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This review is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Cover of The Dice Cup, translated by Ian Seed
Jeremy OverMax Jacob, The Dice Cup, translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press) $19.95
The Eighth Heaven

In the 1916 Preface to The Dice Cup, included with this translation of his most famous collection of prose poems, Max Jacob writes: ‘I would like you to read it not for a long time, but often: to be understood is to be loved’. Two years earlier, as Ian Seed points out in a footnote to his helpful introduction, marked the appearance of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, an alternative, and equally revolutionary, take on the prose poem and the possibilities of cubism for writing. Stein would later tell an exasperated interviewer, in a reversal of Jacob’s statement, that ‘being intelligible is not what it seems’ and ‘if you enjoy it, you understand it’. Stein and Jacob were at the heart of the ‘Banquet Years’ of Modernism in Paris, and yet both remained for years somewhat marginal or outsider figures artistically. Being Jewish and homosexual doubtlessly played a part, but in Jacob’s case, conversion to Catholicism was probably what lead to the anti-clerical surrealists turning their backs on him no matter how much his creative methods of trawling for unconscious material – ‘words in freedom, chance associations of ideas, night dreams and day dreams, hallucinations’ – might have anticipated and inspired their own. In addition both Stein and Jacob placed seemingly significant obstacles in the way of the reader’s attempts to understand and/or love and enjoy their writings. Jacob’s syntax remained intact compared to Stein’s cubist fractured looping, but there are many ways in which his prose poems equally confound the reader’s expectations. Indeed, Jacob ...

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