Skip to main content

GUEST REVIEW: BAXTER ON NEPVEU

Jamie Baxter reviews
The Major Verbs
by Pierre Nepveu

The Major Verbs is the translation of Pierre Nepveu’s award winning collection Les Verbes Majeurs, translated by Donald Winkler. The collection consists of three sequences: one focused on a woman, a night cleaner, on the subway, another considers a group of stones on a table and the third is dedicated to the poet’s parents. The book ends with a poem written in the America southwest.

The first section examines the woman on the subway, her life, her job, her place in the world as well as the poet’s own loneliness while attempting to connect with a stranger without interacting with them.
The woman asleep in the subway
trails into dawn
her nightlong chores.

The first three lines of the collection shows the effortless tenderness poet and translator have succeeded in creating in the first section of the book. Nepveu paints the office-scape where the cleaner works as bleak and at times frightening with ‘fax machine’s sudden stuttering’ and ‘ravenous vacuum cleaner maw’ where ‘chill winds come from unseen ducts’. The poet patiently shows us this woman’s unseen toil after the working masses have left whom she does not speak to ‘not even to ask directions’. But the section does not end with this intimate portrait but interrogates the poet’s relationship to the woman noting,
..I’ve only the ardour
of the ancient troubadour
who on horseback implored the void
to be beautiful and to become a poem

But the Nepveu is never in danger of descending into hysteria and speaks in the woman’s voice to say, ‘I didn’t see you’ and even more adeptly, ‘even if I had/ you would be absence itself and forgetfulness’.

The second section is ‘Stones on a Table’ and these stones are the direct consideration of the first few poems in the sequence where Nepveu probes these simple objects to find something elusive,

I sensed there a refusal,
a stellar eternity
holding itself cold and dense.

In the following poems the stones become a mere presence, a prop in an unhappy relationship, ‘On the table between the two of us/the stones weigh heavy’. The poet continually sets sweeping statement against the most delicate of details which gives these poems, and indeed the whole book, an exceptional breadth and depth which is hard not to marvel at as well as enjoy.

The third section of the book is full of loss, punctuated with haunting and images such as, ‘I see time/unstitch in their eyes’. The poet accuses his mother, ‘she let/ the television’s cathode glow/ penetrate her through and through,’ giving the anger that grief often contains a poetic outlet. Nepveu masterfully succeeds at creating a book with a life of its own which unflinchingly examines every aspect of life, leaving you with a new, beautiful way of describing it all.

Jamie Baxter is 25, living and working in London and after graduating from Durham University. He has been published in Astronaut and The Delinquent and on the Cadaverine and Pomegranate.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

OSCAR SMOSHCAR

The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…