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This interview is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

The French Connection: F.T.P. in Conversation with a Friend A. Friend

Friend: Your essay on Rimbaud in P·N·R 78 made it clear that you read him intensively in your teens and twenties, and implied that you had tried to learn from him. Could we talk about your relationship to him and those other French poets who were then, between the Wars, regarded as being so important and even responsible for the rise of modern poetry? The poets I mean are Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Laforgue, Tristan Corbiére. There were of course others, but these are the big names. I wonder if you should put on record what you might have owed to them, since nowadays they seem to stand out less distinctly. I would like to begin by asking you about Saint-John Perse because Roger Little in his book on Perse* includes you among poets indebted to Anabase, and you yourself have shown me an essay you wrote more than twenty years ago on your poem Chaka for the National English Literary Museum in South Africa. † There you say that Anabase had an immediate effect on you when you discovered Eliot's translation of it in a Johannesburg bookshop in 1930.

F.T.P.: That was certainly a stroke of luck. Without it I might never have written my first ambitious poem, Chaka - though I didn't start work on it until five years later.

Can you describe briefly what it was in Anabase that inspired you?

Anabase is a dazzling prose poem (the only English ...


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