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This article is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

A Salute to Pierre Reverdy David Nowell Smith
Pierre Reverdy (1889–1960) is perhaps best known to Anglophone readers for his cameo in the closing lines to Frank O’Hara’s ‘A Step Away from Them’: ‘My heart is in my / pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy’. Yet it was not simply O’Hara from that generation of American poets who felt such allegiance to Reverdy – he was translated by John Ashbery and Kenneth Rexroth, and in a recent New York Review Books edition of Reverdy’s poems (ed. Mary Ann Caws, 2013) this is taken further, with contemporary translations from writers of poetry (Ron Padgett, Geoffrey O’Brien, Rosanna Warren), prose (Lydia Davis), and theory and criticism (Mary Ann Caws, Richard Sieburth), whose names combine for something like a who’s who of contemporary Francophile poetics in the US. With such a line-up, this edition is less a ‘selected’ of Reverdy than, to take the phrase Mary Ann Caws uses in her introduction, a ‘salute’ to him (xvi), and to his enduring significance.

But – does anyone today read Reverdy? The salute Caws and her co-translators offer, one feels, is designed in part to reacquaint their Anglophone readers with a poet whose fame has dissipated, a poet better known for O’Hara’s heartfelt mentions than he is for his poetry itself. It makes sense, then, to reintroduce his work through a volume which, with its eighty poems and fourteen translators, styles itself as an account of Reverdy’s enduring after-echoes within American poetics, taking in different generations, but also different aesthetic and poetical-political affiliations. This means that we cannot help but ...

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