AG: So (Philip Lamantia), (Andre) Breton and the Surrealist school wanted a poetry of marvelousness, not any old plodding (like) the plums (that) you left in the ice-box (“This Is Just To Say”) – (“I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/for breakfast/ Forgive me/they were delicious/so sweet/and so cold.” – which is (William Carlos) Williams), or the chewing-gum – (the little black mushrooms growing on the subway platform when I looked at them they were used chewing-gum) – [Allen is quoting from (Charles Reznikoff here – “Walk about a subway station/in a grove of steel pillars/ how their knobs, the rivet-heads – /unlike those of oaks -/are regularly placed/ how barren the ground is/ except here and there on the platform/a flat black fungus/that was chewing- gum] Occasionally, Reznikoff and the Imagists will get something marvelous out of the direct view of reality – like I always thought that the mushroom chewing-gum idea of Reznikoff’s was magical transformation, actually.
– well, that’s somewhat… that could be eighteenth-century – “Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger/Whose mouth is a bright cockade with the fragrance of a star of the first magnitude/Whose teeth leave prints like the tracks of white mice over snow/Whose tongue is made of amber and polished glass” /Whose tongue is a stabbed wafer/(“.. à la taille de loutre entre les dents du tigre/… à la bouche de cocarde et de bouquets d’étoiles de dernière grandeur/Aux dents d’empreinte de souris blanche sur la terre blanche/A la langue d’ambre et de verre frottés/Ma femme à la langue d’hostie poignardée.”) – The tongue of a doll with eyes that open and shut.” (“A la langue de poupée qui ouvre et ferme les yeux”)…
“My wife whose hair is a brush fire/Whose thoughts are summer lightning..”Ma femme à la chevelure de feu de bois/Aux pensées d’éclairs de chaleur“ – And, actually, you begin to get some uncanny images coming up now. It’s like Surrealist movies,if you’ve ever seen them (and Surrealist movies do have that odor or strangeness of a silent dream). – [Allen continues his reading of Andre Breton’s “Free Union”] – “The tongue of a doll with eyes that open and shut/Whose tongue is an incredible stone/ My wife whose eyelashes are strokes in the handwriting of a child/Whose eyebrows are nests of swallows…” (“A la langue de poupée qui ouvre et ferme les yeux/A la langue de pierre incroyable/Ma femme aux cils de bâton d’écriture d’enfant/Aux sourcils de bord de nid d’hirondelle…“)
”Whose fingers are fresh-cut hay/My wife with the armpits of martens and beech fruit” (Aux doigts de foin coupé/Ma femme aux aisselles de martre et de fênes“) – Actually, that’s probably a bit literal – the featheriness of the marten and the odor of beech fruit – “And Midsummer Night/That are hedges of privet and nesting places for sea snails/ Whose arms are of sea foam and a landlocked sea…” (De nuit de la Saint Jean/De troène et de nids de scalares/Aux bras d’écume de mer et d’écluse”)…
”My wife whose breasts are of the night/And are undersea molehills/And crucibles of rubies..” (“Ma femme aux seins de taupinière marine/Ma femme aux seins de creuset du rubis“) – [(There’s a certain literality to that, like, (the) metaphor – “My wife whose nipples are crucibles of rubies” – I suppose you could pass that (off) as euphemistic poetry, that is, poetry of exaggeration, hyperbolic floweriness)] – “My wife whose breasts are haunted by the ghosts of dew-moistened roses/Whose belly is a fan unfolded in the sunlight/Is a giant talon…” (“Aux seins de spectre de la rose sous la rosée/Ma femme au ventre de dépliement d’éventail des jours/Au ventre de griffe géante“) – [(My wife whose belly is a giant talon? – It’s a very odd excruciating image, actually] –
“My wife with the back of a bird in vertical flight/With a back of quicksilver/And bright lights/My wife whose nape is of smooth worn stone and wet chalk..”(“Ma femme au dos d’oiseau qui fuit vertical/Au dos de vif argent/Au dos de lumière/A la nuque de pierre roulée et de craie mouillée – [(William Carlos) Williams would hardly ever have written anything like that – “My wife hose nape is..of wet chalk.”] – “And of a glass slipped through the fingers of someone who has just drunk/ My wife with the thighs of a skiff..” – [(a little canoe, or a little sailboat)] (“Et de chute d’un verre dans lequel on vient de boire/Ma femme aux hanches de nacelle“)
– “That are lustrous and feathered like arrows/Stemmed with the light tailbones of a white peacock/And imperceptible balance/ My wife whose rump is sandstone and flax/Whose rump is the back of a swan and the spring/My wife with the sex of an iris/A mine and a platypus/With the sex of an algae and old-fashioned candles” –(“Aux hanches de lustre et de pennes de flèche/Et de tiges de plumes de paon blanc De balance insensible/Ma femme aux fesses de grès et d’amiante/Ma femme aux fesses de dos de cygne/Ma femme aux fesses de printemps/Au sexe de glaïeul/Ma femme au sexe de placer et d’ornithorynque/Ma femme au sexe d’algue et de bonbons anciens“) – that’s the best lines in it, I think – “My wife with the sex of an iris/A mine and a platypus/With the sex of an algae and old-fashioned candles” (“Ma femme …/Au sexe de glaïeul/Ma femme au sexe de placer et d’ornithorynque/Ma femme au sexe d’algue et de bonbons anciens”) – [(Well, they’re all true in a funny way – the platypussy aspect, the iris aspect, the mine, depth, algae, old-fashioned candles. So there’s a strange literalism to the Surrealism. Although it doesn’t look so at first, it’s actually, what Aristotle called, describing metaphor,(as) “the apt relation of dissimilars” (which is actually, what Surrealism occasionally touches on, and then, at other times, I guess, it’s the contrary, contrariness relation, just for the sensation of putting together opposites and shocking the mind out of its normal range and reach of association.
to be continued..
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-five and three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in]
Addenda: (en francais) Andre Breton Interview (from 1961):