Thousand Times Broken: Three Books

Henri Michaux, trans. from the French by Gillian Conoley. City Lights (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-87286-648-5
“I believe I am indicating the endless tree, the tree of life that is a source, that is, dotted with images and words and proposing enigmas,” says French-Belgian poet and visual artist Michaux (1899–1984) in the clearest and least puzzling of these three fascinating linked texts. Michaux remains difficult to classify he wrote verse and prose that is alternately Surrealist, essay-like, fantastical, fabulist, and psychedelic. These three volumes—called in English Peace in the Breaking, Watchtowers on Targets, and Four Hundred Men on the Cross—have never been put into English. Each volume recounts his reactions to experiments with mescaline in the late 1950s. The first volume, mostly prose with some verse and ink sketches, contemplates the drug’s effects, “displeasure” and “vertiginous pleasure/ of pleasures at its most extreme.” The second, written in collaboration with Chilean painter Roberto Matta, contains advice and records visions: “flying larvae,” “monsters... every ninth moon,” and the mysteriously reincarnated, chatty, “jagged being” called Agrigibi. The last book, the least hallucinatory and the best as English poetry, compiles poems, sentences, and phrases about crucifixion as a theme and metaphor, each selection shaped like a sort of cross. Conoley (Peace) turns Michaux’s French into alert, fluid English to match the enface French: it’s both a puzzle, and a pleasure, to follow along. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/18/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
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