- Peter Broome (1937–2018)
Peter Broome, who passed away after a short illness on 18 March 2018, was a rare kind of academic who combined scholarship with an adventurous lyrical power that infused not just his critical works but also his translations of contemporary French poetry and collections of his own poems.
Born in Melton Mowbray, Peter attended King Edward VII Grammar School, then went on to Nottingham University where he obtained his honours and doctoral degrees in French. After four years in his first lecturing post at Monash University, in 1966 he joined the Department of French at Queen's University Belfast, eventually becoming Professor of French. Articles on Julien Gracq and Henri Michaux (the subject of his PhD thesis) were followed by the 1976 publication by Cambridge University Press of the companion volumes, An Anthology of Modern French Poetry 1850–1950 and The Appreciation of Modern French Poetry 1850–1950, both co-authored with Graham Chesters. Two further companion volumes appeared in 1977, this time in the Athlone 'French Poets' series: Henri Michaux, and an edition of Michaux's Au pays de la magie. A monograph on AndréFrénaud (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1986) came upon the heels of a dazzling preface which Peter was invited to write for the NRF Poésie edition of Frénaud's La Sorcière de Rome, suivi de Depuis toujours déjà (Paris: Gallimard, 1984). Drawn more and more into the challenges of translation, Peter worked with Bloodaxe Books on two bilingual editions, of Michaux (Spaced, Displaced / Déplacements, dégagements, 1992) and Frénaud (Rome the Sorceress / La Sorcière de Rome, 1996). A critical guide to André Gide's Les Caves du Vatican (London: Grant and Cutler, 1995) was a rare excursion outside poetry—and indeed the last. After Frénaud's death in 1993, Peter worked on a monograph, André Frénaud, 'Dans la crique': du lieu du poème à l'univers (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1997), to honour the poet into whose house in Bussy-le-Grand (Côte-d'Or) he and his wife Di later moved, following Peter's retirement in 2002.
The magnum opus that was in gestation throughout the 1990s was his 535-page book on Baudelaire's Poetic Patterns: The Secret Language of 'Les Fleurs du mal' (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999), described on its back cover as 'a provocative contribution to the ongoing debate on the nature of criticism'. The book consists of detailed but open-ended analyses of fourteen poems by Baudelaire, forming a 'critical sonnet', a 'mise en abyme of the poet's own favourite form' (Baudelaire's Poetic Patterns,p. 534). It has its own artistic ambition, even if, as Peter modestly put it, 'at the coolest edge of the creative spectrum' (p. 533). In a deliberate departure from the conventions of academic criticism, its few footnotes refer only to creative [End Page 487] writers (for example, Théophile Gautier, Stéphane Mallarmé, Jean-Paul Sartre, Yves Bonnefoy) and its bibliographical note eschews all previous academic critics. This is criticism where commentator and poet share a universe, where the creative energy of the latter has to be matched by the former, and where huge and inexhaustible empathy feeds an equally unfinishable desire to explain and stimulate. There was always in Peter's best writing a sense of an almost physical engagement with the poetic text, a trembling excitement and caressing of words, a sensitivity to the nano-rhythms of lines, a joy in the discovery of pattern and its fracturing. Of a Michaux poem, he wrote about its intrinsic resistance to the critical act whilst being surprised by 'its overwhelming acquiescence to an endless range of probings and provocative explorations' ('Michaux: Music from the Edge', Nottingham French Studies, 43 (2004), 34–44 (p. 34)). Reading became a passionate uncovering and a treasuring of finds. But the brilliant teacher in Peter wanted to share his delights, whether through writing or lecturing; and, for Peter, that sharing was the true fulfilment of the explorer. His students loved the enthusiasm, the uniqueness of the performance without notes, the evident depth of understanding, and the sense of a gift being given, however modestly.
It is all...