Friday, August 29, 2008

The Savage Anthology, Beginning

Our anthology process began with a list of approximately 500 French poets—I’m still vague on the exact origins of this list, but most of the poets seemed to have been published by Gallimard.

At the time (1999) I was working for Cats magazine as associate editor. One part of my job was to write funny captions for photos of cats that people sent in. For instance, somebody sent in a photo of their cat sitting in a pair of pants and polished black wingtips left in front of a toilet. So my caption was “Now, that was an awkward time to turn into Supercat!”

Much as I enjoyed my job, like most poets, I would have preferred to be—yes, spending my days in the New York Public Library, reading French poetry!

Luckily, the NYPL was only a block from my workplace, so at lunchtime I went over to chip away at the mountain of names on my list. However, my French was rusty—very, very, very rusty, and it probably wasn’t all that shiny to begin with. I did horribly in French in high school and college. However, in my early 20s I made up for it somewhat by living in Champigny (a communist suburb east of Paris) for several months, studying French at the Sorbonne, and dating a French jazz musician. I was actually rather amazed at how much easier it was to grasp grammar and vocabulary with a more mature mind (grammatical rules at age 14 seemed as impenetrable as where we go after we die), and positively hungered for the pronunciation component of the class. My lessons were supplemented by the incredibly foul vocabulary of the family with whom I was living, who taught me valuable phrases such as “je m’en fou” (my grandmother almost slapped me when I accidently answered one of her questions suchly), “je vais bouffer,” and “une fraise en pantoufles” (a strawberry in slippers, i.e., silent but deadly). However, what all this lent to speed-reading experimental French poetry was a little dubious. And then there was the time issue: by the time I got to the library, got the book, opened it, read a few pages, my lunch hour was just about over.

However, circumstances were to change…

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