but a sensible space where every form of life is precious and threatened.  In mobilizing all the resources of language, the poet brings to life that which is absent: what does not exist, or what time carries away, or is no more, or will never be.

            If sadness prevails in poems, if the pure expression of joy becomes a rarity, it is because poetry seizes everything in the passage of time.  It has nothing to do with ideas or concepts.  For poetry, presence is all the more alive because it is continually disappearing.  A poem is a bridge laid across time: all the reflections that can be seen underneath it belong to its flow.  Poet: the one who cannot be consoled from dying by anything or anyone, and the one who is led by his awareness of disappearance to feverishly seize language in order to fix that which is disappearing, as well as to speed à tombeau ouvert through the paths of time.





[1] Jaccottet, Philippe.  Selected Poems.  N.C.: Wake Forest University Press, 1988.

[2] Valéry, Paul.  La Jeune Parque.  Translated by Alistair Elliot.  Newscastle: Bloodaxe Books, 1997.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Human, all too human.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

[4] Pascal, Quignard, Sur le jadis, ed. Grasset, 2002.

[5] Id., p. 107

[6] Abîmes, p. 44.

[7] “L’homme habit en poète”, Essais et conferences, coll. Tel, p. 235.

[8] Published in the P.O.L. editions in 1993.

[9] Michel Deguy , L’Impair, Farrago ed., 2000, p. 57.

[10] Christian Prigent , À quoi bon encore des poètes?, ed. P.O.L., 1996, p. 39.

[11] Cette emotion appelée poésie, op. cit., p. 57.

[12] Apologie du poète, Ed. Le temps qu’il fait, p. 9.