Last Verses

Jules Laforgue, trans. from the French by Donald Revell. Omnidawn (IPG, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-890650-54-4
Laforgue (1860-1887) will never command the name recognition of Baudelaire or Rimbaud, but he stands just one step below those giants in his importance to European letters: T.S. Eliot said that he found his own style through youthful devotion to the tormented Laforgue, whose self-dramatizing, sometimes self-satirizing, odes and effusions brought free verse to France. Torment takes control in this volatile suite, composed in the last years of the tubercular poet’s short life: exclamations reflect an obsessive lover, one who attributes his “simple agony” sometimes to the conditions of all existence, sometimes to romantic folly and self-doubt: “The world is the World, okay,” he resolves; “I’ll make a poisonous world of my own,” with “Every holiday/ An inquest and autopsy!” In the poem after that one Laforgue imagines himself as a satisfied dandy, “sprawled atop a stagecoach, smoking,/ Grinning at the sky.” A few pages later, though, he falls back into despair: “If only of her own free will one evening/ She’d come to drink at my lips or die!” Laforgue’s extremes come off superbly, neither too familiar nor antique, in the clean lines of Revell, admired for his own poetry as well as for other translations, including Rimbaud—whose fans should check Laforgue out ASAP. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
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