Isbn 9782919582006 – 2010 – 48 pages – 8 €
The poems of Blandine Longre are born of the unpredeterminable music of the guttural, and therefore are a single utterance; there is no superficial or syntactical ‘effect’, only the larynx and the palate and the tongue in a concentrated and word-perfect symphony. Her ‘subject’ is only the incontrovertible will to spew forth the chippings of a language not yet fully realized. Donne meets Artaud, and the result is the voice of a poet daring to vacate the skull, the heart and mind, in order that we might actually hear the ‘blood’ sing. The voice of a born original in language, ‘her’ language, creating a new kind of metaphysical pitch to replumb the ‘self’.
Also by Blandine Longre
Blandine Longre is a French literary translator. She has translated several poets and novelists (Tabish Khair, Rachel Cusk, Téa Obreht, Gregory Corso, W. S. Graham, David Gascoyne, D. H. Lawrence, Anthony Seidman, Paul Stubbs, Dexter Palmer), as well as essays, particularly on music and fine arts, for various French publishing houses (Calmann-Lévy, Robert Laffont, Gallimard, Notes de nuit, Le Sonneur, Hachette, Albin Michel, among others). She founded the Anglo-French publishing house Black Herald Press in 2010. Two poetry collections in English, Clarities and Cosmographia, were published in 2010 and 2015. She is the co-editor of the bilingual literary journal The Black Herald.
articles / reviews
Longre’s poetry, if it was allowed entry, would be a French fox with Anglo-Saxon teeth, let loose in an English henhouse. Confusion and panic must ensue when lines like ‘Alien to its own words (meaning-gouged, spewed out, led astray) / a gorgoned mouth turns its clammy / stares beyond my charred eyeballs, / at the flying dampness of / those medean tears of mine.’ peer hungrily around the door. But the power here is not so much in the horror soaked central section which almost shreds itself to vacancy in the combines of inner rage, but in the indefinable beauty of the last line ‘at the flying dampness of / those medean tears of mine’ which seems to soften and slow like a brake in its alliteration and rhythm the harsh imagery that precedes it. There is something lurking within this seemingly brazen poetry, which is tender and precious, like an injured bird you kept in a cardboard box that you hide from others and desperately hope will not die. Though there are influences of Sexton and Plath here and these poems could be said to be aligned to a woman’s pain and toil endured by the blundering machinations of the opposite sex, these poems are more about a wider broken trust, the disintegration of promises and aspirations, which could apply to anyone.
Will Stone, first published in Agenda, Vol 46 No 3 (April 2012)
There’s an Ashbery quote, about French being too clear and logical a language for some of the nuanced tonal effects achievable in English. Yet look at what Celine, Genet or Artaud achieved, poetically. Indeed, look at the best poems in this collection. Although written in English, they have the unmistakable clarity and relentless logic of the best French writing.
Paul Sutton, Stride magazine, October 2010
Formally we have something akin to Elizabethan sonnets blown to smithereens and re-arranged by a combination of an Apollinaire, a William Carlos Williams and a Charles Olson. Longre’s lines slither and slurp across the page, others speed and jump proto-iambically… (…) …the form creates its own sonic imperatives and bustles along its way in mixtures of half-rhyme, no-rhyme, vowel echoes, assonances and airs. Again, what impresses is the directness that is maintained despite the wordly acrobatics, the intention still present in each thrust and burst of language.
Andrew O’Donnell, The Fiend, March 2011
Une poésie que l’on pourrait aussi qualifier de libertine, dans la mesure où elle est totalement anticonformiste, originale, inattendue, à la langue singulière, aux mots et aux sonorités tressés serrés, se pliant aux caprices d’un esprit que l’on pourrait qualifier de baroque. À la fois très cérébrale et très physique, elle nous rappelle que nous sommes des animaux raisonnables ; une poésie difficilement catégorisable en fait, tant ses attributs sont multiples, et parfois même contradictoires – « discordant symphony of selfhood », nous dit justement Blandine Longre dans l’un des poèmes de Clarities. Ainsi, on peut lui trouver quelque chose de disturbingly wondrous (je ne puis trouver d’équivalent français exact de l’effet produit par ce syntagme), car elle est étonnante, très raffinée, et en même temps dérangeante, avec ses images brutales qui empoignent, émanant d’une poète qui, loin de craindre ce qui pourrait répugner, le fouille et l’exhibe (entrailles, blessures, os, cadavres...). Il s’agit de clarities, oui, mais de clarté crue, de lucidité jusqu’à s’en brûler les yeux (« my charred eyeballs »).
Sabine Huynh, Terres de Femmes, mars 2015
“Love’s not so pure and abstract as they used to say”
by Nigel Parke (November 2010)
An epigraph from Sylvia Plath (Love Letter) stands at the gate of Blandine Longre’s aptly named collection of poems, Clarities: ‘I knew you at once./ Tree and stone glittered, without shadows’. This defamiliarised moment of clarity, this epiphany, is suspended like a beacon over Longre’s remarkable writing of diverse epiphanic experience. These poems are coming out of the chasm of experiential, momentous exchange – with clarity. But that clarity is not composed of sweetness and light: it’s a carnival of grotesques and conflictual impulses; of puissant exchanges and mutilating forays. We are in the realm of emotional experience; it’s a vulnerable world of affirmation, deformation, offering and denial: we all know it. It’s what makes us tick. Blandine Longre has found a language for the push/pull, the gut-wrenching/the ecstatic, the vulnerability/ the protective shield. This writing is fueled by a passion and an honesty, that unholy oxymoronic coupling out of which our lives are composed. She explores the complex variety and intensity of the ‘clarity’ experience, not as it exists as a rare, even fetishised, potential event, but as it has frequent bearing on all our significant perceptions. It’s a dynamic component of our lives, our deals with ourselves, our mirroring exchanges and our important relationships. It constitutes the reckoning of our worlds, our sanity, our potential for happiness – and it isn’t always pretty.
Longre has invited us in to the theatre of terrible reckoning, before Superego intervention banishes experience to the realm of the repressed. How to read the other and the self in the eye of the other, John Donne’s ecstatic business, is a theme (‘the whole discordant symphony of selfhood’ [I-soul]. The intimate relationship is the most critical in this respect. Here’s the first poem in full:
When the time comes
Put a distant face to your proffered name
– flesh-struck, curse-furrowed, demented (you choose)
Then in the vacant soul’s retina,
look at your lone visage and foretell what
your feud of a body could not
(from where its words knelt uprightly so)
Through slaughtered days and strangled dawns
(Jolting nights in between)
no word nor rock for it
– the fleck of your yes-eye against a no-mouth backdrop
mere distorted painlines.
Blandine Longre has tipped her hat to Donne by way of other epigraphs within this collection. There are buried allusions as well: ‘sur-faces now undone as coarsely as they were/ half-donned’ (Exhumation). Donne bestowed his own epigraph upon a history of love poetry with his ‘John Donne, Anne Donne, undone’. In When the time comes, Longre steps sure-footedly into the metaphysical tradition. The poem is in the form of a sonnet and contains a conceit. The imperatives, ‘put’, ‘look’, throw down the challenging gauntlet to the bracketted ‘you’, by way of aside: ‘you choose’ with its hooting owl vowels. ‘Lone visage’ (echoing ‘distant face’) and a similarly echoing (‘flesh-struck, curse-furrowed, demented’) and characteristically concise image, ‘feud of a body’, are opposed. ‘Its words knelt uprightly so’: oh, the pious posturing of expressive intention! ‘No word nor rock for it’: defying concrete manifestation. As the ultimate literary affirmation of self, Joyce’s Molly Bloom’s ‘yes’ lingers on. Longre’s ‘earthy screech of she-raptures’ [Expurgation] or ‘my yesohyes plea’ [Up and down and the reverse] correspond. Here however, the poet identifies the duplicity of ‘the fleck of your yes-eye against a no-mouth backdrop’, like a Rorschach mask. It’s the matter of emotional ambivalence. (‘mistaking a noyes for a yesno’, [Up and down and the reverse])
This poem launches itself with the power of the imperative, heads towards the diminuendo of the past participle in perfect pairings (‘slaughtered days’, ‘strangled dawns’), and shuts down with a stark and bold final framing by way of remarkable condensation: ‘mere distorted painlines’. ‘Mere’ returns ‘distant’; ‘distorted’ returns ‘feud of a body’; ‘painlines’ returns ‘curse-furrowed’. The syllogism is complete. As an accolade to Donne, it is pitch-perfect; as a contemporary adaptation of the sonnet form, it has both phenomenal integrity and technical brilliance.
A subsequent poem takes up another theme: the provisional uncertainty or conditionality of the modal auxiliary. Avoiding the blackest eye of might addresses the power of deferred response full on. Later poems speaks of ‘shredded oughts-to-be’ (Fatum) or ‘the perhaps of a mutability’ (Épouvante). Though this ‘might’ was never more ambiguous, its more obvious rendering being ‘strength’ or ‘power’:
Avoiding the blackest eye of might
— its overfed despotism a maddening guile
I am a field a realm a route
an expanse of everdark crops
It works either way. The ‘despotism’ of the conditional? The ‘maddening guile’ of the provisional ‘might’? The might of ‘might’? Certain kinds of imagery set up camp in the realm of the ambiguous. It’s obvious to state that there’s a resolute irreducibility about the best poetic imagery, which is why it has been written thus in the first place. One can only sit in awe of the effect. Eliot spoke of ‘the image of absolute necessity’ in his essays on metaphysical poetry. Pound described an image as ‘that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time’. HD’s early Imagiste poems come to mind: they are elusive in terms of explication and are already impervious to reduction. Some of Laura Riding’s experiments are also evoked for me, as in use of the present participle here:
Wreck-born snakes refusing to embrace
their wet down (never was a river redder)
crisscrossing their anathema
begging for parched soil and dryscape
(the perhaps of a mutability)
The uniqueness that is Blandine Longre’s in this collection of poems is twofold, in my opinion. Firstly, she has identified a domain: the powerful complexity of instincts and vicissitudes, and their processes and their drives. Secondly, she has found a language and a form for their expression. It involves neologism, courageous experiment and a fierce intelligence to have kept such a sustained control. There is an immanence of the object in her writing which is entirely compelling.
Blandine Longre invites us to share an intensity of seeing, comprehending, reading the other and beyond: responding to the judgment call and interpreting the momentous subtlety of the moment. She has constituted an art of the matter of seeing: seeing in a most intimate and shockingly dynamic way. The irreducible integrity of the image that Pound once envisaged is herein extant. Clarities is an astonishing debut. Blandine Longre has unleashed a new, vital, metaphysical animal upon an unsuspecting public. Be warned!