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  • Dire la poésie? par Jean-François Puff
  • David Evans
Dire la poésie? Textes réunis et présentés par Jean-François Puff. Nantes: Éditions nouvelles Cécile Defaut, 2015. 386 pp.

This coherent, cogently argued collection focuses on oral performances of poetry from the fin-de-siècle comic monologues of Charles Cros to readings of contemporary ‘post-poetry’, via twentieth-century experiments with new technologies and forms. As Jean-François Puff argues, such a wide variety of performances offers not ‘une simple oralisation de l’écrit’ (p. 15), but, rather, an interrogation of meaning itself in the tradition of Mallarmé, whose ‘théâtralisation de la lecture’, dramatizing ‘la rencontre avec le sens [sur] une scène intérieure’ (p. 96), is explored by Thierry Roger. Abigail Lang differentiates this French approach—austere, neutral—from the North American poetry readings popularized in the 1970s, which foregrounded anecdote, emotion, and sociopolitics. Practice in France, led by Jacques Roubaud, Claude Royet-Journoud, and France Culture’s Poésie ininterrompue (1975–78), eschewed rhetoric, theatrics, and politics, instead encouraging ‘une attention flottante’, ‘une méditation sans pré-méditation’ which might ‘dire sans vouloir dire’ (p. 226). This instability of meaning provides the fil conducteur throughout these essays. Michel Murat explores recordings from the Sorbonne’s Archives de la parole (1911–13), comparing the over-expressive declamation of professional actors with readings by poets, the ideal being ‘le moment où la voix du poète se cherche, et parfois se perd, dans la diction’ (p. 128; original emphasis). Céline Pardo sees in RTF’s experiments in the 1950s with the Centre d’études radiophoniques a definitive break with the declamatory style, heralding a new approach: ‘une poésie faite pour l’oreille’ (p. 129). Essays by Anne-Christine Royère and Maud Gouttefangeas explore Henri Michaux’s ‘refus d’une mise en spectacle du texte’ (p. 161) and his disdain for recordings of his work by Marcel van Thienen and Pierre Boulez. Jean-Marie Gleize prefers ‘cette diction détimbrée, aussi neutre que possible, qui [ ... ] n’inflige pas au texte un surcroît de sens’ (p.241), so that both text and author are ‘une double présence éminemment instable’ (p.243). Carrie Noland locates the ‘essence’ of a work in this tension between text and performance in her study of Jackson Mac Low and John Cage, just as Olivier Gallet identifies in Philippe Jaccottet’s readings ‘ces moments de risque, où les textes sont fatalement remis en chantier et en mouvement, et cherchent à exister par des moyens sensiblement [End Page 643] différents’ (p. 319). Certain questions explored briefly here are intriguing enough to demand more attention: Vincent Broqua addresses the role of the body in performing unreadability, while Gallet mentions in passing the ethnolinguistic dimension of accents from across the francophone world. Questions of gender and sexuality are not broached at all. Indeed, Roubaud, in playfully polemic, Bloomian mode, distances such concerns from the absolutely poetic, dismissing the political correctness of US poetry readings and insisting: ‘la poésie est ailleurs’ (p. 317). The tradition examined here, born of French symbolist theatre, is devoted to ‘la voix même de la poétique’ (p. 335), which requires, in Puff ’s words, ‘la voix off ’, an inexpressive ‘diction intra-poétique’ (p. 357) that neutralizes the subjectivity of the speaking voice, allowing language to speak of itself without reference to anything beyond it.

David Evans
University of St Andrews


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pp. 643-644
Launched on MUSE
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