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  • Introduction
  • Michael G. Kelly and Nina Parish

"On ne nous a pas attendu et chacun sait que la poésie s'accommode fort bien des opinions vagues ou contradictoires que l'on nourrit à son sujet."1

Writing on the cusp of the time-frame under consideration here, Jean Paulhan was entertainingly caustic on the potential pitfalls of any attempted synoptic discourse on poetry. Yet the enduring ability of the "poetic" to function as a legitimising term is, arguably, a key to the ineradicable and essential plurality of the hypothetical object it denotes. The tendency of poetic works to accommodate and absorb differing theoretical and critical projections can appear problematic, but it highlights two important features of practice as it is encountered in those works: firstly, the way in which poetic practice seems to nurture and invite reflective responses from those engaged by and in it; secondly, the ability of practice to remain in excess of the particular readings it inspires, while deriving legitimacy and even sustenance from them.

These features allow the poetic field to be seen as constituted to some extent dialogically, both between writers and their readers, and between poetic practitioners. Whether through creative interaction (thematic, theoretical, affinity-based) or at various levels of conflict and disagreement (arguably along the same criteria), recurrent instances of interconnected utterance are observable. The articles that follow have as a common feature an interest in such structuring interconnections.

The functioning of the poetic field as a sui generis dialogical space is of particular interest for any attempt to think about the parameters of literary practice as a whole and of cultural practice more widely. [End Page 1] Partly this is because poetic practice, due all at once to its economic marginality, to its necessary engagement with the figure of the limit, and to its experimental nature, has been among the most consistent modes of exploration of these parameters. Perhaps the single most important respect in which this has been the case is the fundamental problem of symbolically-mediated community. Implicit / explicit in the poetry of the last century and more, it is now a question that has— through the explosion of new media, but also the increasing diversity of subject positions / cultures / languages seeking aesthetic expression-legitimisation—become a "mainstream" preoccupation. Poetic practice, while often continuing to follow the logic of an avant-garde activity, cannot be dismissed as unrelated to pressing social-theoretical concerns.

Community, in the present context, is clearly both a pre-condition of the "individual"—and the problematic horizon of the poetic question as an inherently social one. The figure of community is approached in the following articles through the works of significant creative actors, themselves constituted as poetic practitioners in their engagement with that horizon. It is approached, furthermore, as an evolving, fluid reality—in the representation of which we appeal here to two particular, dynamic figures.

The first is that of confluence, whereby individual practices may provisionally be understood together, as exemplary of a common theoretical or practical principle, even as they continue to move forward in their different ways. The second is that of migration, which signifies both the ability of the poetic to move beyond (now) canonical ideas of its material and signifying properties, into new technologically-based and / or interstitial forms of practice, and the mobility of the "poetic" designation as a legitimising one towards practices and works which challenge the very understanding(s) of the poetic operative at the time of their emergence.

In their discussion of individual actors and the various problems and configurations which constitute poetic practice in French today, the eight articles which make up this issue contain aspects which belong to both of these figures of confluence and migration. They have been grouped in pairings of researchers and practitioners (some belonging to both categories) exploring similar questions, techniques and forms. The work under discussion both proceeds from and critically interrogates [End Page 2] the classical modern characteristic of French-language poetic practice—that of an intense, philosophically-engaged interrogation of the act and space(s) of writing. In so doing it confronts fundamental questions both as to its means and as to its meaning.

The issue opens with...


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