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Review of Mute Objects of Expression from American Poet Journal


Because of wartime deprivations during the early 1940s, French poet Francis Ponge had only a small notebook to write in. In that notebook, despite the darkness of the German occupation, he wrote loving, playful, smart, and soaring pieces about the smallest inhabitants of the world around him. 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. In a serious moment in the book, he wrote, “Accept the challenge things offer to language. These carnations, for instance, defy language. I won’t rest till I have drawn together a few words that will compel anyone reading or hearing them to say: this has to do with something like a carnation.” The drive to capture what we all share roots this book that taks on as many modes of seeing as are necessary and available. Ponge describes his subjects from many angles and always with lyricism and a voice, he entered their mindset (even if they did not have one), generated theories on how they function, all the while commenting on his own project and ways of seeing in a friendly manner. As James Merrill wrote, “Ponge forgets no resource of language, natural or unnatural. He positively dines upon the etymological root, seasoning it with fantastic gaiety and invention.” The result is a great pleasure to read.

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