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  • Parler poème: Henri Meschonnic dans sa voix
  • Gary D. Mole
Parler poème: Henri Meschonnic dans sa voix. By Marcella Leopizzi. Preface by Giovanni Dotoli. (Biblioteca della ricerca: Cultura straniera, 154). Fasano: Schena; Paris: Alain Baudry, 2009. 360 pp., ill. Pb €38.00.

At his untimely death in April 2009 Henri Meschonnic left behind an impressive corpus of Jewish biblical translations, poetry, and linguistic, literary, and theoretical essays. Although there now exists a considerable bibliography of secondary material in French on Meschonnic, the present work by Marcella Leopizzi is the first to be entirely devoted to Meschonnic's poetic output of some fifteen volumes. The book is divided into two equal parts. The first presents a brief introduction to the poetry, largely paraphrasing Meschonnic's own theoretical pronouncements elsewhere and asserting what are perhaps the two central propositions of the whole study, namely that Meschonnic '"regarde" le langage, l'éthique, le politique, la politique, toute la société, à partir du poème' (p. 23), and that in his work 'la pensée du rythme est une pensée politique' (p. 30). Leopizzi then proceeds to illustrate these assertions first by offering a chronological overview of each collection of poetry (privileging generous extracts over actual analysis), and then by giving a much more satisfying synthesis of the formal properties and themes of Meschonnic's verse as a whole, from typographical specificities, rhythm, lexical continuity, neologisms, and non-grammatical constructions, to the autobiographical and historical referents such as the privileged amorous dialogue with his second wife Régine, his reflections on Auschwitz, the Algerian war, his visits to China and Japan, Apollinaire's grave, and the [End Page 512] Jewish tradition. The second part of Leopizzi's book consists of the transcription of five interviews with Meschonnic conducted between October 2007 and September 2008. Despite providing insight into some of Meschonnic's more theoretical, linguistic positions, most of the interviews take the form of questions and answers concerning the signification of titles of various collections and individual references and lines in his poetry. By answering her questions, Leopizzi claims, Meschonnic has provided her with the 'clé interprétative' (p. 272) to understanding his poetry, but this raises serious methodological and theoretical questions about authorial intentionality and, indeed, about the reading of poetry in general, both of which Leopizzi simply ignores. Meschonnic himself was notoriously headstrong and never fought shy of polemic. His Célébration de la poésie (2001), in which he made disparaging remarks about almost every other contemporary French poet, drew indignant replies from poets such as Michel Deguy, Jean-Michel Maulpoix, and Jacques Roubaud. I mention this because throughout her book Leopizzi shows Meschonnic the generosity that many readers feel Meschonnic himself rarely showed other writers and thinkers. This generosity, however, is ultimately the book's major weakness, in that the author's unabashed deference towards her subject all too often prevents her from adopting any real critical distance. Her engagement with the poetry remains largely indebted to Meschonnic's own personal readings and interpretations. These reservations notwithstanding, Leopizzi does afford readers perhaps more familiar with Meschonnic's translations and essays, particularly his important Critique du rythme (1982), an invaluable opportunity to discover or revisit Meschonnic's verse and the poet's ambitious claim that 'il faut penser le poème pour penser la société' (p. 316).

Gary D. Mole
Bar-Ilan University


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