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Monday, 3 August 2009

To Reverdy


When I close your book I can hear it breathing

For a second or two

And the feeling puts my life under a shadow for days

Who Passed? by raworth.

I have traveled... But truly, I never had any idea of trying to make use of these vague displacements. The true adventurer is the one who invents his adventures.,, I don't make up romantic images. I once wrote—the only adventure, the one which lasts, namely life, for heaven's sake, the secret inexpressible life, life at its simplest even, this burning life of a prisoner with his two eyes always ardently fixed on the blind. Have you noticed the phrase—I no longer know in which poem—"we will never escape the fate of being prisoners." It's things like that which people should find in what I've written and comment on. I know it's not easy and would take a lot of time. Have you also noticed that in speaking of a man, in trying to get inside the real drama, you would have to be able to say what goes on inside him at night, for instance, when with the lights out he's there alone between the sheets. That is to say—nothing, the greatest wordless despair, in that nothingness of life as soon as you sound it yourself without using witnesses.

from Letter to Jean Rousselot: Pierre Reverdy, 1951 (from Jubilat 3, translated by Peter Boyle)

File:Shadow Person.jpg

Shadow of the human: photo by Thapthim, 2005

Who passed?: photo by Tom Raworth, 2009

Shadow person: photo by Ordale, 2009


xileinparadise said...

What is it about those French guys back at that edge of the century that is still so new, still so original? Did we forget? Were we not paying attention? Did we ever know? Reading Sky by Cendrars now. Same thing, unique. A shadow, as large as life.

Anonymous said...

Loved the image of the book, breathing...

TC said...


Yes, the image of the book, breathing... sometimes a certain book may seem a presence in the room, like a person. As you know, there aren't many books of that kind.


Yes, those are some long shadows... unforgettable, at least for me. (And forgetting is currently my forte, I am a veritable virtuoso of memory loss.)

The longterm memories are the ones that remain. Cendrars' voice I will never forget, rough, gravelly, a voice of great humour and experience of life's adventure--living in the Alpes-Maritimes in August 1966, alone in a stone cottage on a mountainside, I heard a French radio broadcast interview with him wafting in one night on the mistral. Wonderful. Moravagine in the French clothbound canary yellow edition was in that period probably my leading nominee for greatest book of all time.

Reverdy has a strange way of making all other poets, including his imitators--a pack in which I've been numbered, doubtless holding up the rear--seem like children. The gravity, the mystery, the flinty obduracy of the phrases scattered on the page. The singleminded purposeful deletion of "all textual vestige of the person", as someone smart (Roger Cardinal) once put it. The solitude, the eventlessness, the dense obscure immediacies weighing like stones, the quiet voice of someone invisible, a no one who yet could be no one else... a riddle to us his readers and it seems also to those who knew him. In an obit his friend the poet Aragon said "I'm not going to try to measure this loss, I already knew that nothing about this man was fathomable."

I began my worship from afar shortly after his death. In 1963 The Paris Review shared an office storage area with Mercure de France, permitting me to spend whole nights reading through their archives. They'd lately done a Reverdy tribute issue. In it another of his friends, Stanislas Fumet, drew this picture of Reverdy as a young man, the physical person:

Il portait une casquette de jockey, à la manière des sportifs. Il était large, pas très grand, râblé, ses cheveux étaient d'un noir luisant et ses yeux, a l'éclat de houiille, avec un étincelle de passion sarrazine, auraient pu être ceux d'Othello. On remarquait la netteté éblouissante de son col de chemise, qui le distinguait de la race des poêtes.

xileinparadise said...

Not to belabor the Cendrars connection, but as 4 year old sitting on the counter of my grandmother's grocery store in a French Canada that now only exists as a memory, Cendrars' twin or his cousin, or as they used to say 'un type', an old tramp who came by occasionally for a handout and for my benefit and amusement would roll a nickel across his knuckles and then stick the lighted end of his cigarette into his mouth and make smoke come out of his nose and ears. Everytime I see a picture of Cendrars, the bulbous nose, the dangling cigarette, the jaunty angle of the hat, that old gent, that old memory, fresh as if it were yesterday, comes to mind. So I had to go find my old NRF edition of PR's Plupart du temps and came across

Sur le seuil personne
Ou ton ombre
Un souvenir qui resterait


The poets of that era have had an enduring influence on how we write.

TC said...


Perhaps it was Cendrars himself, in search of further adventure.


And re. Route:
PR then says/asks:

Qu'y a-t-il derrière
Un mur
des voix

He often creates the impression that something is being said just beyond earshot, beyond the wall, in the next room:

On parle
Et je peux écouter

Mon sort était en jeu dans le pièce à côté


Our futures are always being discussed in the next room, everything is in play, we just can't make it out.

PR manages to put his finger on the unnameable, feelings we recognize but have never known how to articulate. Wondrous.

TC said...

And speaking of unfathomable mysteries, RP enquires backchannel:

"And how to fathom Reverdy's long liaison with Coco Chanel?"

Zephirine said...

Hm, well, perhaps they both saw their art as 'the elimination of the unnecessary' (Picasso's definition, I believe)...

Chanel's early designs were seen as avant-garde and quite shocking, of course, things like using jersey fabric which till then had been only used for underwear.

TC said...


'Tis bruited that in the biopic Audrey Tautou will be Coco, and in my clouded glass I can just about make out Rowan Atkinson as Reverdy.