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E is by Jacques Roubaud
Translated with an introduction by Katheryn McDonald
Jacques Roubaud's poetry moves in two directions at once. It is resolutely complicated, structured by mathematical symbols and many-optioned choices. This is poetry that draws attention to itself as language, offering the reader the opportunity to move blocks of it around, structure a book as she pleases. The re-combinatory, repetitive conception of poetry-as-words contrasts with the alternative, also present in Roubaud's work, of a healing poetry, expressive of grief or joy. The dual aspect that characterizes Roubaud's poetry is in place from his first published book of poems, _E_, which appeared at Gallimard in 1967. This volume presents itself in a dry and very formal manner, presaged by the mathematical symbol that serves as the book's title. The poems themselves are at the intersection of several formal constraints: the movement of white and black markers in a game of *go*; the structure of a sonnet of sonnets; finally the order imposed by the poems' physical presence in a book of poetry. The possibilty of re-ordering the poems of _E_--presented as an integral part of the work--presumes the idea of these poems as a sort of game. Their configuration can be changed, indeed is constructed around the possibility of change, according to previously delineated rules. It is these rules that open the book, under the heading "mode d'emploi de ce livre." But across these poems, divided into paragraphs marked by mathematical symbols, seemingly simply the markers in a complex and formal game, we hear a very personal cry of loss at the death of a brother, and the troubled search of a poet coming to terms with the place of poetry in relation to his own life.
Jacques Roubaud sets up the parameters of his search in the first complete movement of _E_, which is the first sonnet of sonnets. His "conclusion" is a departure for the rest of the book. Although each poem can stand alone, the sonnet can also be read as a suite. The reader can follow the movement of thought that unfolds as the poet moves from rejection of the outside world through an interrogation of language, concluding with an acceptance of that world through the medium of his own past.
[The French version of this poem appeared with fully-justified, three and four line, paragraph-like stanzas. The translator has chosen to preserve the interlinear effect; the bracket ( [ ) indicates lines that were wrapped because of length.--eds.]
_E_ by Jacques Roubaud 1.0 Disposition This paragraph consists of twenty-nine sonnets in prose, made up of two sonnets of sonnets followed by an isolated marker: these two sonnets are separated by a black marker; the quatrains and tercets of each sonnet of sonnets by white markers. 1.1 First sonnet 1.1.1 o [GO115] I no longer see the sun nor the water nor the grass having imprisoned [myself where no morning rules if in the pure cube of the night I distinguish other branchings than on the arch of thoughts I chase them away I conceal them no place except for the lamps the division from light to dark in front of me cutting off the visible the bit of world materially spread out flat yes in front of me accessible everywhere to my hands because all objects from here have disappeared I brought forth sun for sun [water for water I made heaps of opacity to be crossed by sun- shine from elsewhere o suns in which I have confidence at what point you are me I can show you to all say color of wood orange say read and be believed suns awakened on my tongue suns surrounding-rains 1.1.2 * [GO 131] I live without winters without places no place no time is more than another I have ceased to hear the noise the water makes today I do not say the world is a vat of gall I do not say here are eyes and marvels I am evening and neutral the path love was not followed collective time is but one knowledge and I know the heavy form that encloses me but on the white that presents itself I do not write I find little I take little in the white of cities I trap myself if there are always voyages from which one does not return the same a fountain not of wisdom but of signs maybe it is the place where I am merely headed who do not seek the future the stone the source of great wealth [nor the play of trees nor that of the ribs of boats who live without sky who live without cold questioning where tell me where will I be 1.1.3 o [GO 133] I belong to the nerves of streets to moray eels to hieroglyphs to the bark of autumn to the babble of enamels to the gift of oneself to greediness to greatness smally certainly moderately in the wrong way (for centuries minutes hours for nothing for a dot of yellow in the light) the all-sun the round fire the blue foam the long trumpet the heap of bones the gilded word the spaniel or the thistle the narwhal I am I am also the late hour that puts flies to sleep or the version of stars not more new however not more sure I have been there I know I believe you I belong to a time where everything begins the void the plasm the calculation the living what thought I one does not yet figure out the morse code of mountains one does not know how to infer with spores! (there were some windows which closed a noise of cars quarrels a noise of errands in this time I had not abolished the immediate) 1.1.4 * [GO 117] I belong to the finger that strikes the *the* to the weave to the coat to the plate of honey to the moccasin to the fur of the bee I belong to the blue signal of the window I belong to everything not yesterday to the fire tomorrow to the nail [to everything simultaneously I have this power which is not what I can do no what I am I belong what said I there some ashes that I am not some wheels that I didn't turn some squares where I wasn't angle what said I there are some eyes by which I didn't see some crowds without me threw themselves on stones some truths without me have found the end of their chain 1.1.5 o white 1.1.6 * [GO 135] I hunted the first one the rose that reaches up in the gardens full of potsherds of villas in the May that embarks on the thread of the [dormous and I became sealed off separated the color green melted in the color red I hunted the almost-red the budding bee of chestnuts I mutilated the tight weave of things I tipped over the greening statues of the year would that time were without landmarks that nothing indicates neither salt in the air nor cork sky nor decorated boutiques I traced the frontier in the thick circle of the lamp I muzzled joy with death I hooded not objects but their sight would that there were no more to see hidden that there [were nothing to desire to see I condemned up to the very idea of sounds I had given myself this task to rip off the dead skin of the present I wanted to be free to no longer see I wanted to keep some distance to watch to stay far away to become far away to be order to be calm become 1.1.7 o [GO 119] I am a punctual crab I am a courier without event my field is vacant pure swept of the smallest star I veiled with velvet the arched mass of my eye this instrument will no longer [detail anything but its dusts I do not risk silences I only oppose plain speech like windows that the rain rinses and I have a taste for the evening I have indulgence for the dawn there is never anything to read in my hand by counting grains of rice on a kitchen table I secured my saintliness a life of perfection contemplate a thousand times the same fountain which falls starting with me time disciplines itself what said I there is still a river sensitive to the cold an island with lakes and aborigines what 1.1.8 * [GO 137] shelter of signs constructions like an abstract tree which ramifies each branch rubbing its name its design rather which names it substitutible twig where will take place this form that must be said (as in: the Noun that you Verb another the Verb) (as in: and bettyandisbel come dancing) constructions where distant times melt together senses exchange where veins per- haps fill up with far off seas and the stained glass maker screeching the [ploughshare june (these are sentences) constructions which freeze quickly barn of signs methods inherited manner no (o false new worlds) and certain ones only decree rules and others any old thing their plates their wives their postage stamps their shoes it would be simple if the boundary emprisoned space as much as necessary if the relationships were given by succession by position when surge up too many responses in the distance (and the remorse of a somber vowel) 1.1.9 o [GO 121] each word avows your name where you only wanted to give the mark abstract unique something appeared in your constructions a signature scribbles on the most pure of your orders each word that a vision filters poor as always if the same color flowed that in vain complicates the exterior of the same single substance and repeats more feebly the same note greedily avows without much hope to illuminate if not be error the smallest part of that which was the heart of these words this why they were assembled laden entrusted traces if you will of the world that carried you diverted no longer signifying the world but barely a rite an absence a fever 1.1.10 * white 1.1.11 o [GO 127] you will find your own good in the most distant of words treasure protected from geese with red crops it's the ore that is not under the open sky it's the union of usages contrary to speech others will lodge more in the planets or in the law [infinity sign] ly miniscule ping-pong of the sub-atom (there are pastures of all flavors for mouths trained for the future but words for you are the salt and the game with which one deduces the sentences which will dry with with which one burns all the way to childhood the double drug which detains double paradise the one like a stone under the earth's crust and the one like a design in the dust 1.1.12 * [GO141] in this tongue one does not know how to say prairie snow is a vocable that no longer walks on two legs nor bramble on the face always turned away of chant mulberry metals make silent neighbors in this tongue lies lose their substance trees walk truly on the sky the lantern falls back towards the audible epoch of pointed roofs of harlequins give me more pure colors in this tongue like waves which even break apart rock give me newness some rapidity in this tongue give me your help on the sand I drag myself I will never be able to push time give me centuries in this tongue 1.1.13 o [GO 139] give me waves that carry the past tubes so fine that they suck in the least extricable of moments (the chromatic escalade of remembrance) give me moving backdrops films furs paintbrushes of photons characters tastes give me markings never before used give me the possibility of arranging the same voyage of the eye on a lock of hair which falls put me in the interior of the raging core of the sun give me a flame and infinity (heads of a pin of the sphere) let me slice into the world of a man like a scalpel terrorizes a tissue let me find the default of snow of the winter I only demand a thimble to put it on your finger do not give me wine if it's not possible but a porthole a telescope through which I might go come in its color through which I might read its [genesis give me rapidly because I only have 1.1.14 * white stays white 1.1.15 o [GO 123] a garment of days briefly compared to the days without number that I shuffle like a wheel that dips down in its well returns overflowing with green water some reams of days just enough to exhaust I do not know the substance of a springtime the noise of a sand paper a syntax a calculation to delimit one time the exact year of a snail on a window of a wall torn under a bee a cloth of days thrown on eyes that don't know how to see that no longer need vision clairvoyant on this side 1.1.16 * [GO 125] how many handfuls of snow did we throw on the grey flowers the peonies of smoke then while playing how many on the ramparts on the footpaths covered with cork how many earthy snows did we throw on the knucklebone bushes the sloe the blackberry bramble the [licorice the holly we knew how little would last the blanket of snow on the vines sleeves under the black brambles or split on the threshing floor [covered in corn silk how little new snow would melt at the rings of iron or on the brick of the hearth on the dusky artery of coals the snow was precious almond rare and tender few days of little not even every year ah keep vivid the taste of snow when it made the wind fall on the parchment of undergrowth the inverse gulf of crows when we felt that there are but a few snows capable of a hollow in memory capable of dazzling fresh ferns on a window that a mouth at dawn covers with mist 1.1.17 o [GO 129] there were diamond days placed rarely across the years a charming series pulled from the unmarked series of days days of chestnuts and days of bears days of fire diversely separated marking lighting the duration shadow a tree presided over the equilibrium of riches its leaves advanced on invisible distances of time from green to brown a veiled rhythm seizable solely by the blood by a diffuse vision by something like the ubiquity of senses the journey was still long of the sky in the sky where nomad winds pitched tents light then dark and longer slower was the slope of marked days as if life sliding by had wanted to hold itself back add its signature to the natural alternation to crease the downy cheek of childhood to [reassure to light up
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