Friday, May 5, 2023

Jérôme Melançon : Ne retiens pas le feu, by Jacques Audet

Ne retiens pas le feu, Jacques Audet
Le Noroît, 2022




In his second collection, Ne retiens pas le feu (Do Not Hold Back the Fire), Jacques Audet carves short, precise, impossible images in sharp lines, stanzas, and poems. Perhaps his goal is to let multiplicity be multiple. Although each page begins with the only punctuation we find – a capital letter – which indicates a new poem, these pages bear no titles. Perhaps there are only a few longer poems under the six subtitles we find in the book, or perhaps these are sections that gather single page poems. Audet leaves room for indeterminacy at every level. The section (or poem) titled Devenir nuit carries both possible meanings: "To Become Night", and "To Become Is Harmful." It contains an advance toward darkness, the disappearance of light, a widening void, as announced by the penultimate page (67):

Barely settled / À peine établie
obscurity disperses the signs / l’obscurité disperse les signes
that had preceded it / qui l’ont précédée

a retreat in a single file / se retranchent à la file
of the words that kept / les mots qui tenaient
the present warm / le présent au chaud

you move along these sources / tu longes ces sources
where tongues rumble / où grondent des langues

again that rising up / encore que se soulèvent
darkness / les ténèbres
against all splendour / contre toute splendeur

It is the collection as a whole, and not just these few pages, that rises toward darkness and build toward annihilation and, in the next (and last) section, a great fire.

At a more local, molecular level, Audet uses the line break in short two- or three-line stanzas to destabilize our sense of vision. What begins as a relatively traditional line regarding nature is flipped into images that are impossible to picture, let alone see (and flipped literally, through the strong grammatical inversion of literary French):

the veins hide / behind the mirrors (les veines se cachent / derrière les miroirs, 13)

you trip on a cobblestone / and the image flees on horseback (tu trébuches sur un pavé / et l’image fuit à cheval, 23)

the shapes clovers or ribbons / no longer account for their shadow (les formes trèfles ou rubans / ne répondent plus de leur ombre, 32)

here leans the ladder / bareheaded your reason staggers (ici s’appuie l’échelle / tête nue chancelle ta raison, 52)

Audet inscribes himself in a poetic tradition that is neither surrealist nor symbolist. His careful yet cryptic approach to writing and his turning of silence into language is announced by the opening quotation by Paul Celan. Noise and speech abound, but the poems do not hold on to meaning:

your voice fills up / with what the ear trims away (ta voix s’emplit / de ce que l’oreille rogne, 16)

verbs where is perched / for a moment / the clatter of living (verbes où se perche / un moment / le fracas de vivre, 52)

the echo separates from itself / as from a dead language (l'écho se sépare de lui-même / comme d'une langue morte, 63)

A meditation on time winds its way through the poem: time contracts, expands; tenses shift, the future carries itself into the past; time slips a ring to the reader's finger; the sky gives way to night, the day shapes something that also exists as chopped into hours; and finally the time comes. This meditation runs alongside cuts, the snipping of scissors, all kinds of lacerations. Through these recurring operations, Audet manages to still any possible development and give time as juxtaposition or overlap rather than succession, exploring and describing rather than narrating, leaving his readers free to draw their own maps – or remain in a state of silence and stillness as before a flame.











Jérôme Melançon writes and teaches and writes and lives in oskana kâ-asastêki / Regina, SK. His third chapbook, Bridges Under the Water, is forthcoming with above/ground press. It follows Tomorrow’s Going to Be Bright (2022) and Coup (2020), as well as his most recent poetry collection, En d’sous d’la langue (Prise de parole, 2021). He has also published two books of poetry with Éditions des Plaines, De perdre tes pas (2011) and Quelques pas quelque part (2016), as well as one book of philosophy, La politique dans l’adversité (Metispresses, 2018). He has edited books and journal issues, and keeps publishing academic articles that have nothing to do with any of this. He’s on Twitter mostly, and sometimes on Instagram, both at @lethejerome.

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