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Review: Talking Vrouz, by Valérie Rouzeau

Surreal truth and other pleasures

The translation by Susan Wicks from two books by the French poet Valérie Rouzeau (b.1967) is a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation, comes therefore as it were reviewed already and by people better equipped from French to English than I am. The very first line sets the scene for the book's racing along 'mind blowing' as I recall I used to say of whatever it was once,


Le cheval a mangé la rose voice le Prince


The horse has eaten the rose here is the Prince

The book (anyway) is a tour de force of surreal truth, it seems to me, the voice convinces me this is living, this is how it is for this poet while also something grand and carefree is communicated. Surreal not crazy this and that but a way of saying how it is, my readers, this is my life here.

But these lines, whatever the French,


Down the whole track-length of the railway-line
Grow the dandelions with their trustful faces'?

- isn't the inversion unfelicitious, holding up when flow should be enabled?

But the book as a whole is as pleasurably readable as any I've read in a long time, the sheer liveliness of the images, that's to say of the connections, which is to say of the living sensation of discovery. Perhaps the more recent, from Vrouz (2013), take off the more wildly, a person is always there, here, as it were, very much a lively presence. Here, for example, a section from a sequence,


You walk towards death you think
But everyone does that and even if you'd worn your holdup tights
(If not a lovely leg they'd have made a great big stocking for the tree)
And when like Gaston you could just as well be walking
towards love so go
and in your absence lose yourself and find.

The poems use no stops until the end one. Read perhaps a few poems or sections at a time, straight through seems too much, and some of the lines are like stand-up jokes ('Before you leave the train make sure/ You haven't left yourself or anything behind'), but if you think, as I do, that language as talked, for instance, on the radio is ever narrowing to lazy cliché, then the poet is more than ever the guardian of the richness of the language. In 'speaking about', the introduction is an instructive pleasure in itself, and there are good end-notes.