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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Francis Ponge Unfinished Ode to Mud (1942, 1971)

 

Michel Ciment: Do you like poets like Francis Ponge? Your films remind one of him, and his Le parti pris des choses.
Robert Bresson: Yes. I no longer see Ponge, unfortunately, as he has moved to the south. He wrote me some remarkable letters about my films and about cinema. I like his fondness for objects, for inanimate things.

‘Francis Ponge has been called “the poet of things” because simple objects like a plant, a shell, a cigarette, a pebble, or a piece of soap are the subjects of his prose poems. For Ponge, all objects “yearn to express themselves, and they mutely await the coming of the word so that they may reveal the hidden depths of their being,” as Richard Stamelman explained it in Books Abroad. David Gascoyne, a contributor to Reference Guide to World Literature, declared: “To transmute commonplace objects by a process of replacing inattention with contemplation was Ponge’s way of heeding Ezra Pound‘s edict: ‘Make it new.’ His ever-renewed attempts to celebrate objects of everyday experience in a language enlightened by puns and complex words, with onomatopoeia, and the calligrammatic, were not a restless search for novelty but rather a way of transcending ‘modernity’ and restoring a Wordsworthian appreciation of the simple things in life: slate, the Seine, asparagus, and tables.”

‘Throughout his forty-five year writing career, Ponge was faithful to his unique approach to poetic subject. Speaking of the poet’s collected works, Sarah N. Lawall in Contemporary Literature found that “what Ponge has to say remains quite consistent, and his collected works juxtapose texts from 1921 to 1967 without any contradiction whatsoever. He still goes to the ‘mute world’ of things for his peculiar dialectic, and he still celebrates the creative power of speech.” Lawall found, too, that Ponge’s work served as an “example of systematically individual perception and expression in a world threatened by group morality and intellectual totalitarianism.”

‘Michael Benedikt, writing in The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, concluded that Ponge’s poems are “as ‘objective’ as objects in the world themselves.” Robert W. Greene, in his book Six French Poets of Our Time: A Critical and Historical Study, argued that in many of his poems, Ponge tries “to create a verbal machine that will have as much local intricacy as its counterpart in the world of objects.” Stamelman went even further in analyzing this relationship. “In Ponge’s poetry,” he wrote, “the text refers to itself and to itself alone… The only thing the text ‘represents’ is its own surging into being through language, its own act of expression. Ultimately, the text signifies itself.”

‘Ponge’s prose poems follow no set formula. They develop instead in a seemingly spontaneous manner, following a meandering path to their completion. “Ponge may be the first poet,” James Merrill wrote in the New York Review of Books, “ever to expose so openly the machinery of a poem, to present his revisions, blind alleys, critical asides, and accidental felicities as part of a text perfected, as it were, without ‘finish’”. Greene acknowledged that Ponge’s “texts hardly conform to most conceptions of what poems, even prose poems, are or should be. They contain puns, false starts, repetitions, agendas, recapitulations, syllogistic overtones, a heavy ideological content, and other features that one normally associates with prose—and the prose of argumentation at that—rather than with poetry.”

‘Ponge spent the last thirty years of his life as a recluse at his country home, Mas des Vergers. He suffered from frequent bouts with nervous exhaustion and numerous psychosomatic illnesses. He continued to write, however, and the work he was involved with at the time of his death was published posthumously in 1981. Entitled La Table, it “reflects what was Ponge’s undying, and increasingly obsessional, quest for le mot juste,” mused Gascoyne. “Its final sentence reads: “O Table, ma console et ma consolatrice, table qui me console, ou je me consolide.” For Ponge, his final subject was his writing table, which had in fact by then become his entire world.”’ — Poetry Foundation

 

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Extras


Francis Ponge et les surréalistes


“Le Pain” lu par Francis Ponge en 1962


la destruction des quartier Francis Ponge & Gaston Bachelard


Francis Ponge – L’huître…


Francis PONGE – Vers Francis Ponge (DOCUMENTAIRE, 1965)

 

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Further

Francis Ponge’s ‘Preface to a Bestiary’
FP’s ‘Soap’ @ Stanford University Press
Tom McCarthy on Francis Ponge
FP @ The PIP (Project for Innovative Poetry) Blog
‘Francis Ponge: Siding with things’
‘The Prefix of Prefixes:
Francis Ponge’s ‘Le Pré’ and La Fabrique du ’Pré’

Francis Ponge’s ‘l’Orange’ (bilingual)
Francis Ponge’s ‘Bread’
‘on Mute Objects of Expression by Francis Ponge
‘L’OBJET EN POESIE AU 20ème SIECLE : confrontation de quelques textes de Francis Ponge’
‘L’œuvre insupportable de Francis Ponge’
‘Commentaire hypertextuel du l’eau de Francis Ponge.
FP @ Writers No One Reads
‘THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: FRANCIS PONGE’S THE VOICE OF THINGS’
An appeciation of FP @ Lacanian Studies
Buy ‘Unfinished Ode to Mud’ @ CB Editions

 

____________
My Creative Effort
by Francis Ponge

 

THURSDAY 18 DECEMBER 1947

No doubt I am not very intelligent: in any case ideas are not my strong point. I’ve always been disappointed by them. The most well-founded opinions, the most harmonious philosophical systems (the best constituted) have always seemed to me utterly fragile, caused a certain revulsion, a sense of the emptiness at the heart of things, a painful feeling of inconsistency. I do not feel in the least assured of the propositions that I sometimes have occasion to put forth in the course of a discussion. The opposing arguments almost always appear just as valid; let’s say, for the sake of exactness, neither more nor less valid. I am easily convinced, easily put down. And when I say I am convinced: it is, if not of some truth, at least of the fragility of my own opinion. Furthermore, the value of ideas appears to me most often in inverse proportion to the enthusiasm with which they are expressed. A tone of conviction (and even of sincerity) is adopted, it seems to me, as much in order to convince oneself as to convince one’s interlocutor, and even more, perhaps, to replace conviction. To replace, so to speak, the truth which is absent from the propositions put forth. This is something I feel very strongly.

Hence, ideas as such seem to me to be the thing I am least capable of, and they are of little interest to me. You will no doubt object that this in itself is an idea (an opinion), but: ideas, opinions seem to me controlled in each individual by something completely other than free will, or judgment. Nothing appears to me more subjective, more epiphenomenal. I really cannot understand why people boast of them. I would find it unbearable should someone try to impose them on us. Wanting to give one’s opinion as objectively valid, or in the absolute, seems to me as absurd as to state, for example, that curly blonde hair is truer than sleek black hair, the song of the nightingale closer to the truth than the neighing of a horse. (On the other hand I am quite given to formulation and may even have a certain gift in this direction. “This is what you mean . . .” and generally the speaker agrees with my formulation. Is this a writer’s gift? Perhaps.)

It is somewhat different for what I shall call observations; or shall we say experimental ideas. It has always seemed desirable to me to agree, if not about opinions, at least about well-established facts, and if this still seems pretentious, at least on some solid definitions.

It was perhaps natural that with such a disposition (disgust for ideas, a taste for definitions) I should devote myself to recording and defining the objects of the world around us, and particularly those which constitute the familiar universe of our society, in our time. And why, it will be objected, do something over which has been done several times already, and firmly established in dictionaries and encyclopedias?—But, I shall reply, why and wherefore is it that several dictionaries and encyclopedias co-exist in a given language, and for the same objects their definitions fail to correspond? Why, above all, why do they seem more concerned with the definition of words than with the definition of things? Where do I get this impression, which is all in all quite preposterous? What causes the difference, this inconceivable gap between the definition of a word and the description of the thing designated by the word? Why is it that dictionary definitions seem so lamentably lacking in concreteness, and that descriptions (in novels and poems, for example) seem so incomplete (or too particular and detailed, on the contrary), so arbitrary, so random? Could one not imagine a sort of writing (new) which, situating itself more or less between the two genres (definition and description), would take from the first its infallibility, its indubitability, its brevity also, from the second its respect for the sensory aspect of things …

 

SATURDAY 27 DECEMBER 1947

If ideas disappoint me, don’t agree with me, it is because I too willingly agree with them, since that’s what they want, what they are made for. Ideas demand my assent, insist on it and it’s too easy for me to give in: this gift, this agreeableness, gives me no pleasure, but rather a certain revulsion, nausea. Objects, landscapes, events, people around give me a great deal of pleasure on the other hand. They convince me. By the very fact they don’t need to. Their presence, their obvious solidity, their thickness, their three dimensions, their palpability, indubitability, their existence of which I am far more certain than of my own, their: “that’s not something you invent (but discover)” side, their: “it’s beautiful because I couldn’t have invented it, I would have been quite incapable of inventing it” side, all that is my sole reason to exist, my pretext, so to speak; and the variety of things is in reality what makes me what I am. That’s what I want to say: their variety makes me, gives me permission to exist in silence even. As the place around which they exist. But in relation to a single one of them, in relation to each one of them in particular, if I consider only one of them, I disappear: it annihilates me. And, if it is only my pretext, my raison d’être, if it is therefore necessary that I exist, from it, it will only be, it can only be by a certain creation of my own with it as subject.

What creation? The text.

And, to start off, how do I imagine it, how could I have imagined it, how do I conceive of it?

Through works of art (literary).

(cont.)

 

_____
Things


Francis Ponge and Jacques Derrida, 1975




‘Le Galet’ by Francis Ponge & Man Ray


Ponge & Jean Fautrier


Francis Ponge, Andre Malraux, Paul Valery


Pierre Reverdy, Andre Breton, Francis Ponge


Simone DeBeauvoir, Francis Ponge, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus

 

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Book

Francis Ponge Unfinished Ode to Mud
CB Editions

‘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’).’ — CB Editions

 

Excerpts

Rain

The rain, in the courtyard where I watch it fall, comes down at very different speeds. In the centre, it is a fine discontinuous curtain (or mesh), falling implacably but relatively slowly, a drizzle, a never-ending languid precipitation, an intense dose of pure meteor. Not far from the right and left walls heavier drops fall more noisily, separately. Here they seem to be about the size of a grain of wheat, there of a pea, elsewhere nearly a marble. On the moulding, on the window ledges, the rain runs horizontally while on the undersides of these same obstacles it is suspended, plump as a humbug. It streams across the entire surface of a little zinc roof the peephole looks down on, in a thin moiré sheet due to the different currents set in motion by the imperceptible undulations and bumps in the roofing. From the adjoining gutter, where it runs with the restraint of a brook in a nearly level bed, it suddenly plunges in a perfectly vertical, coarsely braided stream to the ground, where it splatters and springs up again flashing like needles.

Each of its forms has a particular speed; each responds with a particular sound. The whole lives as intensely as a complicated mechanism, as precise as it is chancy, a clockwork whose spring is the weight of a given mass of precipitate vapour.

The chiming of the vertical streams on the ground, the gurgling of the gutters, the tiny gong beats multiply and resound all at once in a concert without monotony, not without delicacy.

When the spring is unwound, certain gears continue to function for a while, gradually slowing down, until the whole mechanism grinds to a halt. Then, if the sun comes out, everything is erased, the brilliant apparatus evaporates: it has rained.

 

The Young Mother

A few days after childbirth, the woman’s beauty is transformed.

Her face, often bent over her chest, grows slightly longer.

Her eyes, attentively peering down at a nearby object, occasionally look up, faintly distracted. Their gaze is filled with confidence, but seeking continuation. Her arms and hands bend together in a crescent, mutually sustaining. Her legs, grown thin and weakened, are gladly seated, knees drawn up high. The distended belly, livid, still very tender; the abdomen readjusts to rest, to nights under covers.

…But soon up and about, the tall body maneuvers through the bunting hung out conveniently high and low, which squares of wash, which from time to time are grasped by a free hand, are crinkled, tested knowledgeably, then folded or hung out again depending on the verdict.

 

The End of Autumn

In the end autumn is nothing but cold tea. All kinds of dead leaves macerate in the rain. No fermentation or distillation of alcohol: only spring will show the effect of compresses applied to a wooden leg.

The last returns are a mess. All the doors of the polling booths bang open and shut. Into the bin! Into the bin! Nature shreds her manuscripts, demolishes her library, furiously knocks down her final fruits.

Then she pushes herself up from her desk. At once she appears immense. Hair undone, head in the mist. Her arms hanging loose, delightfully she inhales the icy, thought-refreshing wind. Days are short, night falls quickly, comedy is uncalled for.

Up in the air among the other stars, the earth looks serious again. Its lit-up part is narrower, infiltrated with valleys of shadow. Its shoes, like those of a tramp, soak up water and make music.

In this frog pond, this salubrious amphibiguity, everything grows strong again, leaps from stone to stone and changes bog. Freshets multiply.

This is what you call a good clean-up, disrespectful of convention! Dressed in nothing, drenched to the bone.

And it goes on, and on, takes ages to dry out. Three months of salutary reflection in this state; without vascular incident, with neither peignoir nor horsehair mitt. Her strong constitution is up to it.

Then, when the little buds start to point again, they know what they are up to, what it’s all about – and if they peek out with precaution, swollen and ruddy, it is on good grounds.

But thereby hangs another tale, which may depend on but hasn’t the same smell as the black ruler I’m going to use to draw the line under this one.

 

The Blackberries

On the typographic bushes of the poem down a road leading neither out of things nor to the mind, certain fruits are composed of an agglomeration of spheres plumped with a drop of ink.

*

Black, rose and khaki together on the bunch, they are more like the sight of a rogue family at its different ages than a strong temptation to picking.

In view of the disproportion of seeds to pulp birds don’t think much of them, so little remains once from beak to anus they’ve been traversed.

*

But the poet in the course of his professional promenade takes the seed to task: ‘So,’ he tells himself, ‘the patient efforts of a fragile flower on a rebarbative tangle of brambles are by and large successful. Without much else to recommend them – ripe, indeed they are ripe – done, like my poem.’

 

The Crate

Midway from a cage to a dungeon, the French language has crate, a simple slatted case devoted to the transport of such fruits as at the least shortness of breath are bound to give up the ghost.

Knocked together so that once it is no longer needed it can be effortlessly crushed, it is not used twice. Which makes it even less durable than the melting or cloudlike produce within.

Then, at the corner of every street leading to the marketplace, it gleams with the modest sparkle of deal. Still spanking new and a little startled to find itself in the street in such an awkward position, cast off once and for all, this object is on the whole one of the most appealing – on whose destiny, however, there’s little point in dwelling.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. I too am not as versed re: graphic novels and so on as I think I should be. I never read comic books as a kid, and I think that’s the way in to the ‘grown up’ variant form for a lot of people? I had a post about the ‘Stalags’ here years ago. Maybe I should restore it. I’ll check. Glad to hear you’re on the mend. Lubitsch and July are certainly a curious combination. Huh, I see, about your dilemma about being an artist. I was always 100% determined to be an artist whatever it took from a young age, so I guess I never asked myself big questions about what that would mean about me. I definitely wish you luck with the interview! Lots and lots of luck! Yes, the French putting their bodies where their political passions are is joyous to behold as a fellow USA dude. The French don’t think kvetching on social media is the action, thank god. ** David Ehrenstein, Fotonovels actually date from the early 1940s. Thank you for the Fellini goodies. ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks for the pointers to the tabloid fotonovel things. Oh, no, what a drag that they didn’t get your application. That’s happened to me before. Yeah, concentrate on the possible bright side. No doubt there is a big one. ** Tosh Berman, Yes, Legs McNeil was responsible for the punk fotonovels via his magazine Punk. There were a few pages from one of them in the post somewhere. Really glad you liked the post. ** Dominik, Welcome home and back! I don’t know that film ‘Utoya: July 22’. I wonder if I can find it somewhere. I’ll try. You feel refreshed and raring to go from your trip, I hope? The TV script: Zac and I finished what is supposed to be the final version two days ago. Now Gisele is reading it, and we’ll meet with her on Saturday to get her input and then make the changes she wants. Then it will go to our producers and then on to ARTE, and we’re supposed to get a green light or a no but mid-March. I’m not feeling hugely hopeful because ARTE wanted us to do severe normalising of the script, and we refused to make it as normal and boring as they asked, so now we’ll see if we managed to do just enough to get through or not. Hard to tell. I’m meeting with the gallery on Thursday to talk about how it would happen, but, yes, barring a problem, the show will open on the 23rd. Still no concrete news on my novel. Maybe it will never get published. I’m good, good enough, yeah. Worried about the novel and the TV series project, but generally okay. And you? What’s this week holding for you? Big love, me. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Your first comment did register. Seems to be the weird problem people have here, i.e. not seeing their comments show up. Still don’t know why. Everyone, Steve has reviewed Ladj Ly’s much talked about (at least over here) film LES MISERABLES here. The French right wing media isn’t taken seriously by most people over here, and its bullshit just kind disappears into a far right wing hole. Haven’t heard the new Poppy. Early Kesha, huh. That’s a curious thing to write about. ** Wolf, L-l-l-l-oupppp! I would surely like to know your faves if you end up getting into doing the list thing. I agree with you re: the dilemma. Probably both, yep. I figure we’re built the way we’re built. A toilet can’t vacuum the floor and vice versa. And fighting can take many forms. I guess for me, when I type I want to type out my imagination and not use typing to give my thumbs up or down about things that need actual action to be effected, and when I act, I want to be able to believe that something changes because of that, even very tinily. Or something. What’s on your plate, pal? ** NLK, Hi, happy 2020 to you! Yeah, I think that’s right. I guess fotonovels originated in Italy in, like, 1943 or something. Shit, I read the backstory but I can’t remember. Huh, re: my gif novels, that’s interesting, yeah, maybe, yeah. Huh. I do know ‘Cover to Cover’. I agree, it’s fantastic! There’s a kind of fotonovel-like book of Godard’s ‘The Image Book’, but I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s a fascinating iteration of the film. Good to see you! Excited to see what you come up with this year too! ** Bill, Thanks to TimothyT whoever and wherever they are. Oh, so, I guess you’re either on a plane or touching down back west at this very second. Hopes that your back left you alone and that your inflight films made it feel like 90 minutes. Ha ha. ** Misanthrope, Yes, let’s both take on this year with joyful expressions and lots of barreling ahead! ** Okay. Do you guys know/like/not know/like Ponge? See you tomorrow.

11 Comments

  1. Corey Heiferman

    January 7, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Hadn’t heard of Ponge before. Very inspirational for Hebrew writing exercises.

    Good luck with the script! Doesn’t it often happen that a script thought to be weirder and edgier is a commercial hit, and one that’s thought to be safer and more conventional is a commercial flop?

  2. Hey Dennis,

    Omg Ponge! I had no idea he knew Bresson, thats so perfect. I just recently finished his book Song Cave book and thought it was fantastic. I always thought his popularity was recent, like a gem rediscovered, but the more I read about him the more it seems that’s only the case for English speakers,
    How are you Dennis? Has the TV script wrapped up? Has your novel found a home?
    I also wanted to thank you for turning me on to Dr. Gene Scott a few months ago. I ended up writing my final as a comparative essay on him and Jaime Davidovich’s “The Live! Show,” and there was more there than you might think. It’s funny, aside from Herzogs movie, the only way to watch anything close to his actual program is by torrenting “best of” clips off the internet. And this is only of his later stuff, when TiVo existed, so all of his early broadcasts with that bonkers set only exist in pictures and herzogs film. I feel like the “funny compilation” of otherwise completely lost broadcasts has some place in the weirdo form hall of fame with fotonovels, no? Anyway, I wanted to swing by and say thanks.
    Any plans for the rest of the week?

  3. “Le Parti pris des choses” is a masterpiece. Susan Sontag first brought Ponge to my attention.

  4. Hey Dennis, I’ve never heard of Ponge either, but thanks for bringing him to our attention.

    Sorry I’ve been a stranger. Remember that sinus infection I had at the end of last year? Well, right after I recovered from that I came down with a cold like a day before New Years, and I’ve been dealing with that for over a week now. The worst of it actually peaked a few days ago, but there are still some lingering aftereffects.

  5. Ponge is a new name to me and I enjoy these poems, The Young Mother in particular.

    I was at the DCA this morning to see their new show Seized by the Left Hand, which is based on Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1969 sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness. I’ve started on that book because there’s a reading group there in a couple of weeks and besides, it happens to be speculative literature so it does tie in with what I’m up to with The Call zine. I stayed for a couple of the films such as BCE by Sophia Al-Maria & Victoria Sin and I liked what I saw.

  6. I’m reviewing Kesha’s forthcoming album, which comes out at the end of this month. But I was listening to her first album in preparation. It did get some write-ups last week because that was its 10th anniversary.

    Good news: I will be writing a 40th-anniversary look back at DRESSED TO KILL for the Quietus. More film writing for them this year looks very possible, but it’s up in the air now.

  7. Hi Dennis!

    Today is my 50th birthday!! Can you believe it??!!! I didn’t think I would get to 50 as fast as I did! Why it seems like just yesterday… (insert image of old man shaking his cane) 😂

    But even more important, Haunted Girlfriend made it on Queen Mob’s Best of 2019 list! And I just found out today, which made my birthday even more special! I think our boy Shane Jesse Christmass had something to do with it! Anyway, I’m just stoked my work is out there and people are reading it! ❤️❤️

    Have you any new updates on your new novel finding a permanent home? I hope it’s crystallizing as we speak!

    I don’t know Ponge, I will check this book out.

    I hope all is well with you, Dennis!

    Much love,
    James

  8. Dennis, Totally my intention.

    Our office shut down at 1 p.m. today because of some snow on the way. We got, like, an inch. I came home…and took a nap. That 20-mph commute laid me out, yo! Then I got up and went about my business.

    On chapter 3 of my novel. I need to pick up the pace a bit. Hope to be finished with by the end of February.

    How are things going with your recently completed novel?

  9. RIP Tiny Mixtapes? In a world where music journalism increasingly means restricting attention to a few big names, I hope their hiatus isn’t permanent.

  10. happy new year (& Elvis day) Coop!

    ah Ponge.. totally slipped my mind as i’m afraid lots of great creators have. i really need a reset. memory slipping.. defrag DEFRAG
    reboot imminent

    congratulations James on the 50 & the book.

  11. Shane Jesse Christmass

    January 8, 2020 at 11:40 pm

    Hi Dennis – I sent you a brief email just to say thanks for iclusing my book in your end of year post.

    At the risk of coming across like a Jerry Lewis Telethon, could I post the following:

    There is a Twitter auction going on with the hashtag #AuthorsForFireys – and I am donating some items.

    If people are interested – they just need to go to my Twitter, and bid on the books. The highest bidder then wins (obviously) and they then just make the donation to the Country Fire Authority (I can supply the link to the winner) and I will send the books.

    The current bid is up to $250. Auction ends Saturday 11 January 2020 AEST.

    As you can imagine – it’s a bit of a disaster down here. Anyway here’s what you could win:

    1 x SIGNED copy of ‘Xerox Over Manhattan’ published by Apocalypse Party
    1 x SIGNED copy of ‘Yeezus In Furs’ published by Dostoyevsky Wannabee
    1 x SIGNED copy of ‘Belfie Hell’ published by Inside The Castle
    The entire Mattress Grave discography sent to you as digital download (27 releases)
    The entire Snake Milker discography sent to you as digital download (4 releases)
    1 x SIGNED copy of the Snake Milker cassette ‘Cop Stripper’ that was put out by Chicago label: Pretty All Right – only 50 were made and it is sold out.

    My Twitter – https://twitter.com/SJXSJC/status/1214441655828275201?s=20

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