What are we concerned with? What are we really attached to? Are we entitled to reject the contamination of the impermanent and to withdraw into the stronghold of speech, like the king in Poe’s tale, far from the plague-stricken land? Or did we love the lost object for its own sake, and do we want at all costs to recover it? (Bonnefoy, The act and the place of poetry. 102)There is something interesting and powerful about an orchestrated series of poems – the kind of sequence or grouping that sets up conversations between the constituent parts, and where a common stock of images and verbal effects complement and reinforce each other. The frame of a sequence is really a loose kind of house, a dramatic space and a series of interconnected rooms, and those connections are important. It means the different parts can speak to each other and it also means there can be an accumulation of image and mood over the duration of the series.
For some poets, this working by accumulation and accretion is their default mode. These are poets of the architectonic imagination, the great organisers, deployers, orchestrators whose works have strong conceptual frameworks and who think very much in terms of the suite, the sequence, the series, the book.
Yves Bonnefoy has always been this kind of poet, as I was reminded when I found myself reading ‘La maison natale’ from his 2001 collection Les planches courbes. The book is available in a dual language edition (Bonnefoy, The Curved Planks ) with translations by Hoyt Rogers, but the English translations I first read were John Naughton’s, which are available on the Poetry International website. Both are fine translations. I have been reading Bonnefoy on and off for many years, and again, as often happens when I encounter the work, I was immediately gripped by the force of the poems, and by the way they deploy an obsessive imagery of memory and loss where the real and the dreamed are fused to disturbing effect. What follows is an attempt to report on this particular encounter with Bonnefoy, and to try to register, however inadequately, some of his characteristic concerns and effects, something of what makes him one our of era’s unforgettable poets.
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