Nioque of the Early-Spring by Francis Ponge, Translated by Jonathan Larson (The Song Cave, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem
You are there all around me—today you trees, pebbles of the orchard, clouds in the sky, wondrous dead nature, uncontested nature.
You are there,
You are there indeed!
(from “Capital Proem”)
For those unaware of the French poet Francis Ponge, this new translation by Jonathan Larson offers a glimpse into a realm of glimpses, a fraction of poetic marvels in a realm of mere fractals. As a single work surrounded by many others, this book on its own is ultimately a gentle, inviting framework through which Ponge’s work and endurance, seasoned and lightened at once, can explore the gradients of concept and theme. It is filled with openness and propulsion. It is a thorough radicalism and also a challenge to the immensity of time and space. Knowing and to be known, the process and the result, a spiraling enthusiasm, wondrous, an investment, and an engagement. It is relational and intentional.
Time, nature, knowledge. These are key spaces of the macrocosmic warp and wordplay Ponge iterated originally though Nioque, as explored by its translator’s introduction. Through a significant treatment, Jonathan Larson has recrafted a book capable of encountering time in the umbrella of the creative process. Poems of 1950-1953, entries and explorations into and out of the wrapped, frolicking springtime. Nature as a reflection of seasons, perhaps with Spring serving as keystone, and nature as spirit, as something remarkably anew, consciously reverberating in circumspection. Nioque provides a portrayal of significance in its self-referential patterning. At what better, triggering instance does a poetics have an opportunity to grow, does a mode of thought lead to future elevations?
The earth offers all this, the arms extending into trees and bouquets. Boreas the winds, the sun (Phoebus) pass underneath or replenish.
(from “The Egg.”)
The collection speaks to the height which Ponge, perhaps beyond original insight, allowed the work. In many moments the book, as far as “many” can be used to describe a text both short and dense, is curiously arousing in its linking. Poem to poem, in elongated prose and brief fragments. These are the realms of connectivity, conscious and subconscious, which evoke those manners of Ponge’s greater associations.
Nioque is as much about itself as it is about the nature of craft and creation through existence, which reflects well the biographical proclivities of this French writer. As interrelated to the poet’s relationship to Surrealism as his seeking through Existentialism, the book identifies and sprouts through lineage. It suits well to exist, in its latest English form, alongside the relatively new translations of Char, Desnos, and others.
I am not through, have nothing but incomplete ideas (incompletely stated) and it is not so much about them than it is about completing them.
They are like fierce birds of passage whose form I regret not having been able to know entirely, or rather more like lightning bolts, since their singular virtue is, above all, it seems to me, in illuminating the conscience.
Perhaps what is most enjoyable to explore and attempt to understand in Ponge’s acclaimed work and the year 2018 is its humble, personal core. The nurturing core that is political and revolutionary comes out of a fateful, awestruck naturalism providing ample room for personal, affected junctions. Ponge, certainly beyond any sense of neutrality in his own contemporary warzones, crumblings, and oppressions, offers a heartfelt, incising gaze through inspirations and observations of the very source of where knowledge goes. Creation and the creative act become the pivotal dualism between the epiphanic states that the close and distant bring together, Ponge himself serving as triangulation.
Larson’s treatment of Ponge’s tone is accessible and in being accessible reflects well the book’s imagery and undulations of the natural spirit. What better platform for revolt and uprising than in being nurtured into confidence?