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This review is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Between Poetry and Prose charles baudelaire, Paris Blues: The Poems in Prose with La Fanfarlo, bilingual edition edited, introduced and translated by Francis Scarfe (Anvil Press Poetry) paperback, £10.95; hardback, £25
charles baudelaire, The Complete Verse, bilingual edition edited, introduced and with plain prose translations by Francis Scarfe (Anvil Press Poetry), paperback, £10.95, hardback, £25
arthur rimbaud, The Poems, bilingual edition edited, introduced and translated by Oliver Bernard (Anvil Press Poetry), paperback, £14.95

Add Mallarmé to these two fellows and an extraordinary share - three fourths? more than that? - of contemporary French poetry descends directly from their trio. Mallarmé, Rimbaud and Baudelaire forged modern forms and raised issues that remain ours. They brought classical verse to perfection and then overhauled it, all the while opening up new possibilities for verse. They developed the prose poem and then multiplied and reshaped it into other kinds of poetic prose. They questioned language's relationship to reality and the role of imagery and concepts in poetry. They sometimes championed a poetics of ugliness in contrast to alluring, deceiving poetic 'beauty', not to mention their several provocative insights delving into the darkest recesses of the heart and finding uncomfortable truths there. Finally (to conclude this much abbreviated list), Rimbaud and, in a different sense, Mallarmé gave birth to the notion and then practised what can almost be called 'anti-poetry'. French poets remain in their debt, and so do we.

Needless to say, the complete works of these three poets belong in every library, public or private. For Rimbaud and Baudelaire, the three books under review are bilingual reissues of versions that have been around for a long time: in the case of Oliver Bernard's rendering of Rimbaud, ever since the Penguin volume of 1962; as to Francis Scarfe, ever since the 1986 Anvil collection of Baudelaire's Complete Verse and the same press's 1989 gathering of the poems in prose. Everything essential is made available. ...


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