I’m still thinking, parsing, mediating on and about the FACE festival. It was an extraordinary chance to meet French poets who were, in a way, so purely “French.” It reminded me on many levels how difficult it is on this giant island of the U.S.A. to get the “news” from abroad. Despite all the Internet and e-mail and telephone and texting and whatever, geography remains geography. Anyway, a few gleanings thru the haze of cross-languages:
- Oulipo has a second wind in France, not necessarily a good thing. Apparently, it’s turned into a sort of public game, with the constraints taking on a sort of emptiness, and Oulipean readings/writings overwhelmed by “blagues,” or jokes. I’ve found this in the U.S., too,—in that a jokey reading can take control of the evening. Once one poet makes a funny, the rest of the poets sometimes visibly wilt, as the atmosphere then alters in favor of the continuous laughfest. But since Oulipo is still viewed here as a certain ultimate of deliberately arcane writing, it was initially hard to imagine as a popular radio show program, or taking over the talk channels the way flarf or other group-poetry movements have. But I could see how it has functioned as a sort of access point, perhaps, with only the appearance of inaccessibility, just enough to make it appear different from the American penchant for so-called democratization of the arts (i.e., the more people attending, participating, understanding, the merrier—and the more grants money), which feeds into a penchant for being part of whatever perceived zeitgeist.
- French poets are exploring multimedia readings, using computers, sound, visuals. A persistent point of concern with the FACE festival was that the venue (Eugene O’Neill’s cottage) wasn’t able to support audiovisual. As one result, Michèle wasn’t able to do the full FIVE FEET reading, which involves playing sound samples taken from various locations in Tibet and China, and showing slides of groups of five people shot in random situations. She showed me the slides on my computer and I could see how their absence truncated the experience. However, the poets filled in, unplugged, so to speak. Sabine Macher and Jean-Jacques Poucel did a sort of dance performance as part of their simultaneous reading in French and English, keeping one part of their bodies in continuous contact throughout. I could see how practiced the French poets were in this sort of thing, in that the performance truly followed the content of the poem, which illuminated the points of contact between both words and people (funnily enough it was a flarfish poem, in that Sabine drew from her own work in searching for the words “fish” and “drum,” and then “mischmashing” the results together). Note: Flarf hasn’t crossed the Atlantic yet, judging by the blank looks I received when I compared it to the Oulipo phenomenon. But I’m sure it will soon, given its present rate of exposure.
- Chapbooks are alive and well and flourishing in France. About 10 years ago, someone told me that chapbooks and the letterpress did not exist in France. I’m happy to report this someone was VERY wrong. Somehow I didn’t get to fully interrogate the poets about other chapbook publishers (maybe one of the many instances my language skills failed, or we were distracted by something else), but I look forward to learning more eventually. Also, Pascal Poyet has written me that he didn’t bring 30, but 60 chapbooks. Happy mistake!
- Other things the French noticed: race relations, politeness, fake smiles, race relations, race relations. New London offered up a complexly segregated society, with white poets hanging out at a bar one block from a black club, one minute encouraging us to go read poetry there as a kind of "thrill" (to them I guess) and the next minute warning us away that it would be scary and dangerous. Also, upperclass white society (one whom lectured one of the poets on differences between the North and the South U.S.). I cringed and cringed. Yet there was also a Kente cultural club, a mixed-race art gallery/sneaker/skateboard shop, and a fair-trade store run by a biracial woman. As well as a “north Indian” restaurant run by Tibetans with really terrific food.
- An innocuous wine and cheese shop (don’t remember the street) contained a basement that was an entire house, windows, doors, the lot. The owner’s response to my “Why? How?” was a bit garbled—something like either the street level had sunk or risen. Either way, the basement was an entire house, dating from the revolutionary war.
- Goodies gotten:
Michèle Métail: Mandibule, Mâchoire; Le route de cinq pieds (so now I can begin to work on the entire piece); and Toponyme: Berlin (with an excerpt of the translation by Holly Dye).
From Pascal Poyet: Réducton de la revolution la nuit, Opération Lindbergh, Spirit II and Oh un lieu d’épuisement by David Lespiau; LA VILLE, DE LA VILLE by Michèle Métail; and freshly arrived in the mail just today, L’espace Domino and Méthodes pour échapper à l’analogie by Emmanuel Fourneir, Je voudrais entrer dans la légende by Sébastian Smirou, and a translation by Poyet of Rosmarie Waldrop, Dans n’importe quelle langue.