Tuesday, April 01, 2008

national poetry month begins with the mollusk...

since april is national poetry month, the first post of april should, of course, be a poem. i've had francis ponge's selected poems on my nightstand for about a year now, and i still feel i hardly know them. i was happy to discover through the wonderful art of memory blog (where they've been obsessively posting on bresson for over a week now) that ponge knew bresson (!). their works certianly share a kindred spirit of austerity, and a deceptive sense of simplicity.

there are a ton of gems in ponge's oeuvre, but my recent favorite is a short poem called 'the mollusk' (which also reminded me of jean painleve's films, which feel very much in the spirit of much of ponge's writing, particularly the messy edges between science and poetry - knowledge and wonder...). the mollusk has one of my favorite things i've ever read... the idea of a mollusk being like paint without the paint tube.

the mollusk is a being - almost a quality. it doesn't need a
skeleton, just a rampart; something like a paint tube.
nature has abandoned all hope here of shaping plasma. she
merely shows her attachment by carefully sheltering it in a jewel
case, more beautiful inside than out.
so it's not just a gob of spit; but a truly precious reality.
the mollusk is endowed with terrific energy for self - closure.
strictly speaking it's nothing but a muscle, a hinge, a door-closer
and its door.
a door-closer that has secreted the door. two slightly concave
doors constitute its entire dwelling.
the first and last dwelling. it stays on even after it dies.
no getting it out alive.
the slightest cell in the human body clings just as tightly to
language - and vice versa.
but sometimes another being violates the tomb, if it's well-made,
and takes the place of the deceased builder.
as is the case of the hermit crab.

the translations are by c.k. williams. i don't read french (the book is bilingual), but i do believe these english versions are quite beautiful.

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