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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.
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