Geometries by Guillevic, Englished by Richard Sieburth
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2010)
One of the titles from the Ugly Duckling Presse’s “Lost Literature” Series, Guillevic’s Geometries, is in fact the “variations” of his Euclidiennes — as explained by the translator who uses the word “Englished” instead of “translated” as a way to describe his work. Born in 1907 in Carnac, Brittany, French poet Eugène Guillevic (1907-1997) wrote Euclidiennes in the early sixties, a project that allowed him to explore abstractions, space, and figures of speech through concrete images — and “objects” — of shapes as well as geometrical figures. Through verses, shapes and figures take on a life of objects and become “objectivized,” performing a role beyond mathematics and dimension. In this sense, the title Geometries is as much a pseudonym as a wordplay.
Geometries is not a difficult read. On the contrary, it is entertaining, witty, and fast. Economical with words as well as length, these forty poems makes up a rather compact selection. Most of them do not exceed a page. Accompanied by a simple sketch, each is entitled after the geometric figure. The poems also bring philosophical messages that are easy to grasp and unpretentious in their intent. Take for example, the opening piece “Line”:
As far as you go,Or “Point” (cited in entirety), in which existential meanings convey a sense of immediacy through subtle humor:
In the belief
That the future
By every point
I am no more than the fruit
Of an encounter.
I have nothing.
‘Get the point.’
‘Miss the point.’
What do I know?
Yet who would venture
To erase me?
Playful poetry contains much at stake, both in its poetic imagination and linguistic mastery. It is far from “easy.” Sieburth the translator includes an afterword that offers useful commentaries on his engagement with this work. His interest with Guillevic began with Denise Levertov’s 1969 translation of the French acam Selected Poems. Since late 1975, he had been dabbling in versions of Euclidiennes. The work sat aside for another decade before some of these “variations” were published in an Australian journal, Scripsis. Any serious reader of Guillevic might be interested to take a look at an earlier translation by Teo Savory, Euclidians, as indicated in the afterword by Sieburth who, however, has striven for a different flair: “something slightly zanier, something more palpably spoken, more apostrophic, more baroque, more wildly allegorical and anthropomorphic, more on the order of a talking cure.”
Greta Aart lives in France.