W e b l o g -- Charles Bernstein
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Charles Bernstein

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Originally published in a French translation in
Je Te Continue Ma Lecture: Mélanges pour Claude Royet-Journoud
(Paris: P.O.L., 1999).


For Claude
but I don’t
know why

(extended play version for verso)

1. When Claude Royet-Journoud came to Buffalo in 1995 to read for the Poetics Program I was able to read with him my semi-homophonic translation of one of his poems, the last line of which I translated as “work vertical and blank.” Claude used a clock to time the blank space in the poem, although whether that space is blank or white is of course a matter of some controversy. For my part, I used the space between the stanzas as a rhythmic interval and so expressed it through a kind of internal counting with (not just in) my head. Later, Claude noted that he wished to move away from the sound of the words, while in my translation I had foregrounded the sound of the French, trying to bring that over into my “American” version. Both these reversals seemed to me to suggest what I have found so interesting in my reading of Claude’s work and my sense of an ongoing exchange with him. In this case, the notion of obstacle was translated into a poetics of reversal. If you read back through the translation via the reversal, the obstacle understood as something akin to resistance measured not in Ohms, as in electrodynamics, but perhaps O’s! – you may experience a closed poetic circuit. Patent pending.

2. Later that same day, Claude, along with a large group of us, including Jean Frémon, Emmanuel Hocquard, and Jacqueline Risset, went to the Anchor Bar, home of the Buffalo Chicken Wing. I ordered the other famous Buffalo dish, Beef on Weck – a.k.a. roast beef on a hard (or kaiser) roll. The weck on the door in my drawing is possibly a reference to that but I can’t honestly say why it’s there. It just seemed like the right word.

3. When asked to participate in this special issue in honor of Claude I wanted to do something in the spirit of the many faxes I have received from Claude – spontaneous visual gestures that communicate a different sense of his personality than his poems. These works are meant as temporary gestures, marks of friendship and exchange. But unlike Claude, I can’t draw very well. Still, I have never let inability get in my way; in fact it has become my way.

4. A house standing next to a tree that becomes a sign of a page. A page that says it wants to be blank but isn’t. Margins that are no more than optical illusions. A triangular enclosure that serves as a roof of words, our human ceiling, through which we leak language. These are a few of my favorite things.

5. A rabbi, a priest, and a poet were standing in a stanza. The priest says to the rabbi, “How do you get out of here?” The rabbi replies, “Depends on where you’re going.” The poet maintains an uncomfortable but telling silence.

6. I don’t want to express my admiration for Claude Royet-Journoud. I want to live it.

7. My six-year-old son Felix likes to tell an old-time joke. “What’s the difference between a teacher and a railroad train?” –The teacher says “Spit that gum out!” and the train say “Choo Choo.”

8. Now here’s one that Felix made up:
“What’s the difference between a button and a shirt?” –The button is tied to the shirt but the shirt is not tied to the button.

9. Or as we say in the land of Foot High Melons, just off the coast of Taches Blanches:
“Can you please repeat that so Charles can understand?”

link    |  09-05-07

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