Yves Peyré is a contemporary French poet, recognized as one of the leading figures in his field. He has published many volumes of poetry, essays and livres d’artiste. For his collection of poems, Récit d’une simple saison, published by Mercure de France in 1995, he received le Prix Dada. He is Director of the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, the French government’s library of first editions, manuscripts and publications of modern Frenchliterature.
The history of books, in which a dialogue exists between the written part and the illustrated part, shows the fruition of a lengthy development during which time passes in slow motion, during which the meeting of like minds is intense, during which the path from dream to accomplishment takes many turns. COSMOGONIE INTIME An Intimate Cosmogony provides good examples of all these characteristics, including in this case the fact that the partners also had to surmount a geographical distance handicap and a linguistic diversity handicap. We now hold this book in our hands. We, the actors in this drama, now contemplate the results and are quite moved since it represents the resolution of a long story, because it might conceivably be viewed as nourished by an easy resolution of difficulties, judged only by the looks of it, meaning its total effect—which is all that really counts for readers in the long run. However this book has a story and at times could have foundered.
It all began with another book. In 1990, Elizabeth Jackson was in Paris to deal with questions concerning the American edition of Henri Michaux’s marvelous poetic nar-rative entitled Meidosems, for which she had just completed an English translation. A friend, to whom she turned for assistance, suggested that she and I might meet to pursue these questions since I had had close and affectionate ties with Michaux. We met, and our work together was as warm as it was enthusiastic. Liz and I instantly became accomplices together for the Michaux project. She asked me right away if I would write a poem to figure at the beginning of this American version of Meidosems—a formidable honor which I couldn’t refuse. That is how I came to be a part of that astonishing project, conceived with such a natural flair for its American edition. The publisher whom Liz then chose for the American Meidosems was Felicia Rice, who happened to be the daughter of an artist couple, in fact long-time friends of Liz. Of course, Felicia became the book artist and publisher for Meidosems due to her own autonomous genius. That book in itself was for me immensely gratifying.
Somewhat later, I met Felicia when she and Liz were in Paris together. The three of us then found ourselves quite carried away and right then decided to create a book together: I would write a group of poems, Liz would translate them, Felicia would design and publish the book under the aegis of Moving Parts Press. Then we would just have to find an artist. We could figure this out. The artist would also be American and I would be the only French person involved in this very transatlantic book. More precisely, this book would have a French touch—Parisian with a hint of Provence. It would also have an American West Coast touch including different points—Santa Cruz and Mendocino in California, and the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. In fact we were probably hoping to establish a “Golden Gate” mentality, broadly defined, to connect us across the immense space separating us each from the other.
For our project, I chose five long poems which formed one indisputable sequence. Liz undertook the task of translating them. In 1997, I traveled to the West Coast and things really moved into high gear. I spent some time in Santa Cruz with Felicia and her family. I recall vividly that she was then putting the finishing touches on a book which intrigued me immensely because of its genius and daring. It was Codex Espangliensis, one of the great books produced during the second half of the twentieth century. I watched this marvel take shape. I didn’t realize that once it was finished it would astound me even more. That long, challenging journey with my family in the West was immensely stimulating for me: I loved the landscapes, the special places and also how kind everyone was. We spent a week in Ashland, in that beautiful Oregon wilderness, with Liz. We worked together on the translation; how very pleasant was that exchange during which we found ourselves in a language neither altogether French nor altogether English, but somewhere in an extraordinary, thrilling intermediary sphere.
After that, we drove down the coast to Mendocino where the three of us—Felicia, Liz and myself—all met together again. Felicia’s parents lived there in a place loaded with creativity. One evening we had a picnic on the beach, including about twenty people. Afterward, Felicia’s mother invited us back to her house. There I discovered her sculptures and recognized the breadth and extent of Felicia’s father’s art works. (Ray Rice, her father, was then in the hospital.)
I was immensely struck by the beauty and the specificity of Ray’s achievement. One of his films which I’d seen that afternoon completely won me over. Before that, at Liz’s house in Ashland, I’d seen and admired one of his strip paintings—slim and light lengths of wood, boards on which he had painted strange legends, elemental landscapes. They hung from the ceiling: expressions of verticality, descending meanings, a cascade of emotions. There was so much of that in Miriam and Ray’s house! I was haunted by these objects so totally sacred. I decided to buy some of them but said nothing about that idea right then. Everything whirled together in my head: my poems—their form and their verbal content—together with Navajo intensity, together with Ray’s constructions. Something troubling was happening, like an involuntary and unexpected mix of equivalents, a miraculous encounter. I told Felicia that I wanted to buy a strip painting—a wish soon accomplished. (I have it now at home in Paris, happily available to contemplate daily.) The next morning, I told her that I had carefully thought this over: The only painter who would be just right for our book was Ray, on condition that she, Felicia, would not be uncomfortable collaborating with her own father. Liz and Felicia hadn’t expected such a proposition, but they were delighted at the thought. In life, just as in art, we must yield to heartfelt inclinations.
Ray Rice joined in with this project; the lengthy notes he wrote down while reading my poems touch me deeply. He set to work fervently on his task of creating images to accompany the text. He accomplished an immense amount of work despite his weakening health. I never did meet Ray, which deeply disappoints me, and he was never to hold in his hands the finished book, a grievous injustice. He expired in 2001, before the volume was put together, but he had enough time to create his echoing strip which punctuates each page of the whole book, as much his own invention as a re-creation of the poems in image format. Together, delicacy of color and forcefulness of line rival the narrative context with no goal other than an imperious need to be there, accompanying their neighbor. I thank him for this lofty secret dialogue that we were able to accomplish without having met.
Quite soon, Felicia Rice worked out exacting ideas for the page setting, understanding how to respect space. The book which she invented is most beautiful, a beauty which touches on something special relating to our foursome. The book is not French in the worst sense (meaning overly “bibliophile”) and I like that. It is modern in form and in spirit. Its classicism is offset by the relative fullness of the poems, the setback of the margins, the colored center strips presented along the Fabriano Italiano paper which spreads out, alive in whiteness, rather like fabric. In our humble way we are collective weavers of a modern Bayeux Tapestry. In 1999, when the three of us met in New York, Felicia already knew where she was going. Minimal unforeseen changes only reinforced or refined the melodious line she had defined for herself.
The considerable amount of work accomplished by each partner remains sight unseen considering the powerful presence of the book: it is simple, it unfolds within its own rectitude. It evades us. And we all recognize ourselves within. Friendship was likely a motivating force…affection, but what must not be understated is how important it was for each of us not to betray the excess of the others. In that sense it was a case of wise folly. This book was destined to be.
For those of us who came together, united, so as to make it happen, there is joy and wonder now seeing it embodied. (I had followed its diverse stages marked by Liz’s arrivals in Paris; however, its now being finished is nonetheless a surprise.) For Ray, it represents an homage: having eighty-four copies colored by pochoir technique (in addition to the twelve copies which he, the artist, painted by hand) was no small achievement. A book shared and a book abolishing differences: the Fifth Arrondissement in Paris, Santa Cruz, the Beaujolais, Mendocino, the Drôme, Ashland—all contained in one unique breath. One French poet facing three Americans: a translator absorbed with finding the passage between two languages, converting strange and curious expressions, an artist with one ear attuned to legends while scanning the alphabet of signs, a book creator the likes of which are unknown but which had to exist. All this, in play within the compass of intimacy as well as the compass of avowal, a banquet of turned pages, a dream which reality neither weakens nor fades. On the hill where it stands, Moving Parts Press sets down things unforeseen fully urgent.
Photo: Michel Nguyen That
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