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Openwork: Poetry and Prose (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Openwork: Poetry and Prose (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
André du Bouchet
Yale University Press, 2014
368 pp., $26.00

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Micah Mattix


“I Wandered Around This Glow”

When a poem is “too clear, you see nothing.”

All literary works are fragments of a kind. However complex the plot, deep the characters, nuanced the feelings, or multifarious the images, possibilities remain unmentioned, details uninvented, feelings muted, and angles unexplored. The satisfaction that even great novels or poems provide is a momentary fullness. There is always more to be said or felt, and it is in this sense that no work is ever complete.

But not all works are fragmentary. Some—mostly from the 20th and 21st centuries—are full of gaps, disconnected phrases, clashing images, and shifts in situation and tone. Others are not. The connection between images and events is clear. We may think of the former as "postmodern" texts—poems or novels that undermine coherence as an attack on meaning—but this lumps very different works into a single, rather useless category. Not all fragmentation means the same thing. Sometimes it is used to say less, but sometimes more.

One poet who uses it to say more is André du Bouchet (1924-2001), an under-recognized poet's poet in his native France who is almost entirely unknown in English despite living and studying in America for eight years. In Openwork, a selection of du Bouchet's poetry and notebooks from across his career published in Yale's wonderful Margellos series, du Bouchet is preoccupied with reality. For him, we see but don't see the world and ourselves. "The profound coherence," he writes, "of certain superficial, ill-assorted images" can blind us to the particularities of a tree, stone, or blade of grass. The task of the poet is to bring us face-to-face, however momentarily, with these objects by "flay[ing] the senses." This is not an attack on the order of things but an attempt to see through it to creation's complexity. When a poem is "too clear," du Bouchet writes, "you see nothing."

Born in Paris in 1924 to a medical doctor of Russian-Jewish ...

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