If Gertrude Stein is ‘the mother of us all’ then Ezra Pound is our father. A strange couple, for sure, but essential to anyone coming into poetry in the second half of the 20th century with the intention to do more than write the traditional neo-romantic lyric. For me, Pound was there first – or rather right after I had found the Beat writers, Kaufman, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs. His importance was immediately immense, and at least twofold. Starting to read the Cantos I realized that poetry was a life’s work of total dedication, not something one could do on rainy weekends when moved by the spirit. Pound also immediately made clear that a learned poetry, a poetry that includes not only history, but also various sets of knowledges, was not necessarily a boring ‘academic’ poetry. The range of his work was liberating. Everything from everywhere could enter the field of writing, to be energized into that multifaceted, multilayered construct called a poem. Amazing!
But the French, I think to some extent wrongly, always look at Mallarmé as this completely abstract writer. The Coup de dés is a much crazier book in a way, and if I talked about it a lot recently, it is because my friend, the Moroccan poet Mohammed Bennis’s first Arabic translation of the Coup de dés came out. And that was also the occasion, late 2007, for the first edition of the book that actually conforms to Mallarmé’s directions. He had spent the last three or four months of his life writing down exactly how he wanted the book printed: the font, the size of the paper, binding, everything. The first edition was in 1914 by Gallimard, but they used the font that Mallarmé hated most: Elzevir.
I love the idea that it is the first Arab edition that occasions the first real publication of Mallarmé’s book the way he wanted it.
Interview with Peter Joris at Transitzone, courtesy Woods Lot