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This article is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

Ponge: The Pré and the Proem John Pilling

There is nothing known so ill as that which lies closest to hand. Or so one might be moved to exclaim at the effective absence in this country of an audience for Francis Ponge, the most intimate of modern French poets. Even in America, where Ponge held Visiting Professorships in the 1960s, his work has usually been seen as of marginal importance beside that of his predecessors in the experimental modes of modernism. Yet in France he has been so much a part of the mainstream as to have enjoyed three quite distinct reputations: firstly (in the late 1920s and early 1930s) as an associate of the Surrealists, subsequently (as a result of the advocacy of Jean-Paul Sartre) as an Existentialist, most recently as a precursor and exemplar for those intent upon transforming literature into a matter of literarity. The profile is in some ways similar to that of another neglected figure, René Char, who, like Ponge, is a man of the Midi and primarily a writer of prose poems. Yet no reader could fail to perceive the difference between the hermetic and hermeneutic poems of Char and the much more accesible, in the best sense mundane poems of Ponge. And in spite of the appropriations he has experienced, it would be very misleading to think of Ponge as an exponent of fashionable poetic or cultural -isms. Deeply suspicious of abstract and abstruse enterprises, Ponge reverts rather to what can only be called a classic, indeed classical, position on ...


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