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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

A NATURAL HISTORIAN Jean-Claude Renard, Selected Poems, edited and introduced by Graham Dunstan Martin with translations by various hands (Oasis Books) £2.20 pb.

Of living French poets only Yves Bonnefoy, Professor of Poetics at the Collège de France, has had the kind of impact in this country to justify the elevation of his work to classic status. Figures of distinction like André du Bouchet, André Frenaud and Jacques Dupin have been made selectively available in small print-runs from enterprising independent presses. Even in the more public domain of anthology-making the new French poetry has had to make its way against competing attractions from Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the major literatures of Western Europe. What success, one wonders, will attend the attempt to make Jean-Claude Renard's poetry, widely and discriminatingly admired in France, available to the English-speaking world?

Though Renard has been influenced by English poets of a mystical cast of mind - Blake, Hopkins and T. S. Eliot - his ability to see eternity in a grain of sand is expressed in a language more translucent and less muscular than theirs. He is also more systematically concerned than they are with the properties of language, a characteristic which aligns him with the 'metapoetical' tendencies of his French contemporaries. This concern, however, should be seen as this selection invites us to do, as a natural concomitant of his mystical leanings, for there is no one so prone to 'make raids upon the inarticulate' in Eliot's phrase, or so intent upon preserving its ineffability, as the mystic. In Renard's own words poetry is 'the locus of a speech situated between negation and ...


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