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This review is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Setting Out claude royet-journoud, Four Elemental Bodies, translated from the French by Keith Waldrop (Burning Deck Press) $20.00

Contemporary French poetry can be appraised by examining the use of the conjunction 'comme' (like, as). Does the poet employ it often, rarely, or never at all? Does he or she compare, contrast, make analogies? Or, on the contrary, reject them out of hand as misleading? For example, Philippe Jaccottet, who uses 'comme' as often as any poet whom I have read (and translated), suddenly announces in his prose text 'Apparition des fleurs' (Cahier de verdure, 1990): 'It would be better if "like" and "as" stopped being screens, or cast light'. In other words, does the act of comparing and making parallels really illumine what we perceive and think? Or does this act result from lazy cognitive habits that actually prevent us from clearly seeing and pondering the world in our midst?

This is just one of the philosophical issues raised by Claude Royet-Journoud's Four Elemental Bodies, a tetralogy which gathers the volumes Reversal (1972), The Notion of Obstacle (1978), Objects Contain the Infinite (1983), and Natures Indivisible (1997). The four-books-in-one-book consist of interconnected aphorisms, poetic fragments, and very short prose pieces.

The back-cover blurb rightly states that this poet's 'one-line manifesto "Shall we escape analogy" signalled a revolutionary turn away from Surrealism and its lush imagery'. 'His spare, "neutral" language,' specifies the anonymous blurb-writer (who is probably the book's excellent translator, Keith Waldrop), 'stripped of devices like metaphor, assonance, alliteration has had a great influence on recent French poetry'. Royet-Journoud (b. 1941) functions as a sort of touchstone. Some ...


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