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This review is taken from PN Review 257, Volume 47 Number 3, January - February 2021.

Cover of I Have Invented Nothing
Ross CoganI Have Invented Nothing, Jean-Pierre Rosnay, translated by J. Kates (Black Widow Press) US$19.95
As titles go, this has to be among the worst I’ve encountered. ‘What,’ I thought, ‘nothing at all?’ Surely poets owe us a little invention otherwise they risk becoming, in John Hollander’s phrase, merely ‘journalists of compassion’. I prepared to wade through what I assumed would be yet another volume of trite personal anecdotes and confessional verses that hardly needed confessing.

How wrong I was. Two things save this collection, indeed raise it into the realms of the memorable. Firstly, the title is clearly a lie. In fact, Rosnay was an unusually inventive, imaginative writer. Secondly, to the extent that he did draw upon his own experiences, he had the enormous advantage – rare among poets today – of having lived an interesting life.

Rosnay was born in 1926. When he was aged three his mother died; aged twelve he ran away from home to work on a farm; aged fifteen he started fighting with the French resistance. Shortly afterwards, having failed in his attempt to assassinate Klaus Barbie, he was incarcerated in an infamous military prison, from which, though wounded, he escaped. He was present – and wounded again – at the Battle of Saugues and the liberation of Le Puy. After the war, and a spell in the regular army, he headed for the Left Bank, where he founded a publishing house dedicated to bringing out the work of young poets, and later established the Club des Poètes, a bistro that doubled as a venue for poetry performances. At this time he was associated with ...

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