Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reading travels: From France post WWII to feminism in New England

Jacques Pérvert's "Paroles" was meant to speak to the French youth coming out of age under the German occupation. But the message carries the same significance over time and speaks for us, today and our times as well.

The title "Paroles" could be translated as words as well as passwords, notes Ferlinghetti the English translator for the bilingual edition. But what he does not mention is that "paroles" is used more often to signify flying, lying words, unlike "mots" which is the more general term for words. A title worth of the French poet whose skillful word game poems were made to be written on table cloths, who attacks the lies of the politicians and the superfluity of social convention under the disguise of playfulness and with the mastery of fine irony. This is why I chose the bilingual edition, which I would recommend to any English reader which has some knowledge of the French language. This way you can enjoy the original and also, in the case that you cannot decipher it, rely on the English translation as well which does a pretty good job retrieving it.

How actual is the verse in Paroles? After all you are not french, and WWII was a long time ago. One post below I mentioned the socially rooted belief that it is o.k. to sacrifice the weaklings for the sake of progress, which is seen as advancing , going forward…And there is this fragment from Pérvert, Le Controleur (the ticket controller, or the conductor)

"Allons allons/Pressons/Allons allons/Voyons pressons/Il y a trop de voyageurs/Trop de voyageurs/Pressons pressons/Il y a en a qui fait la queue/Il y en a partout/Beaucoup/Le long du débarcadère /Ou bien dans les couloirs de ventre de leur mère/Allons allons pressons/Pressons sur la gâchette/Il faut bien que tout le monde vivre/Alors tuez-vous un peu"[1]

Drifting in time and space, I land back within the geography of North America with Adrienne's Rich "The Dream of a Common Language: Poems ,1974-1977". Touted as a feminist manifesto it was chosen among the top twenty titles at the Feminist Book Festival.

It is not a feminist icon that I imagined when reading "The Dream…", but a woman , a friend I never got the chance to meet but who took the time to sit and write to me in simple, unpretentious yet elegant words:"…and I have fears that you will cease to be /before your pen has glean'd your teeming brain//for you are not a suicide/but no one calls this murder/small mouths , needy, suck you. This is love."

A single mother speaking to other single mothers: I understand you, I feel for you, I fear for you….A woman speaking to women. For me "The Dream..." has crossed the threshold between reading as virtuosity , in order to expand my culture and educate my taste, and reading because it's personal...

[1]Let's go let's go/Step on it/Let's go let's go/Com'on step up/ There are too many travelers/ Way too many/Let's hurry step on it/There are all those ones waiting in line/All over the place/Lots/ Along the dock/Or in the corridors of their mother's womb/Let's go let's go step on it/Step on the trigger/ Everybody's got to live/So kill-yourselves a bit/"(translation mine)


Paul said...

Two fantastic poets whose work is undeniably active and political.

kiersty said...

A lot of writing that is touted as feminist is merely a natural personal story of what it is to be a woman and the word feminist has been so abused that it shuts many minds off to it from the start. It's such a shame.

I admire your broad mind and your ability to speak so eloquently about the things that inspire you.

Ana said...

thanks for reminding me about Prevert
I agree -the mere concept beyond feminism is so overused that we may have to find a word to replace it. As for Adrienne Rich, I read about her as a bout a feminist-but honestly I have little knowledge about her ideological writings. I enjoyed reading the woman-poet though...

rallentanda said...

I haven't read Prevert since I was a student but I have his poems and now I will reread them.Thanks for
the reminder.

Julie said...

Excellent review. Yes, both are highly recommended. I felt the same way when I read Rich's book. You make a great point. Sometimes, we tend to turn poets and writers into icons and don't think about them as people who have the same human struggles we do.

Ana said...

Same here -I did enjoy re-reading it.

I know:)