Will Stone reviews ‘Clarities’

Clarities, by Blandine Longre
Black Herald Press, 30 september 2010
120×160 – 48 pages – 8 euros
ISBN  978-2-919582-00-6

Order the book / Commander l’ouvrage

To read excerpts / pour lire des extraits 

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Blandine Longre is a distinguished French translator of English texts, but here in her first collection Clarities, she has turned to poetry. But interestingly and crucially, Longre has not chosen to write in her native tongue, but in the English language, which therefore is one thing, but not the only thing that makes this poetry significant and worthy of English scrutiny. How many of our native English poets of either sex can even begin to attempt to hold a conversation in a foreign language, let alone write poetry? A handful at best. Of course Rilke famously wrote some four hundred poems in French, but none of them are considered to be amongst his most revered and celebrated works. But Rilke was a spectacular exception, a manifest aberration lodged in an impossible to locate space between objectivity and inwardness, whose true nature has still not been properly established, despite the prodigious amount of secondary literature devoted to him.

Clarities

For most poets there is no recourse but to launch forth in the language they first mewled as, armed with their embryonic calling, they exited the womb. But Longre has other ideas. She rejects French as the vehicle for her unconscious linguistically screened utterances and produces a collection of poems of extraordinary imposition and depth in the Anglophone. She is as Anne Sylvie Homassel suggests, ‘A gifted intruder into a language which is not her own…’ Furthermore these poems seem to owe little to modern English poets, but take their cue rather from the likes of John Donne, a reverence for whom Longre makes no secret of. She includes at the opening a quote which is perhaps most prescient in terms of her own poetic. ‘For his art did express a quintessence, even from nothingness…’ On the rear of the book there are two blurbs, one from Paul Stubbs who states ‘Her ‘subject’ is only the incontrovertible will to spew forth the chippings of a language not yet fully realised…’ Yes and we might well say the same about him! (see above). But what Stubbs means in his mechanical shredder metaphor, is that Longre takes the neat and complete language bricks as they are offloaded at Calais and deliberately smashes them, then reconstructs them to make another kind of brick which will better advance her own personal structure. Instead of following documented paths in the construction of this language, she has it work hard for its expressive credentials, goading it to make it perform in ways it could never imagine, to make it perform with authenticity for her alone. Words end up trussed, bound together and thrown mercilessly into the sea of the page. Sink or swim instructs the poet. ‘Notimeness’, ‘clock-mauled’ ‘steel-etched’ ‘oughts-to-be’ and the wonderful ‘twitchy-thorny’, are all thrown over the side. Either they adapt or die. In this sudden and treacherous struggle for survival, a new language forces its way through the shell to the initial distrust of the page and a metaphysical breakthrough of a kind is achieved.

Longre does not want to express herself with someone else’s borrowed voice or appear on the stage of her feelings dressed in hand me down clothes. Therefore she always makes and dons her own haunting attire. ‘I am a field, a realm and a route / an expanse of everdark crops / awoken and unadorned and brambled / yet hardly maimed by the too still rivulets of reality…’ From ‘Avoiding the Blackest Eye of Might’. Longre seeks to transmogrify the ardours and ecstasies of the flesh into language. Within this ambition is attendant pain, loss and a grim awareness of the scraps of transcendence that may be gathered in, despite relationship implosion. In ‘Épouvante’, ironically a poem titled in French, she writes the morbidly majestic and almost phantasmagorical line, ‘Wreck-born snakes refusing to embrace their wet doom…’ and later in the same poem the uncanny ‘Aside a vertigo, the secret pledge of their cluttered selves: / built on an acridity of presages and their own / bisecting truth – horrendous.’ What is one to make of this? The inevitable response to Longre’s poetry from a UK audience would be that it is ‘difficult’ and ‘hermetic’, or that it is ‘surreal’, ‘chaotic’, ‘confusing’, ‘delirious’ etc. But this shuffling of the dreary pack of suspicion should be music to Longre’s ears, because it is wholly predictable and perhaps necessary. These are all traditional knee-jerk protective mechanisms that the island nation employs to quickly face its pointed stakes out to anything that may cause it to lose equilibrium.

Longre’s poetry, if it was allowed entry, would be a French fox with Anglo-Saxon teeth, let loose in an English henhouse. Confusion and panic must ensue when lines like ‘Alien to its own words (meaning-gouged, spewed out, led astray) / a gorgoned mouth turns its clammy / stares beyond my charred eyeballs, / at the flying dampness of / those medean tears of mine.’ peer hungrily around the door. But the power here is not so much in the horror soaked central section which almost shreds itself to vacancy in the combines of inner rage, but in the indefinable beauty of the last line ‘at the flying dampness of / those medean tears of mine’ which seems to soften and slow like a brake in its alliteration and rhythm the harsh imagery that precedes it. There is something lurking within this seemingly brazen poetry, which is tender and precious, like an injured bird you kept in a cardboard box that you hide from others and desperately hope will not die. Though there are influences of Sexton and Plath here and these poems could be said to be aligned to a woman’s pain and toil endured by the blundering machinations of the opposite sex, these poems are more about a wider broken trust, the disintegration of promises and aspirations, which could apply to anyone. Therefore they are for everyone. So it is to be hoped that these white hot poems, which resist, with good reason, categorisation or critical platitude, will find readers who can appreciate their unorthodoxy and existential agility. Or will the Anglophone reader once again revert to type and hold the foreigner at the turnpike for deigning to ‘re-speak’ their hallowed language? Perhaps Longre herself has glimpsed a possible future in that regard in the acerbic ‘heroism’ of the poem ‘Shame-faced’.

Will Stone, first published in Agenda, Vol 46 No 3 (April 2012)

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Other reviews 

Clarities, excerpts

Extraits en ligne / Excerpts online

fr.calameo.com/read/00047091510158c522b9c

Bookshop, Paris

The Black Herald (issues 1 & 2), Clarities & Ex Nihilo are available in the Village Voice Bookshop

6 rue Princesse, 75006 Paris

Heffers, Cambridge

EX NIHILO CLARITIES in Heffers, Trinity Street, Cambridge, UK (August 2011)

The Vortex of being

The Vortex of being’: Paul Stubbs writes about Clarities.

“If we were to search for influences in the work of Blandine Longre then we might well re-open Donne’s door, unlock the flesh and bone shackles of his ‘hold’ on all vertiginous and physical writing. Closer in unique spirit would be the Modernist poet Mina Loy and the ‘oneness’ of the vision of Else Lasker-Schüler, and certainly when Loy writes that ‘self is the covered entrance to Infinity’ it is hard not to think of the work here, for certainly the poetry of Longre is as ‘modern’ and ‘ancient’ as Loy’s writing was; gender is incurable by poetry alone, and these poems give only the flimsiest utterance to an identity based on what Loy once described as the ‘Increate’ world before human existence. “

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The Unleashment

The Unleashment: a review of  Clarities (Blandine Longre) & Ex Nihilo (Paul Stubbs) by Andrew O’Donnell in The Fiend magazine

“There is a great optimistic verve to the poem, here, in that there are certain mental terrains conjured that I don’t think we have seen anywhere else, meaning; in as much as a semblance of narrative is retained, and a tradition implied (perhaps something more resolutely Francophile/European… particularly in Stubbs’s using Valery in his introduction) Ex Nihilo seems simply to be creating its own rules, its own concerns, its own self and selves, and is unlike anything in British poetry right now.”

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(Photo: Romain verger)

Libraire éphémère, décembre 2010

Our books in La Halle Saint Pierre, Paris, dec 2010/january 2011

http://loeildor.free.fr/librairie-ephemere.html

 

 

Clarities

copyright : Celina Osuna.

‘Love’s not so pure and abstract as they use[d] to say’

A review of Clarities, by Nigel Parke

“The uniqueness that is Blandine Longre’s in this collection of poems is twofold, in my opinion. Firstly, she has identified a domain: the powerful complexity of instincts and vicissitudes, and their processes and their drives. Secondly, she has found a language and a form for their expression. It involves neologism, courageous experiment and a fierce intelligence to have kept such a sustained control. There is an immanence of the object in her writing which is entirely compelling.

Blandine Longre invites us to share an intensity of seeing, comprehending, reading the other and beyond: responding to the judgment call and interpreting the momentous subtlety of the moment. She has constituted an art of the matter of seeing: seeing in a most intimate and shockingly dynamic way. The irreducible integrity of the image that Pound once envisaged is herein extant. Clarities is an astonishing debut. Blandine Longre has unleashed a new, vital, metaphysical animal upon an unsuspecting public. Be warned!”

Read the full review

Twins

Oh Welcome Complexity

A review of Blandine Longre’s CLARITIES by Paul Sutton, for Stride Magazine.

“The usual point of reference for this sort of corporeal (and feminised) writing would be Plath, especially since she is quoted in the introduction. But the effect, especially above, is more reminiscent of Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’, This is interesting, because English is a second language for Longre, yet clearly the poems were (well) written in our great language – sorry for that vulgarity. (…) There’s an Ashbery quote, about French being too clear and logical a language for some of the nuanced tonal effects achievable in English. Yet look at what Celine, Genet or Artaud achieved, poetically. Indeed, look at the best poems in this collection. Although written in English, they have the unmistakable clarity and relentless logic of the best French writing.” – Paul Sutton

Read the full review

Clarities, now available

Clarities
poems, Blandine Longre

Black Herald Press, September 2010
120×160 – 48 pages – 8 euros
ISBN  978-2-919582-00-6

Order the book / Commander l’ouvrage

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