Mute Objects of Expressionby Francis Ponge
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In Mute Objects of Expression, Francis Ponge proclaims his goal: to accept the challenge which objects offer to language. Fortunately for the reader, these objects — less chosen than received spontaneously — are perceived with unique Pongean art and humor in this volume growing out of the unoccupied southern Loire countryside where his family lived from 1940 to 1943. Ponge’s poems recall the violent perfume of the mimosa, the cries of carnations, and the flirtations of wasps. He is bound to explore a shadowy town square glimpsed from a passing bus window. Ponge also agonizes over his own limitations: “Never … to conquer this landscape of Provence? That would be too much!” Because of the wartime shortages, much of the book was drafted in a small notebook that made up his sole supply of paper.
Francis Ponge’s prose accepts the truth that things themselves defy our language. The writing accepts this, but is not resigned to it: in Ponge, the presence of trees, ‘the slow production of wood,’ senility itself, bespeak a blazing conflagration that has not happened, which is to say that in Ponge, Being holds out against its every nemesis, and both Being and Non-Being offer themselves to our dream of silence. Ponge is the great poet of our being with things.
— Leonard Schwartz
Ponge wrote like a scientist whose language is poetry. He was endlessly inquisitive about his subjects—including the wasp, birds, the carnation, "The Pleasure of the Pine Woods"—but what we end up learning is how the mind animates the world.
— American Poet Journal
Ponge, to be sure, forfeits no resource of language, natural or unnatural. He positively dines upon the etymological root, seasoning it with fantastic gaiety and invention.
— James Merrill
No poet has looked more determinedly or more ferociously at things than Francis Ponge.
— Peter Sirr
Read his New York Times obituary here:
Francis Ponge, considered the last of the postwar generation of French poets, died Saturday at his home in Le Bar-sur-Loup, in the Maritime Alps, his family said today. He was 89 years old.
Mr. Ponge, who was a member of the French Resistance during World War II, gained fame through his ”thing-poetry,” lengthy, detailed descriptions of objects, published mainly between 1942 and 1967.
He had lived as a recluse for the last 20 years.
Mr. Ponge took part in conferences at universities in Italy, Canada and the United States in the 1960’s, and was a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York in 1967. He won several international poetry prizes in addition to the French Academy’s 1972 grand prize for poetry.