cover image A Roll of the Dice

A Roll of the Dice

St%C3%A9phane Mallarm%C3%A9, trans. from the French by Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno. Wave (Consortium, dist.), $25 (96p) ISBN 978-1-940696-04-1

French poet Mallarm%C3%A9's 1897 text, both a poem and a work of visual art, has long been heralded as the very beginning of the international avant-garde. Writers for decades have seen its amazements: sentences broken up and reassembled, words in many type sizes and conjunctions, splayed all over each page. Indeed, the poem's lightning-frantic, arresting phrases alert readers that it seeks a new verbal world, a "whirlwind of hilarity and horror// above the abyss." Poet and book designer Clark (Music and Suicide) and prolific translator Bononno produce a fine contemporary English to match the dazzle of Mallarm%C3%A9's French. But their real claim to attention is the physical, typographical form of the book, which%E2%80%94more neatly than any prior version%E2%80%94matches the visual experience of "Un coup de des"; Clark and Bononno duplicate the layout and design that Mallarm%C3%A9 wanted (but never got before his death), first in their English, and then in Mallarm%C3%A9's French, using different typefaces for the two languages, but otherwise the same design. The full-page photographs between text pages come uncomfortably close to illustration, yet the pages of text do something to and for a reader's attention, reaching places that a more conventional printing might not find. (Apr.)