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Interview with Yves Bonnefoy


Excellent interview. His thinking on poetics very attractive to me, far more productive than what one tends to find generally in America.

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Tere
Dec/26/2011, 3:39 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Interview with Yves Bonnefoy


If for no other reason because of this:

INTERVIEWER

Let us move on to poetic form. In an essay on translation you have written that free verse is the only form capable of expressing what you wish to write, and that the old formal prosody is no longer viable. Unfortunately, while free verse has liberated certain poetic geniuses from metric constraints, it has also opened the floodgates to a great deal of nonsense, even charlatanism. Don’t you still feel that some formal discipline is necessary?

BONNEFOY

I discussed the problem of free verse in the context of traditional French prosody. It is true that today regular meter is no longer practicable. This is doubtless because the French language does not have stressed syllables, so that our prosody is based on the number of syllables. This means that our regular meters are conventional forms, whose raison d’être was to allow poets to demonstrate a certain unity of thought, of feeling. This unity has now disappeared from society, since religion no longer controls people’s minds. Regular verse disappeared around the time when Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead.” Valéry was perhaps the only great poet to use it in the twentieth century. In France, we look at it as an anachronism. Yet we haven’t lost anything, for on the one hand no one had waited for liberation from the constraints of prosody to write bad poetry; on the other hand free verse is not the rejection of prosodic laws, indeed the reverse! These laws have always existed, and real poets have always obeyed them. What characterized regular prosody was the obligation to submit to certain conventional rules that in no way enhanced our capacity of listening to those more profound laws. In fact, rhymes, alliterations, assonances, all the materials of poetic form can be employed today as they were before—perhaps even better. I completely agree with you that poetry is also a formal use of language. Indeed, only form allows us to hear the tone of the words, and it is precisely because verse is sonorous reality that words in it are no longer subject to the sole authority of conceptual thought. This enables us to perceive reality otherwise than through language. Form in poetry silences the conceptual meaning of words; it is therefore the condition of the direct gaze upon the world.

Tere

Dec/26/2011, 3:45 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Interview with Yves Bonnefoy


And this:

INTERVIEWER

Do you think that poetry today has become too opaque, too incomprehensible?

BONNEFOY

There have always been obscure, hermetic poets—Nerval, Maurice Scève, even Dante—as well as others whose obscurity is hidden beneath a clear surface. People have always questioned the texts of even the most easily read poets—Homer and Virgil—in order to discover, through allegory, perhaps, their hidden meanings.

On the other hand the obscurity of a contemporary poet is not necessarily a defect that one would need to discard; in certain cases it is a matter of consciousness about what poetic discourse is in a society like ours. You see, in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, in Europe until the French Revolution, there was a body of beliefs, of religious representation, rituals, and moral values that were accepted by everyone. This allowed poets to refer to them and be understood without having to explain their thoughts in a didactic fashion, that is against the natural, spontaneous movement of poetic writing. Since the eighteenth century this system of references, this unity of thought, has been dismantled. John Donne had already had the premonition that henceforth there would be as many worldviews as there are individuals. When one wants to be profoundly oneself, which is the case in a poem, one puts oneself on a plane that is at least partly incommunicable to others. It is better to accept this than to pretend otherwise.

For example I have used the word safre, which means sandstone in the idiom of a particular region of southern France that is unknown to nearly all my readers, but which is part of a very important moment in my life. This is a way of recalling that when writing one is not trying to explain the meaning of one’s own words to oneself.

Having said that, the very function of poetry is to be as universal as possible, and that demands that we rectify, simplify, enlarge our lived experience, so that our words have properties that make them on the whole comprehensible and lived anew—the reader must understand that what is obscure in the poem proves that words should not be reduced to a game of concepts, which in turn would engender ideology, death. It is not a question of understanding a poem concept by concept, for that would mean tearing it away from its basis, which is not thought but experience.

When at sixteen I first read certain poems of Rimbaud and Pierre Jean Jouve, I understood nothing. Yet I was completely won over, held. I relived those words, and thanks to them learned to think and to live differently, more intensely; it was as if a light shone through them. I regained my trust in words.

You may object to certain poems whose obscurity you think covers a void of experience. Well, they will be forgotten!

Tere

(read especially the paragraph that leads him to his thoughts on ideology)
Dec/26/2011, 3:54 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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