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Unfinished Ode to Mud

Authors: Francis Ponge

Published by CB Editions

ISBN: 9780955728563

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Shortlisted for the 2009 Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation.

A bilingual French/English edition of new translations of prose poems by a writer praised by Italo Calvino as "a peerless master... I believe that he may be the Lucretius of our time, reconstructing the physical nature of the world by means of the impalpable, powderfine dust of words" (Six Memos for the Next Millennium).

Still radical, the poems of Francis Ponge seek to give the things of the world their due. Impatient with the usual baggage of literary description, Ponge attends to a pebble, a washpot, an eiderdown, a platter of fish, with lyrical precision; playing with sounds, rhythms and associations of words, he creates wholly new objects – "but which may be more touching, if possible, than natural objects, because human" (‘My Creative Method’).

"Ponge’s vision is painstakingly matter-of-fact, and herein lies his strength as a poet: in this commonplace vision, coupled with a refusal to be poetic and a scientific-like examination of language, lurks a breathtaking sense of wonder... Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation is wholly in keeping with Ponge’s own premise that he should 'never sacrifice the object of [his] study to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject'. These new translations never interfere with Ponge’s vision, and things do not lose their thingness. We can be grateful to both the translator and CB editions for bringing back the unique work of Francis Ponge to the attention of English-speakers."
Lee Rourke, Times Literary Supplement

"He’s a writer who makes you feel like writing – and that’s really about as noble an end to writing as there can be... Unfinished Ode to Mud is the first parallel text version of Ponge's work I have come across. The numerous American editions I've enjoyed and consulted in the past have presented the translations only. This is an act of generosity as well as bravery... The directness and simplicity of Brahic’s translation are refreshing, and to finally see such previously untranslated works as the titular ode is a great thing indeed."
Luke Kennard, Poetry London

"The fact that [Brahic] has chosen as her title for this volume Unfinished Ode to Mud is highly appropriate, since mud is essentially a formless substance and one which it is impossible to grasp – it slips through one’s fingers, it ceases to be mud as it dries out – and in the 'unfinished' there is the recognition, characteristic of Ponge, that, however neatly he may end a poem, it can never be the last word on the subject. His project is unrealisable but in its very existence (Ponge the existentialist, as Sartre had it), its at times taxonomic ambition, it reveals the endless possibilities of both language in its grip on the world and of objects in their yielding and unyielding to human consciousness... This volume is a welcome addition to the availability of Ponge's poetry in English and includes many hitherto untranslated pieces."
Ian Revie, The Warwick Review

Francis Ponge, born in Montpellier in 1899, began writing prose poems in the 1920s, though his first collection was not published until 1942. He joined the Communist Party in 1937 (he left it in 1947) and was active in the Resistance during World War Two. In the late 1950s his work was praised by Sartre and Camus, and he collaborated with painters such as Picasso, Braque and Dubuffet. He died in 1988.

Beverley Bie Brahic is a poet (Against Gravity, 2006) and translator (Apollinaire, Cixous, Derrida, Roubaud). A Canadian, she lives in Paris and Stanford, California.
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