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This article is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

The Shaping of Modern French Poetry:Forms of Freedom Roger Little

THE SEARCH FOR compromise positions between traditional verse and the poeme en prose led to various experiments with form in which, despite the epithet 'free', what in fact was sought were alternative forms of constraint. As my account has reached the threshold of the 20th century, it is worth taking stock of what it has, perhaps surprisingly for an English reader, left out. Corbiere and Laforgue bulk large, for example, in the history of French poetry as written by Eliot. The equally if not more important Lautreamont has no place in it. Yet from the formal point of view he and Laforgue are far more innovative than Corbiere. Of Lautreamont, for example, the poet Jacques Roubaud has pertinently written: 'les Poesies de Ducasse posent Vabolition du vers et la transformation definitive de poesie/prose, vers/ non-vers en poesie/non-poesie.' It is only considerations of space and balance that have led me to exclude them from my selective account, more willingly because they have in practice been less influential on 20th-century French poets than others in matters of form. My choice of instances from this century's poetry is subject to even greater arbitrariness. Nor will my presentation be strictly chronological, since coherence in individual papers will sometimes require a stylistic thread to be followed from one poet to another. But first it is worth reviewing the position at the turn of the century through the range of the three poets who seem to present a tripod on which the formal variety of ...


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