Books | Poems | News | About


Sunday Review: Waterloo by JT Welsch

posted by the Judge

Sunday review, fellas!! And the reason Napoleon is so angry, is that this review is about Waterloo (but the one by JT Welsch, so I guess that’s ok). The review was written by Anthony Adler, who makes a happy return to our virtual pages.

Even though when I hear of Waterloo I always think about this particularly inspirational speech by a luminary of Telecom.

Have a great Sunday!

Approaching International Poetry in 21st Century England; Part Two

written by the Judge

The second part of our article wishes to discuss the practical aspects of engaging with international poetry. It is dedicated to those who entertain an aspiration to do so. Readers uninterested in putting in the (considerable) work required to branch out of their own poetic culture are welcome to discard it, and should be aware that this article does not wish to pressure anyone into such a study. There is no moral or cultural obligation to read poetry from other countries, any more than there is to read poetry itself. It is not mandatory towards becoming a good poet or a good critic, even though it is indispensable if one wishes to take part in the European discourse that is coming to permeate the rest of the continent (and which is leaving England behind). For the rest, the benefits of approaching international poetry are your own to discover as well as to dismiss, and they can only be termed benefits as long as they are understood as a choice, and not a requirement.

We mentioned the ‘considerable work’ that is necessary to approach international poetry. This is almost entirely related to the process of learning the foreign language of your choice. The challenge involved in finding and researching the poetry is negligible; when approaching a new poetic culture, you will invariably find that selections of local verse have already been made for you, and good material is never too hard to put your hands on, provided that you can access the foreign country you are studying (yes, you do have to go there in person – most of the contemporary material has yet to be translated, and much of it never will be).

Learning the foreign language, however, is the sine qua non of all international poetry. Bilingualism is required even when reading translations into your mother tongue – you must have an understanding of how another language allows for forms of expression that are not possible in English. Lacking this fundamental prerequisite, even finding books in translation does not help, and will never take you past a certain superficial stage.

Thus, engaging with ‘international poetry’ should really be understood as engaging with only one foreign culture. You may expand that number to two or three, but in prospect, as you can only really learn one language at a time. Any use of the expression ‘international poetry’ that is not grounded in this dualistic exchange, and that wishes instead to discuss a global (or otherwise polycultural) scene as a whole, is a fiction by default. Distant poetic cultures do not interact with each other except after centuries, and sometimes not even then (the most potent proof being that literary titans such as Camoens, Mickiewicz or Tasso may remain not only unread but frequently even unknown – not by the common folk, but by the poetry pundits themselves!). And there is no such thing as a global poetry expert – to gain a working knowledge of what is going on even in one continent is a colossal task, one made all the more endless by the fact that smaller countries do not necessarily have correspondingly modest poetic outputs at all (Nicaragua, for example, has a tremendously vital scene which rivals that of other, larger Hispanic countries).

The only reasonable way to approach international poetry, then, is to choose one foreign culture (and language) of special interest and stick with it. This does not mean that you will forever be limited to your initial choice, but it is the only way to start.

Since you can only begin with one language / culture, your choice has to be carefully meditated. Countries very far away will be very difficult but also exotic and fresh, and to people around you, you will become an authority almost by default. Closer cultures and languages will be easier, and you will have many peers: this means greater competition if you wish to use your multilingual skills in criticism or publication, but also greater opportunities for sharing and communicating. Some of them open up new doors. Fluency in Spanish gives access to the entire South American continent bar Brazil, Russian is a popular second language in many Eastern European nations, and French is spoken in Canada, Africa and parts of South East Asia.

Learning a foreign language is a strange prospect. When polyglots are faced with the need of learning a new tongue, they generally approach it with excitement, and their initial progress can be very fast. People who only speak one language, by contrast, often find the whole idea dispiriting, and are slow to get into it. In reality, it is just as hard (or as easy) for both groups. People who already speak multiple languages are only more familiar with the process of learning, and they know that obstacles which initially appear insurmountable (and illusions about one’s own inability or lack of talent) require no more than a little time to be dealt with.

Learning a foreign language does not require exceptional intelligence, and it should be an option available to anyone smart enough to read this article. It does, however, demand strong commitment and patience. Like learning to play a musical instrument, it is a task that takes several years, and in which perfection can never be attained. It is almost impossible to learn only with books, so be prepared to take periodical trips to your country of choice. This is where the European Union becomes helpful. A return flight to a European capital will cost you less than one hundred pounds, with no need for visas; such a trip can be taken several times a year, over weekends if necessary. Flying to Asian, African or American countries will be priced from five-hundred to more than a thousand pounds, and the bureaucracy can be demanding and limiting. Along with the difficulties inherent in exotic languages, one understands why there are so few people who can speak Lingala or Bali.

Tackling foreign poetry means tackling the entire culture that produces it. You are unlikely to understand a poem that references a Bollicao if you don’t know what that is. This is why personal trips to the chosen country are so important, and this is also where learning a foreign language will truly reward you. Of course being able to read Dante and Baudelaire in the original is very nice, but the most surprising material is normally that which does not get translated. Finding out that a country has an entire comics culture that you knew nothing about, or a colourful underground rap scene, or a completely different approach to sports journalism – that’s when the language discloses itself to you, and really shows its benefits. Hopefully, poetry will help you on this path. You may learn a language in order to read poetry, but past a certain level the relation becomes reciprocal, and poetry in turn starts teaching you the language, adding new words to your vocabulary, new turns of phrase to your repertoire, and a new musicality to your cultural ear.

Engagement with international poetry, like engagement with poetry itself, is necessarily proactive. You must go to it, it won’t come to you. This is one of the reasons why lamenting the absence of more translations into English misses the point – no matter how many translations there are, you won’t really get much out of foreign poetry if your viewpoint remains anglocentric; if it remains rooted in the idea that things must go towards English, and not you past that bridge. Changing this perspective may be one of the most difficult things to do, especially for poets born in a culture that neither demands nor encourages learning a foreign language. But it can reward you by opening many doors you did not even know were there, and by giving access – better, perhaps, than anything else – to the particular and fascinating European multi-cultural discourse that defines this continent’s historical moment. Make your own decision as to whether that’s worth the price of admission.

Approaching International Poetry in 21st Century England; Part One.

written by the Judge

International poetry is a difficult topic. It is the specialised branch of a specialised branch: since there are few people reading poetry, it follows logically that only a very select few will read poetry from multiple countries as well. Linguistic barriers are among the most challenging to surmount, and the fact that England has one of the least polyglot cultures in Europe does not exactly help. The first part of this article wishes to discuss some of the characteristics of the current international (and especially European) poetry scene when seen from the English perspective. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or final article on the topic, only an introduction to some of the issues and problems that surround it. The second part will discuss the question of how to approach international poetry in practice.

The political reality of our continent, to the extent that both alliances and rivalries are now mediated by a common regulating body, has in the last half-century increasingly come to be defined by the European Union. Linguistically, we have therefore seen the rise of English as the union’s official language – and this is a matter of great consequence for scholars of poetry. Previous centuries saw intellectuals learning a foreign tongue primarily (though of course not exclusively) for two reasons: so as to be educated in the language of the dominant power, or else for an historical purpose. The former case is well exemplified by the French language, which was learnt and employed between the 18th and 19th Centuries by the English Romantics, by the great Russian novelists and by an assortment of literary figures (Giacomo Casanova, for example) on account of the political and cultural influence held by France. As for the second purpose that we mentioned, it refers to the popularity held by Latin and Greek in the continent’s educational curricula (at certain points, Italian joined that group as well, as the language that gave access to the great medieval authors).

Both these registers have fallen away. The language of the dominant power is now American English, and the popularity of dead languages – even among the educated – has been largely replaced by an unprecedented interest in the living languages of our neighbours. Our relationship with international poetry is now defined – even if unwittingly, unwillingly or indirectly – by our engagement with and our understanding of a collective European culture (the political expression of which is the European Union). Reading Dutch poetry, for example, is the process of interpreting how its points of convergence and divergence with your own country’s poetry reflect the way your two cultures communicate in the context of the larger political union. This is not a conscious decision, any more than reading French poetry was once necessarily intended to be a response to France’s political power. It is simply the international scenario that one is most likely to be confronted with when reaching outside of one’s own country, regardless of whether one subsequently chooses to embrace or resist it.

The European cultural register also defines our relationship with poetry from outside the continent. We understand a Korean poet or poem’s foreignness not so much to our specific country, but to European culture as a whole – even if it makes no sense to speak of this ‘culture’ as something unified. This is not as paradoxical as it may sound, because European culture in the sense that we are talking about it here is not unified, but unifying. If you are indeed able to read Dutch poetry, this will almost certainly be related to how this cultural union has connected you. (Our argument admits to several exceptions, especially when it comes to ex-colonies. The relationship of English readers to Indian literature, or that of French readers to Algerian literature, has its own special status).

In the current geopolitical context, one of the great victims has been English culture – and, by extension, English poetry. The rise of English as the ‘common tongue’ of the continent has excluded the British population from the surge of enthusiasm for multilingual studies which has filled the rest of the European soil with polyglots. The stupidity of English officials – who have seen this process happening for decades and have done nothing about it, even welcoming it as a blessing or a privilege – is mirrored by the stupidity of foreign European officials. A common continental lament may take a similar form: if the English tongue becomes dominant, then in a thousand years nobody will be able to read the books or listen to the songs that we are writing now, much like nobody can read some of the Gaelic or Celtic or ancient Hispanic inscriptions in caves dating from before the Roman (and Latin) invasion.

The oversight here is that languages do not have a half-life of a thousand years – they change spontaneously and ineluctably and become new systems of their own, in a process that is only bound to accelerate in the coming age. Since this mutability is the very source of beauty in language, there is no reason to lament it. And if you really are worried about how your poetry will be understood in 3012 (good luck to you, by the way), then rest assured – it will become illegible well before then, regardless of what language you are writing it in.

As for the present situation, almost every young educated person in non-anglophone Europe is at least bilingual, and sometimes much more than that. This means that Europeans born outside of England have more job opportunities and more academic outlets; they can travel to more countries, with all the openings for new learning and experience that that entails; they have access to more literature, music, art, journalism, criticism, ideas, as well as an instant advantage in anything related to politics, diplomacy, trade or tourism. The irony in all of this is that the ones who should be promoting anglocentrism are all non-English speaking countries, while the only ones fighting against it should be the countries in the UK. Instead it is the other way round!

British poets are but one of the categories damaged by this development. Their burden is not only that a much greater workload is required to gain access to foreign poetry – for learning a foreign language becomes an enterprise, rather than a given – but the fact that they mature and develop into a culture unaware of its own anglocentrism. Scholars and poets desiring to branch outside the confines of their own country usually find themselves funnelled towards American poetry, and this inevitably leads to a sort of provincialism. As importantly, it blinds one to the realities of the European discourse as we have sketched it in this article. The common thread that runs across the various European nations, and which defines this moment of our cultural history, is distinctly weaker and harder to perceive here in England. And if this does not seem like a big deal, remember that missing out on a cultural shift is always your own loss. The Renaissance did not stop by for Russia. Classical music did not wait for the Americans. The mutual cultural integration of the European Union is not going to wait for English literature, unless English poets themselves go out and engage with it.

And this, of course, leads us to the next part of the argument: how do we approach international poetry? The second part of our article will be dedicated to the practicalities around this question. To be published as next week’s feature, still here on

Sunday Review: Rachael Boast’s Sidereal

posted by the Judge

Man, I’ve been looking forward to this Sunday. Some weeks of work can take it out of you.

Finally, though, the time has come to lay back and relax with a cup of coffee and a poetry review. This week Judi Sutherland takes on no less than the winner of the 2011 Forward Prize for Best First Collection, that being Rachael Boast for her work in Sidereal. Find the review here and see what Judi thought about it.

Enjoy your Sunday – I know I will!

Emerging Foreign Poets #4: Linda Maria Baros

written by the Judge

Writing about poetry, it’s pretty hard to get travel expenses covered. Obviously it doesn’t help when the poet you’d like to meet lives not in another city but in another country, and seen how I’m job-hunting at the time of writing this, my appreciation of Linda Maria Baros will have to be written from home, sitting in my flat in Shadwell, with a glass of Coke fizzing next to me.

That I should have opened the article with such a perambulatory reflection reveals, I think, that I am somewhat troubled in introducing this week’s poet. Maybe I should start with the kind of stuff you can find out just by Googling her. To be sure, then, Baros is a Romanian-born, Paris-based poet writing in French, thirty-one years old, currently one of the most successful (and discussed) young voices to have attained prominence in the competitive French scene. Her mixed cultural background may sound exotic upon first impact, but it is not at all unusual, especially not in the present age, and not in Europe – she is, in fact, a typical example of a translocal poet.

What makes her tough to figure out is her poetry. Baros has no qualms in representing extreme social deprivation, painting vignettes about homeless people or prostitutes (from this point of view, I suspect her experience in Bucharest may have come to bear on her writing more than her years in Paris). She also does not refrain from using visceral, disturbing imagery which could be taken straight from a splatter movie; titles like ‘The high-schoolers rip birds out of their rectum’ or ‘If the lintel beheads you, that’s a bad sign’ should begin to give an idea.

Unpalatable as the imagery may be, it is executed with superb technical confidence, and one understands why she is already famous at a relatively tender age. In ‘The children that passed through the sifter’, my favourite of the poems I’ve read by her, she writes a long monologue addressed to an unnamed second person. ‘It is for you,’ she writes, ‘that I have split my heart in two, / like a lamb’s hoof’. She goes on to list the many things she did ‘for you’ in a sequence of images that are as suggestive as they are bleak:

I stole and lied, I spat blood.

I washed dead bodies
and I slept on plastic bags
filled with waste from the garbage skips
in streets that always have
a knife at hand I slept,
amid the shells of the city’s old beggars
who, in your honour, have let their beards
grow to the ankles,
like the ancient Sumerians
off to hunt lions for their loved ones.

The closing lines bring us back to the trope of the heart with a simile that is nothing short of extraordinary:

Yes, it is for you that I have forcefully come into this world
like a wave of blood
that no longer finds its path to the heart.

The source expression is actually subtler than I am able to translate – the original for ‘forcefully come into’ is ‘entrée en force’, which has a formal, professional sense I could not retain in English (it is what you say for instance of a contract as it becomes formally effective – the date of the ‘entrée en force’ is…). But of course it also sounds like ‘entering forcefully’, which in context has connotations of birth and rape simultaneously. The image, and indeed the entire triplet as it works towards the super-charged trope of the ‘heart’, is powerful and deeply layered.

So why do I say that Baros is ‘tough to figure out’? Well, it is only that I do not understand where all of this horror comes from. As far as I can tell from the bio snippets that I could find on the net, she is an academic poet of the type that we so commonly find in France, with a PhD and a great deal of work in the field of translation. Even if we take her imagery to be a form of engagement with the realities of social deprivation (an agenda we would commend), it is so gritty and deliberately shocking, so uncompromisingly violent, that one feels there is more at work than simply denunciation. Where is all this gore pouring out from?

And that’s why I wish Jon and Kirsten could cover my flights (business class if you’re reading, fellas). Baros is a very interesting poet, but I have the impression I’m not getting the full story, and I might not be able to until I can meet her in person. In the meantime, those of you who can, and who are not too squeamish to enjoy this type of verse, definitely check her out. Salt has done me the favour of providing some translations, so you can do that even without speaking French. I promise you, she leaves a scar.

Call for Writers

posted by the Judge

Like most other poetry webzines, Dr Fulminare’s Irregular Features is run on a non-profit, voluntary basis by its staff and depends on the passion of its reviewers to provide the high standards of articles it is committed to deliver. Thus, our call for writers is ongoing: if you are interested in publishing reviews or feature articles on contemporary poetry of any kind, then we want to hear from you.

Though we are not able to pay you for your writing, we are happy to provide review copies; if there are any collections you are particularly keen on reviewing, we will do our best to get you a free copy of that. What kind of writers are we looking for? A university background in the humanities is appreciated, but we are also happy to interact with thinkers from outside the academic institutions or with experience in different fields, especially if they are able to refer to their experience to provide an unorthodox or fresh perspective on poetry. Undergraduate students are welcome to apply, but should be aware that a considerable work of revision will likely be requested of their drafts, and some may be turned down altogether. Our purpose is to develop a consistent critical voice, meaning that, while we will consider pitches for one-off reviews or articles, we are mostly looking for long-term writers who are willing to embark on a project with us and become part of our regular staff. In exchange, we can offer a readership which includes many of the prominent artists, editors, critics and publishers working in British poetry today, and of course free poetry books.

We have specific standards for both our reviews and feature articles. We will be expecting a critical approach that questions rather than simply promotes the values inherent in both the poetry being analysed, and the (sub)culture of poetry in general. Our writers can expect – especially for the first few articles – a work of exchange and revision in partnership with our editor to ensure that the site’s standards are met and that its ideological mission is being respected.

If you think the Drfulminare project is something you would like to be part of, and if you believe you know your poetry, then send a line to our reviews editor at Briefly state who you are and what you do, and attach a sample of your critical writing (either a review, a feature or an academic essay – no creative writing, please).

We’ll get back to you.

The editors.

Sunday Review: Howie Good’s Cryptic Endearments

posted by the Judge

Ah, Sunday, Sunday, the day when football teams clash everywhere else in Europe, when offices stay thankfully closed, and when Dr Fulminare puts up his latest review.

This week Ian Chung is looking at Howie Good‘s collection, Cryptic Endearments, which throws in elements of journalism, linguistics and hurtful aggression. Is the cocktail successful? Find out in the review.

Have a great Sunday!

Emerging Foreign Poets #3: Manuel Del Barrio Donaire

written by the Judge

Published almost exactly a year ago in Spain, Alguien que sea yo (‘Someone who may be me’) is Manuel del Barrio Donaire’s second collection, and one of the most enjoyable poetry books I’ve read in a good while. It is a short little thing, made up of some seventy pages, counting thirty-two poems. The style and the vocabulary are generally quite simple, so it can be read in the space of a couple of days.

AQSY is utterly contemporary poetry, not only in the sense that it distances itself from the more classical formats of the lyric, but also in that it displays not the slightest preoccupation with its own sense of permanence. It brims with references to brands, titles and objects that will be out of fashion, even quaint, in the space of a couple of decades.

The starting point for this collection is the assumption that our identity is shaped by our objects of consumption. This allows Donaire to explore the way that said identity ends up being sucked into the language of economic exchange that characterises those objects. As he puts it very plainly in Dime un insecto en una planta, ‘You are what you have, / you are what surrounds you at a distance of less than 3 metres, / the dog you take for a walk, / that jar you purchased because it looks good on the table, / an iron ring on the pinky, a flowery dress, / the softener you put in the washing machine, / I mean it, / you’re an Orbit packet of chewing-gums.’ The final image stresses at once identity (in the brand name), and the simultaneity of the visceral and the artificial in the process of chewing gum.

These concerns are not particularly original in and of themselves, but they are taken in some very interesting new directions later in the collection. Most impressive and intriguing is the way that Donaire places the character of the poet on the same plane as that of other fashionable personas defined by their items of exchange. Far from being a neutral, invisible onlooker, or even a salvational intermediary, as it is sometimes treated in other self-reflexive verse, the ‘poet’ here is simply another slogan one can wear. This is something that has been attempted by other contemporary poets (including British ones), but in my experience it always trips on the same problem – the poet’s attempt at satire always end up betraying his/her own sense of self-importance. Donaire’s work is, I think, more genuinely self-ironic. One of his poems describes a Spanish bar which I would have no trouble recognising in any other European country, since it is described as ‘a refuge for young intellectuals / like me, / everyone sits at their marble tables / drinking coffee, whiskys, martinis with vodka, / everyone’s there with their laptops, / their Moleskine notebooks, / with volumes, papers, cellulose, pens and Stabilo Boss highlighters / to underline notes, / paragraphs from the Decameron, / everyone with eyes half-closed writing something important, / something new, the great novel of our generation.’ (El Pepe Botella, por ejemplo).

What makes this criticism especially memorable is the sense of humour and lightness with which it is carried through. Our own Sam Riviere makes some similar points to Donaire (the two artists are in fact surprisingly alike – not least in that both their collections were initially serialised in blogs), but his outlook comes across as grey and disenchanted. AQSY is different in that there is not the slightest trace of cynicism, anger or bitterness. I am normally wary of poets who write about poetry (I know, I know – it’s a contentious claim), as I like verse that branches out of its own discourse rather than falling back inside it, but this is an outstanding exception. Donaire’s treatment of the subject fully succeeds in being satirical rather than mythical, and it is never lost on its own irony.

The satire of the poet crosses over with the other supporting theme in this collection – the tension between a sense of social and individual responsibility which is nonetheless shaped by our artificial identity, and the desire to just lay back and enjoy oneself, again, however, by falling into commercial signs of exchange (like laying back on the couch, smoking and playing with a Playstation). The two drives contaminate each other as the poet sometimes ends up on the couch, writing poetry on his Macbook Air or his G4 ibook, uncertain as to whether he is doing something worthwhile or just acting like it. The poem Sábado, which I have translated at the end of this article, exemplifies I hope both this tension and the lightness of mood with which it is presented.

AQSY is a short collection not particularly broad in its scope or ambitions, but all the more credit-worthy for that. It makes its point with a punch and does not outstay its welcome. In contrast to other exponents of the (rather remarkable) panorama of young Spanish poetry, Donaire never shoots for linguistic prowess or aulic metaphors. His poems sound like everyday speech and are always very easy to follow. In the space of a few days of the reader’s time he makes an original and memorable statement and provides him/her with a new outlook on the topics he chooses to treat, and in this writer’s opinion that’s exactly what a modern poetry collection should do.


I spend Saturday evening on the Playstation
watching Lost In Translation for the fourth or fifth time
while I think that I should quit the bullshit
and write
I’m not entirely sure what
but write something,
a poem, anything to update my blog
so I won’t feel guilty tonight when I go out
and I step in amid the young
and I drink some beers
and women look at me as they would any other without knowing that I
don’t waste my time watching football or formula one because I’m
a writer goddamitt and if I want to fuck them
it’s not for the sake of fucking
but so I can write about it
and so I can be someone in life
and so I can look back

Emerging Foreign Poets #2: Louise Dupré

written by the Judge.

Poetry in French, when it is not from France, tends to receive little attention. The preponderance of the ‘real’ French intellectual culture may have a natural way of eclipsing those around them, in particular their numerous historical colonies in Africa, Asia and Canada. The latter represents an interesting case-study – we are so used to thinking that literature in English is mostly produced outside of England (just like literature in Spanish is mostly produced outside of Spain), that Anglophone Canadian writers have often replicated their success internationally. Names such as those of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje or Alice Munro are familiar to high-school students all over Europe. On the other hand, how many Francophone Canadian writers can you name? They are so under-represented, in fact, that I think it’s worth bending the rules a little bit for this entry in our series. Though ‘emerging’ is not necessarily a synonym for ‘young’, I expect it may crease a few brows to learn that today’s poet was born in 1949.

After picking up Louise Dupré’s most recent poetry book Plus Haut Que Les Flammes (Higher than the Flames), winner of the Grand Prix Quebecor du Festival International de Poésie 2011, I have been given a taste of what her rather obscure literary world can produce. It certainly made for an interesting introduction. The book is not a collection but a single long poem, just topping one hundred pages, divided in four parts. At the heart of it are a woman’s meditations as she puts her baby to sleep, torn between the anguish and violence of past history on one side, and the sense of hope simultaneously afforded and demanded by the child on the other. It is a surprisingly readable text, partly because the choice of form is such a natural free-fall: each section is composed of a single long sentence drawing on and on, with every brief stanza (usually two or three lines) connected by endless conjunctions. An example will give a better idea of what it reads like, so I’ve included a small extract from Part III, of my own translation, at the bottom of this article.

Dupré’s book makes for a fresh reading experience from the start. There is a certain apprehension that she may just mess it all up when she first references Auschwitz, but the theme and question of concentration camps comes up periodically in her poem, and eventually becomes one of the book’s central motifs. It is handled remarkably well. The first of the book’s four parts makes it a point of counterpoising the (hi)story of Auschwitz to the fairy tales that she tells her child – two issues that are in turn reflected in the child’s double nature as something extremely lovely and extremely fragile. The central conflict in both cases seems to be that between an unacceptable history and an indispensable future.

As the mother puts the child to sleep in part two, and then wakes to console the child from a nightmare, we follow the poet into a more careful construction of what we may call an ideology of the future (or should I say a deconstruction? It is hard to tell whether we are dealing with an architect or with a subtle arsonist here). For brevity, we may refer to such an ideology of the future simply as ‘the Dream,’ though this is not a term used by Dupré herself, especially not in relation to the ever-too-wakeful mother. Her argument is led to a solid and interesting conclusion: that the Dream, and the sentiment of hope for the child, are necessary for the mother, and not for the child him/herself. Without this concern for the Other, she herself cannot withstand the burden of history. At the very least, she cannot make sense of it, as her memory remains ‘a white frame over a white background / a terrifyingly abstract painting.’

Part III comprises a series of meditations on the concept of pain, with emphasis on the salvational ‘caress’ of the child. There are some gorgeous metaphors in this section, though one is left wondering how Dupré will close such an ambitious and momentous discussion on the relationship between motherhood and history. Unfortunately, the ending is the only bit that is somewhat disappointing. Dupré speaks of the ‘dance’ as the way of salvation, the method by which we redeem our present from past and future history. Obviously the dance is a metaphor, standing in for a type of performative gesture, an active rather than passive way of engaging with our history. That poetry should be an example of what the ‘dance’ represents is suggested with a certain sleight of hand. The first three sections all open by discussing some mysterious ‘poem’ coming to the mother from within, and the fourth begins with the lines, ‘And you want to learn / how to dance / on the calcinated rope / of words.’ In conclusion, then, Dupré responds to the problem of history by means of a salvational aestheticism.

In my opinion this paradigm is hollow. Aesthetical answers do not satisfy ethical questions, as the first historical precedent of the Book of Job exampled as far back as three-thousand years ago. Moreover, it misses the point that Auschwitz, culturally speaking, represents precisely an attack on the precondition of the aesthetic – something so brutal and intolerable that you cannot write poetry (or ‘dance’) anymore. In the words of Primo Levi (who in turn was paraphrasing Adorno), ‘[a]fter Auschwitz there can be no more poetry, unless on Auschwitz.’ That Dupré should demonstrate little or no awareness of this historical impasse is an important shortcoming for someone who wishes to bring the problem of the holocaust into her meditations.

I don’t want to overstress this type of weakness in PHQF because it’s a very common one in contemporary poetry – like many of her peers, Dupré can point to the problem with great lucidity, but she is less able when it comes to showing us a solution.

All that said, and aside from the final let-down, the execution on the whole is very strong. The idea of projecting the timeless historical problem through the mother-son relationship gives it a visceral and original representation, and the choice (and use) of form is brilliant. I cannot speak for the rest of Quebecois poetry, but this little volume is certainly one worth hunting down.

Plus Haut Que Les Flammes, extract from Part III.

no story, no face

your memory is a frame
white on white background

a terrifyingly abstract

a regret
that you scratch with the end of the nail

down to the blood
of words

because words also leave
fragments under
the skin

when the finger touches
the deadwood
of language

and the ghosts that sleep there […]

Find out who our Emerging Foreign Poet #3 is next Wednesday.

Sunday Review: Idra Novey’s Exit, Civilian

posted by the Judge

This Sunday, Rowyda Amin reviews Exit, Civilian, by Idra Novey, selected for the National Poetry Series in the US of A. You can find the review here. An entire collection dedicated to the American prison system – you don’t get poetry much more socially engaged than this.

Have a great Sunday!


contact [a]

Sidekick Books Site assembled by Jon.
Wordpress TwentySixteen theme used to power the news and books sections.