Clarities, by Blandine Longre
Black Herald Press, 30 september 2010
120×160 – 48 pages – 8 euros
By the same author : Cosmographia & other poems (May 2015)
The poems of Blandine Longre are born of the unpredeterminable music of the guttural, and therefore are a single utterance; there is no superficial or syntactical ‘effect’, only the larynx and the palate and the tongue in a concentrated and word-perfect symphony. Her ‘subject’ is only the incontrovertible will to spew forth the chippings of a language not yet fully realized. Donne meets Artaud, and the result is the voice of a poet daring to vacate the skull, the heart and mind, in order that we might actually hear the ‘blood’ sing. The voice of a born original in language, ‘her’ language, creating a new kind of metaphysical pitch to replumb the ‘self’.
A gifted intruder into a language which is not her own, Blandine Longre has achieved with Claritiesthe much sought-after — and too rare — transmutation of flesh into words. Dipping into them, disassembling them, painting each syllable with pain and wonder, she reinvents and explores a whole body of language —making it eventually hers.
“Clarities is like a box of rare, dark jewels – each weighing in the hand and projecting an aura of strange light that deforms the shadows… They leave the reader breathless and wanting to drown some more. Absolutely stunning.”
“Clarities plays with language with a kind of dark jouissance reminiscent of Joyce and Loy, but with its body-games danced firmly in the here-and-now.”
“There’s an Ashbery quote, about French being too clear and logical a language for some of the nuanced tonal effects achievable in English. Yet look at what Celine, Genet or Artaud achieved, poetically. Indeed, look at the best poems in this collection. Although written in English, they have the unmistakable clarity and relentless logic of the best French writing.” Paul Sutton (Stride magazine, October 2010)
“Blandine Longre invites us to share an intensity of seeing, comprehending, reading the other and beyond: responding to the judgment call and interpreting the momentous subtlety of the moment. She has constituted an art of the matter of seeing: seeing in a most intimate and shockingly dynamic way. The irreducible integrity of the image that Pound once envisaged is herein extant. Clarities is an astonishing debut. Blandine Longre has unleashed a new, vital, metaphysical animal upon an unsuspecting public. Be warned!” Nigel Parke (November 2010)
“Formally we have something akin to Elizabethan sonnets blown to smithereens and re-arranged by a combination of an Apollinaire, a William Carlos Williams and a Charles Olson. Longre’s lines slither and slurp across the page, others speed and jump proto-iambically… (…) …the form creates its own sonic imperatives and bustles along its way in mixtures of half-rhyme, no-rhyme, vowel echoes, assonances and airs. Again, what impresses is the directness that is maintained despite the wordly acrobatics, the intention still present in each thrust and burst of language.” Andrew O’Donnell (The Fiend, March 2011)
Un article (en français)
par Sabine Huyhn (Terres de Femmes, mars 2015)
by Will Stone (Agenda, April 2012)
by Lisa Thatcher (April 2011 )
The Vortex of Being
by Paul Stubbs (March 2011)
Read the review here
by Andrew O’Donnell (March 2011)
Read the review in The Fiend
“Love’s not so pure and abstract as they used to say”
by Nigel Parke (November 2010)
An epigraph from Sylvia Plath (Love Letter) stands at the gate of Blandine Longre’s aptly named collection of poems, Clarities: ‘I knew you at once./ Tree and stone glittered, without shadows’. This defamiliarised moment of clarity, this epiphany, is suspended like a beacon over Longre’s remarkable writing of diverse epiphanic experience. These poems are coming out of the chasm of experiential, momentous exchange – with clarity. But that clarity is not composed of sweetness and light: it’s a carnival of grotesques and conflictual impulses; of puissant exchanges and mutilating forays. We are in the realm of emotional experience; it’s a vulnerable world of affirmation, deformation, offering and denial: we all know it. It’s what makes us tick. Blandine Longre has found a language for the push/pull, the gut-wrenching/the ecstatic, the vulnerability/ the protective shield. This writing is fueled by a passion and an honesty, that unholy oxymoronic coupling out of which our lives are composed. She explores the complex variety and intensity of the ‘clarity’ experience, not as it exists as a rare, even fetishised, potential event, but as it has frequent bearing on all our significant perceptions. It’s a dynamic component of our lives, our deals with ourselves, our mirroring exchanges and our important relationships. It constitutes the reckoning of our worlds, our sanity, our potential for happiness – and it isn’t always pretty.
Longre has invited us in to the theatre of terrible reckoning, before Superego intervention banishes experience to the realm of the repressed. How to read the other and the self in the eye of the other, John Donne’s ecstatic business, is a theme (‘the whole discordant symphony of selfhood’ [I-soul]. The intimate relationship is the most critical in this respect. Here’s the first poem in full:
When the time comes
Put a distant face to your proffered name
– flesh-struck, curse-furrowed, demented (you choose)
Then in the vacant soul’s retina,
look at your lone visage and foretell what
your feud of a body could not
(from where its words knelt uprightly so)
Through slaughtered days and strangled dawns
(Jolting nights in between)
no word nor rock for it
– the fleck of your yes-eye against a no-mouth backdrop
mere distorted painlines.
Blandine Longre has tipped her hat to Donne by way of other epigraphs within this collection. There are buried allusions as well: ‘sur-faces now undone as coarsely as they were/ half-donned’ (Exhumation). Donne bestowed his own epigraph upon a history of love poetry with his ‘John Donne, Anne Donne, undone’. In When the time comes, Longre steps sure-footedly into the metaphysical tradition. The poem is in the form of a sonnet and contains a conceit. The imperatives, ‘put’, ‘look’, throw down the challenging gauntlet to the bracketted ‘you’, by way of aside: ‘you choose’ with its hooting owl vowels. ‘Lone visage’ (echoing ‘distant face’) and a similarly echoing (‘flesh-struck, curse-furrowed, demented’) and characteristically concise image, ‘feud of a body’, are opposed. ‘Its words knelt uprightly so’: oh, the pious posturing of expressive intention! ‘No word nor rock for it’: defying concrete manifestation. As the ultimate literary affirmation of self, Joyce’s Molly Bloom’s ‘yes’ lingers on. Longre’s ‘earthy screech of she-raptures’ [Expurgation] or ‘my yesohyes plea’ [Up and down and the reverse] correspond. Here however, the poet identifies the duplicity of ‘the fleck of your yes-eye against a no-mouth backdrop’, like a Rorschach mask. It’s the matter of emotional ambivalence. (‘mistaking a noyes for a yesno’,[Up and down and the reverse])
This poem launches itself with the power of the imperative, heads towards the diminuendo of the past participle in perfect pairings (‘slaughtered days’, ‘strangled dawns’), and shuts down with a stark and bold final framing by way of remarkable condensation: ‘mere distorted painlines’. ‘Mere’ returns ‘distant’; ‘distorted’ returns ‘feud of a body’; ‘painlines’ returns ‘curse-furrowed’. The syllogism is complete. As an accolade to Donne, it is pitch-perfect; as a contemporary adaptation of the sonnet form, it has both phenomenal integrity and technical brilliance.
A subsequent poem takes up another theme: the provisional uncertainty or conditionality of the modal auxiliary. Avoiding the blackest eye of might addresses the power of deferred response full on. (Later poems speaks of ‘shredded oughts-to-be’ (Fatum) or ‘the perhaps of a mutability’ (Épouvante). Though this ‘might’ was never more ambiguous, its more obvious rendering being ‘strength’ or ‘power’:
Avoiding the blackest eye of might
— its overfed despotism a maddening guile
I am a field a realm a route
an expanse of everdark crops
It works either way. The ‘despotism’ of the conditional? The ‘maddening guile’ of the provisional ‘might’? The might of ‘might’? Certain kinds of imagery set up camp in the realm of the ambiguous. It’s obvious to state that there’s a resolute irreducibility about the best poetic imagery, which is why it has been written thus in the first place. One can only sit in awe of the effect. Eliot spoke of ‘the image of absolute necessity’ in his essays on metaphysical poetry. Pound described an image as ‘that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time’. HD’s early Imagiste poems come to mind: they are elusive in terms of explication and are already impervious to reduction. Some of Laura Riding’s experiments are also evoked for me, as in use of the present participle here:
Wreck-born snakes refusing to embrace
their wet down (never was a river redder)
crisscrossing their anathema
begging for parched soil and dryscape
(the perhaps of a mutability)
The uniqueness that is Blandine Longre’s in this collection of poems is twofold, in my opinion. Firstly, she has identified a domain: the powerful complexity of instincts and vicissitudes, and their processes and their drives. Secondly, she has found a language and a form for their expression. It involves neologism, courageous experiment and a fierce intelligence to have kept such a sustained control. There is an immanence of the object in her writing which is entirely compelling.
Blandine Longre invites us to share an intensity of seeing, comprehending, reading the other and beyond: responding to the judgment call and interpreting the momentous subtlety of the moment. She has constituted an art of the matter of seeing: seeing in a most intimate and shockingly dynamic way. The irreducible integrity of the image that Pound once envisaged is herein extant. Clarities is an astonishing debut. Blandine Longre has unleashed a new, vital, metaphysical animal upon an unsuspecting public. Be warned!
Oh Welcome Complexity
It’s always a jolt. That reminder of how complex and demanding poetry can (and arguably should) be. I certainly tend to forget how tough and intellectually rigorous much of the classic English poetry canon is – and this quality is underestimated in explaining its survival. But teaching Donne and Milton recently, the sheer and unashamed intellectualism – combined with constant readability – certainly makes for dispiriting comparisons with today’s British ‘classics’.
Who doesn’t seem either thin and trivial or hieroglyphic and hermetic by comparison? Of course, this statement is partly both ridiculous and bogus – picking two stellar names to judge against. And maybe Prynne, Hill or Fisher can be exempted. But the lack of intellectual ambition in so much other work is a worry, especially when one realises how widely despised (indeed ridiculed) contemporary British mainstream poetry is – particularly in continental Europe. Anyone baffled by how appalling so many of the feted names are can feel reassured, this judgement is gaining ground, away from the broadsheet and profile-management boutiques.
Black Herald Press is an outstanding new imprint – physically and stylistically their books are a delight – established in Paris by the English poet Paul Stubbs. A separate review is required of his quite brilliant new sequence Ex Nihilo. Briefly for now, it is highly unusual and disturbing metaphysical poetry, without the slightest concession to contemporary fashion. There is a nicely ‘exiled’ ambience at work, a determination to plough on and produce good writing, whatever the idiocies of the British poetry scene.
Longre’s work is similarly ambitious and philosophical:
…I am a field a realm and a route
an expanse of everdark crops
awoken unadorned and brambled
yet hardly maimed by the too-still rivulets of reality…
(from ‘Avoiding the blackest eye of might’)
This type of thing is easily dismissed as overwritten, even pretentious and portentous. What argues against that is an admirable consistency of tone, with a refusal to drop ideas, to become concrete, except on her own terms:
Wreck-born snakes refusing to embrace
their wet doom (never was a river redder)
crisscrossing their anathema
begging for parched soil and dryscape
(the perhaps of a mutability)….
All of the poems here are self-exploratory, yet without even the slightest hint of biographical or personal details. Again, I’d have longed for these, but their absence gives the work a haunting and driven quality:
…suburban leaps over fleeting darkscapes
evading senses above wizened throngs
splashed-out paces along sharpened
meridians and riverbeds of pain –
all steering our stammering selves away…
The usual point of reference for this sort of corporeal (and feminised) writing would be Plath, especially since she is quoted in the introduction. But the effect, especially above, is more reminiscent of Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’, This is interesting, because English is a second language for Longre, yet clearly the poems were (well) written in our great language – sorry for that vulgarity.
It’s never been clear how many – if any – of Rimbaud’s seminal prose poems were attempted in English; certainly his note books (and hours spent in the British Library) show a fascination with English slang and arcane vocabulary. This collection prompted me to look back over them, and also references on the differences between poetic effects in the two languages.
There’s an Ashbery quote, about French being too clear and logical a language for some of the nuanced tonal effects achievable in English. Yet look at what Celine, Genet or Artaud achieved, poetically. Indeed, look at the best poems in this collection. Although written in English, they have the unmistakable clarity and relentless logic of the best French writing.
© Paul Sutton 2010