Ursa Major by Yves Bonnefoy (Released by Seagull Books, 2016)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Casual periphery: Black Origami by Jlin
Yves Bonnefoy was one of the greatest living voices of French poetry. In Ursa Major, his sixth book published by Seagull Books, he explores in profound new ways the mysteries of human consciousness.
[. . .]
Yves Bonnefoy was a poet, critic and professor emeritis of comparative poetics at the Collège de France, Paris, and received several major international awards for his work, including the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca (1995) and the Franz Kakfa Prize (2005). In addition to poetry and literary criticism, he has published numerous works on art history and translated into French several of Shakespeare’s plays.
[. . .]
Beverley Bie Brahic is an award-winning Canadian poet and translator. She has published two collections of poetry and translations of French writers including Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Ponge and Hélène Cixous.
I would like to speak with you. / Who are you? / Red, a sky that is all red. / Have you another name?
(from “Hello? Hello?”)
It starts with the keys. Black keys sticking like jammed locks. Barricades, nonplussed segments. We sit together, clasping strange and immutable objects, those that combat the static quality of keys, as portals, objects repositioned, hard to describe, or even imagine, in a world so unrelated, this world we have, so stable and solemnly stagnant. Swirls of dust. Shudder of stars. Blankets upon blankets: new depths to the yawning in the night paired with the structures that give us access, and there is dulling, and there is bluntness, and there is meekness. And so now a book: a new object to be placed beyond the keys, and beyond everything else, to generate afresh the world right before us, a world that looks anew, spinning, the fragmented coin of our own world, shattered, shot, in multiple directions. Yves Bonnefoy’s invisible hand seen careening cordially into the future.
She? It was night. She knocked at the window. I opened, her huge head filled the window, the whole window. I was afraid.
(from “You, Again!”)
There are moments and then there are emerged moments to match the mourning of those previous: topical, traditional, noticeable. Beyond the keys there is the book and then the breath races, gently, quietly, with the heart: images as quintessential. Paramount. As problematic: the fluttering sensations of words transforming worlds beyond the lids: luring, alluring, and so on. A rhyme meets the rhythm that the French poet would know were he alive: jubilations whirring, a weirdly episodic and catastrophically clandestine beauty in this book: shatter open the glass baubles, rupture the density of lenses, burnish the meticulous unknowns with reinforced language.
Have we, do you think, existed?
(from “Oh, Divine”)
The translator, Beverley Bie Brahic, has a tongue saintly stoic and wildly rupturing: a test pressuring the secret, softly-lit poetics out of the reader, awareness, sweat on brow, tightness within the skin, the movement present, ever so, and yearning. Translations of translations of time and space. Translations of translations of the indefatigable complacency towards the burden of thought: a burden so bright and bountiful, we have pride in knowing its presence, its persistence, its faculties and fruitfulness. A reminder: color, questioning, and existence. All the things we want, need, know: palpitation of consideration. A naturalness to the dialog, gutting open the conceptions and bluntly blown, there it stands, outlasting the moment that tries to capture it.
Hard, harder, hardest: to imagine I’d never been exposed to A piece of stone, with its marks, its cracks, all its colours—that’s true infinity, don’t you think? (from “What’s That Noise?”) And now, here we go, here we are, present reader, affixed reader, afflicted reader of the dainty and the spell cast, in isolate, in isolation of intention. Myself as ignoble but invited, flapping but wound up, resisting but still spun across the fabric of these strange, captivatingly ambiguous stretches of art. The landscape. The passage of time. The narrative bombardment, a bereavement highlights or as subtext sits and brings us closer, it is temporary: to think of the magic, and the transformation. Where once transformation was possible, now it is certain. Where once the magic was held to pause in a blank state of being, now here it lies at the base of our feet, slowly making its ascent. Bonnefoy, crafter of the splendid, for this book is like a wish held up and opened, opened to mean expanded, as inviting as it is surrounding. As coldly shaking as it is warmly forgiving.
A book with four parts: “Ursa Major” and “Inside, Outside?” and “The Bare Foot, The Things” and “Oh, Divine” and it is a book that will press and press, standing on its own in acute transparency. These are the things we do not see, and these are the things we should see, and this is how to go about it. Playfully. Perceptively. Purposefully.
Thinking slightly further: fractals of childhood. And the spiral grace too, spinning in the circles as we blush ourselves past magic, wonder, daze, and the drama of knowing more, and more, through less and less space: minimal to bring that tightness back, objects clasped to be released, the keys touched down upon to be forgotten. In Bonnefoy, the language is one of grace, but too, it is one of humility. An innocence crashing like waves against cliffs, fresh succulents moaning against the sea’s swollen air.
Look down and then up again: keys, and they are replaced. Long since. To the old guard, the old regime, the mechanical keyboard itself opening. Alas, I can breathe again, as I could write again, inspired by this collection, Ursa Major, a bear, of witness, of energies, of representation. It does little to describe what can be best said through reading in silence: the arch, the archetypal, the buoyancy of the overwhelming met with the underwhelming in harmony. In this little blend of procreation, we have the realm of possibility. Bonnefoy as the bringer of enchantment: an imbue of the chromatic, of the perceptional, of the pressure to soften the challenge to linger.
Do you think I’d want to let go of you?
No, but where are you? Where are we?
I don’t know. In the sky.
(from “Ursa Major”)