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Monday, February 18, 2008

Uncertain Clouds, Cloudy Tomorrows

Incisions, blastings, rock drills.

From David Kennedy’s ‘La Charraira Longea’, from The Devil’s Bookshop:

Where my steps inquire into
your quartzed tarmac tilt
and my eyes follow,
the world’s abating inconclusively

into a dried, pressed frog, a rusting hinge,
a bucket with a hole in it,
scythe blades, file blades, without hilts,
and an axe head propped against a wall,

things forgetting their own names,
returning to the mineral.

The title refers, in the Gascon dialect of Aranais, to a road cut into the side of a cliff. I am reminded of David Kennedy by Trevor Joyce, and of John Cage and Raymond Queneau by both.

The Devil’s Bookshop ends with a sequence of mesostical, hither-thither-and-yon poems which I won’t even attempt to reproduce in blogger.

There’s always a ‘go to guy’ for matters foreign in these parts: Stephen Romer for France, Michael Hofmann for Germany, Jamie McKendrick for Italy… but The Devil’s Bookshop is one of the most Francophile and Franco-saturated books I’ve read in a while. Would you rather bouquiner or boucaner? A French second-hand bookshop has a motto that sometimes reads ‘J’aime mieux bouquiner que boucaner’, sometimes ‘J’aime mieux boucaner que bouquiner’:

‘Bouquiner’ means ‘to browse old books’ but is also common parlance for ‘to read’ while ‘boucaner’ is common parlance for ‘to barbecue’ which is a modern variant of its original meaning ‘to smoke’ or ‘to cure’ meat. So the old devil’s motto could have meant simply either ‘I would rather cook on a fire than leaf through a quire’ or ‘I would rather have my nose in a book than hang meat on a hook.’

{Quotation ends}

And speaking of Queneau, Carcanet have just brought out his Elementary Morality in Philip Terry’s translation, 131 ‘quennets’ and prose poems generated by the hexagrams of the I Ching. The three columns he uses in those quennets also evades my best efforts to reproduce them here, but here too there is much talk of paths and pathways:

The erratic blocks
strews across the plain
are sighing sighing
severed from the chain
A scampering mouse
his troubles on his back
doesn’t know where he’s going

Uncertain clouds
Cloudy tomorrows

(Quotation ends}

I know DK quite well, I confess. He lives in Sheffield, and has always come in handy for explaining words in Arctic Monkeys songs and getting my coffee after lunch. Now he goes and writes a book like that. Does his usefulness know no end?

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