Expansive Poetics – (Blaise Cendrars)

Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961)

cover of 1913 edition of   La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France” by Blaise Cendrars, with illustration by Sonia Delaunay

Andrew Mayer [a student in the class] translated a couple little short poems from various different people – (Blaise) Cendrars, (Philippe) Souplault, and others, and they have the same swiftness (as Apollinaire) – non-punctuated swiftness – “At the 5 Corners” – (Aux 5 Coins) –  “I dare to make noise/color movement explosion light is everywhere/Life blossoms in sunlit windows/which melt in my mouth/I am ripe/I fall translucent in the street/ You speak, old man/ I don’t know how to open my eyes/Mouth of gold/Poetry’s a game” (“Oser et faire du bruit/Tout est couleur mouvement explosion lumière/La vie fleurit aux fenêtres du soleil/Qui se fond dans ma bouche/ Je suis mûr/ Et je tombe translucide dans la rue/ Tu parles, mon vieux/ Je ne sais pas ouvrir les yeux?/Bouche d’or/ La poésie est en jeu which is, actually, a description of how to write such a poem. That was the first of the poems of Blaise Cendrars. We have this huge long poem of Cendrars, which is a travelogue. His speciality was travel poems and John Dos Passos in the nineteen twenties just translated Cendrars long choo-choo-train poem, La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (The Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of little Jeanne of France), an account of a railroad trip across Siberia, Notes taken, and so it was that notational travel poetry which began influencing actually poetry on the road done in nineteen… the one we have here is done in nineteen-thirteen tonineteen-fourteen, written on theroad, with recollections of going all over the world, including, finally- “With the Milky Way around my neck/And the two hemispheres for goggles,/Full speed ahead/Never stall again,/ I reserved my seat in the first train to go through/the Channel Tunnel/The first  aviator to cross the Atlantic in a monocoupe (La voie lactée autour du cou/ Les deux hémisphères sur les yeux/ A toute vitesse /II n’y a plus de panes/ Si j’avais le temps de faire quelques économies je prendrais part au rallye aérien /J’ai réservé ma place dans le premier train qui passera/le tunnel sousla /Manche/ Je suis le premier aviateur qui traverse l’Atlantique en/monocoque 900 millions” – That’s the last line of Cendrars’ long poem, “ Panama or The Adventures of My Seven Uncles (Le panama ou les aventures de mes sept oncles”)

John Dos Passos (1896-1970)

Kenneth Patchen 1952.jpg

Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)

Cendrars had a big influence on me because, when I was in San Francisco in 1955, I met Kenneth Patchen, and we were talking about open-form free-verse writers (which, in those days, was actually a new thing in American conversational circles), and so he loaned me his old deluxe cheap paperback edition of Dos Passos’ translation of “Trans-Siberian Journey” (The Prose of the Trans-Siberian…”), and I got the idea (that), oh, you could just go along and write little poems with a notebook, (just like (Jack) Kerouac did in On The Road, except write broken-line poems made out of the notes, or fast thoughts, or spontaneous impressions, or fugitive signposts, or advertisements, or ephemera, or consciousness of landscape, while you were traveling, either by tape or by notebook – The Voyage transsibérien of Cendrars, (and similar poems by (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti,who also did a trans-Siberian train-trip to Vladivostok – (there’s) a whole genre). And so, a lot of the poems I have, like “Wichita Vortex Sutra or poems in The Fall of America. fall into that category. And that comes out of Cendrars, who we have here in the anthology You might check him out.

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-one minutes in] 

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