Poems and Monsters: Pierre Alferi’s “Cinépoésie”
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Poems and Monsters:
Pierre Alferi’s “Cinépoésie”
Translated by Roxanne Lapidus

[...] les poètes auront une liberté inconnue jusqu’à présent.       Guillaume Apollinaire1

    [...] Ils puiseront   Comme toi dans le flot d’images Pierre Alferi, Sentimentale journée, 71

“Tabler sur un cataclysme”

In Pierre Alferi’s oeuvre, what place should we give to his “cinepoetical” excursions? As we seek an answer, let’s briefly take the poet at his word, and start where, according to one of his recent titles, everything begins. Ça commence à Séoul (2007) is the result of a collaboration between Pierre Alferi and sculptor Jacques Julien. In this poetic and visual “series of adventures” described on the DVD cover as “woven together from images and sounds, from voice-overs and slow motion, from storyboards and cartoons [“toons”], there emerges an “incident regrettable” (the title of one episode) concerning a banal ping-pong table. The four intertitles that announce the scenes, as in a silent film, tell us that this table, “on four legs,” “feet soldered to the ground,” “incapable of taking part in the merry-go-round,” not having “even the right to undulate or to grow,” and judging that this life “is no longer bearable,” is reduced “in order to regain its liberty / to count on [tabler sur] a cataclysm.”

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All images courtesy Pierre Alferi

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On the screen, nothing but this table, surrounded by four walls. Suddenly we hear an explosion, the image vibrates slightly, and the table’s “soul” (a shadow-image) rises slowly heavenward.

Obviously it is tempting to allegorize this “regrettable incident.” Francis Ponge described his writing table as “more stubborn than a donkey,” adding that “it doesn’t move by itself,”2 suggesting, by metonymy, that poetry cannot detach itself from the constraints that immobilize it, to realize a freedom of movement and finally to join “the merry-go-round” except through a real “cataclysm”—murder or suicide. This allegorization is all the more tempting since Alferi evokes, in his 2004 volume La voie des airs, a certain malaise, the “sentiment de n’être à sa place à la table / nulle part” (55). We would be wise to resist this temptation: the awkward and knowingly dated “special effect,” or as Alferi would say, the “deffet”3—the ridiculous elevation of the soul skyward, and the use of the verb tabler (a pun referring back to the table at the very moment of the wished-for and irreversible rupture)—everything suggests that the parenthesis closes on a sly smile. Without being able to establish the true allegorical import of this scene, which concerns both the necessity of a cataclysm in poetry and its humorous calling into question, I will draw a few questions from it. But first, an observation.

Pierre Alferi’s hybrid and multiform practice—consisting of an ongoing blurring of limits via multiple formats and media—merits the attention of critics interested in the “cataclysm” in literature that is implied by the digital age’s “contemporary technological amplification” (Sardin, 161). Alferi is a poet, the author of numerous volumes, including Les allures naturelles (1991), Kub Or (1994), Sentimentale journée (1997), and La voie des airs (2004). He is also a philosopher, having written a book on Guillaume d’Ockham, as well as an essayist (Chercher une phrase) and a novelist (Le cinéma des familles). He is a film critic (Des enfants et des monstres), and an “assembler” of media-infused poetry, in what he calls cinépoèmes and films parlants, to which we will return later. Thus in an omnivorous and bulemic way, Alferi pursues a work of poetic and cinematic writing that brings together “several intuitive methods” (“La mécanique lyrique,” 4). After all, as he himself affirms in the title of a small volume in 2008, L’estomac des poulpes est étonnant—the stomach of the octopus is an amazing thing. Employing himself with manufacturing poetry (to reprise Apollinaire’s apt term, “machiner la poésie), and seeking a reconceptualization of lyricism free of the “vomitif goût de soi” (La voie des airs, 77), the poet attacks the stupid resentment...