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This edition boasts excellent prose translations of the poems by Graham Dunstan Martin. These may be insufficient for the non-French speaker, but the problem with translations that try to catch the spirit of the original rather than the detail, such as Ron Padgett's translations of Blaise Cendrars, is that necessary omissions can lead to dilution and distortion. So, I suppose, this book is best recommended for those, like myself, who have a smidgeon of mediocre French, and can compare their own efforts against Martin's grammatically correct translations.
His introduction is refreshingly free of jargon, and with great simplicity, he details LaForgue's tragically early life, his intellectual precusors, his cultural milieu, his themes and his methods. LaForgue's poetic skill often has to transcend the essential banality of his philosophy, and Martin's discussion of LaForgue's pervasive irony seems to suggest that his work is often about nothing at all if every comment, even if it's 'ironic' is ironically cancelled out by irony (oh yes).
The first selection of which I've just read is largely juvenelia entitled 'The Grief Of the Earth'. Martin warns of the young LaForgue's vulnerablility to Hugo's influence, based on considerable rhetorical bombast, and these poems aren't free of railing against God, the weather, 'ordinary' people, the world, the Unconscious.
But even this early in his oeuvre, LaForgue shows remarkable brilliance. He uses conventional forms, such as the sonnet or lyric, but rends their frames with the exciting violence of his vocabulary, the unnerving juxtapositional clashes he achieves. His poems often start out as one thing, offering a certain set of emotions, which, through irony, and exagerration, become something totally different, more disturbing. The 'Lament of the Notre-Dame organist' is a case in point. The hero begins grieving movingly for his dying lover, but he gets so carried away by his grand sentiments, that he thinks her already dead, and savours the lashing he'll give to the Almighty, and the eternal doleful Bach fugues he'll play. A pitiable, Romantic, lover has become something much more modern and disturbing.
It's not all violence though. There is a lovely debate between a clown and Jesus over the paradox of free-will and God's omniscience; a strange lament by lonely Parisians for the superficial, but gay and alive, high society that has abandoned them during winter; a danse macabre by a grotesque infant whose mother calls him beyond the grave; and a mellow, despairing tribute to poetry, cigarettes and dreams as escapes from the living death that is our existence. I can't wait to try LaForgue's more mature work.
LaForgue is most notable as the forerunner of Pound and Eliot, and there are startling similarities between his work and Prufrock and Other Poems, namely the persona adopted, the grappling with and alienation in modernity, the perverse wistfulness, the scalpel-clear language, and the violent non-conventional juxtapositions of images and metaphors.
Dunstan Martin gives an accessible, thorough, jargon-free introduction to LaForgue's tragically brief life, his cultural context, his themes and his methods. Sometimes his connections are a little simplistic, and his defence of LaForgue's 'irony' seems to self-cancel everything he wrote, but generally the introduction is a model of clarity.
I have just read LaForgue's early work, 'Le Sanglot De La Terre' (the grief of the earth). Martin warns that much of this juvenelia is negatively influenced by the bombastic rhetoric of Victor Hugo, and there's a lot of chestthumping, browbeating and wailing at Fate, the skies, the Unconscious etc.
There are, also, however, some remarkable things. The poems themselves are fairly conventional formally, sonnets, lyrics, ballads etc., but LaForgue reefs them to bursting point with the violence of his language, the startling imagery, and the mocking exageration. One masterpiece is a lament by a church organist for his dying lover; so carried away does he get by his grief, that he thinks of her as already dead, and talks about how he is going to spectacularly rail against the heavens, and play eternal Bach fugues for the rest of his life. What had been a moving and despairing elegy becomes something much more complex and troubling in the emotions it provokes.
The variety of his subject matter is remarkable, and not always so aggressive. There is a lovely poem framing a debate between a street clown and Jesus over free will and God's omniscience, which the latter fudges; and a childlike lyric of heartbreaking, melancholic, wistful beauty about, perversely, the dreariness of Paris in the Winter when the bright, gay social world moves to the country. This is so good for juvenelia I cannot wait to move on to his more mature work.
However, whenever Martin decides what LeForgue's theme is, or whenever he does something a little gauche, he negates with irony. If everything LeForgue says is ironical, even the irony, than he's not really saying anything, is he? Better is his analysis of LeForgue's immense influence on modern poetry, especially on Pound and Eliot. His sensibly chosen examples show how indebted Prufrock and Other Poems was to LaForgue, in the persona developed, the language used, and the startling, non-conventional effects of clashing images and metaphors.
I have just read LaForgue's first works, Le Sanglot De La Terre (the grief of the earth). This is essentially his juvenelia, and Martin warns of his indebtedness to Hugo, his youthful pomposity and arrogance. This may be true, but if you're used to timid English poetry, even adolescent stuff like this is astonishing. LaForgue is most famous for developing the first French free verse style, but in these poems he adopts conventional forms. However, these burst with such violence, his words are barely containable ravages at decorum, his daring is so wildly out of proportion that one cannot fail to be excited.
Some of these poems are extraordinary. In one a church organist laments his dying lover. So carried away is he with his sorrow that he dreams already of her death and the immense grieving he is going to offer. In another he extols the escapist pleasures of narcotics as an antidote to the living death that is life. There are wailings against God, the elements, fate, the Unconscious. One lovely poem frames a debate between Jesus and a clown over free will and God's omniscience, with the former fudging the matter.
But there are also quieter, more gently melancholic poems, such as the lament of the Parisian poor for the gay bright aristocracy, whose winter absence makes the city seem desolate, and yet whose transformative power is also a kind of death. These are so good I cannot wait to try LaForgue's more mature work.
The kind of life we have in this world could be completely different in another reality. If we let ourselves believe this idea it makes us more accepting of the fact that life deals hard knocks to some people while others, perhaps undeservedley, prosper. A superstar in this reality could be a complete nobody in another. Everything rests on vital decisions.
After a nuclear war in 1998, 21st century Scotland is one of the few places in the world where human beings still exist. (Tasmania is another, apparently.) In this society it has become customary for people walking outdoors to wear radiation suits, not to protect them from fallout (the suits are ineffective for this purpose), but to hide whatever deformities they may have. The number of birth defects is high, as is the suicide rate. Like most stories set after the holocaust, life is not as enjoyable as it used to be.
This scenario serves as a backdrop for the story itself. After a close shave with death, Peter Gilchrist becomes something of a messiah figure after he founds a new cult based on the belief in alternative realities. This is partly inspired by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1793). We know that in our reality Mozart died in 1791. Gilchrist's teachings amount to the idea that we don't have to be held responsible for our actions. This has some rather disturbing consequences.
The alternative reality is an interesting angle for a post-holocaust book. This is a neat way of preventing "Time-Slip" from being a Cold War relic. For all we know, the Earth could have been devastated in another dimension. Perhaps civilization was destroyed in October 1962 and 2003 is now the equivalent of medieval times. On the other hand, maybe Mars is already colonised. The concept of alternative realities makes us consider how lucky (or unlucky) we are.
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