With poetry anthologies always determined by geography, genre, genus, gender, or group dynamics, it’s a joy to come across one that presents an odd assemblage of writers and unseen connections. In 4 X 1 Pierre Joris, a Luxembourgian now residing in America, presents a strange cross-cultural, multilingual, quasi-temporal grouping that at first catches the browser’s roving eye just by being disparate, contradistinctive, and yet inviting. The book includes a section from an unlikely quartet of poets, each translated into English by Joris, an interpreter and translator of note. But what makes it even more labyrinthine and delightful in the lingual sense is that each of the poets is a polyglot and multi-linguist in their own right. The texts are gloriously ravelled.
First up is the great hobby-horsist himself, Tristan Tzara, with his Poemes Negres, an odd amalgam of found poems from Maori, Pacific Islander and African tribal sources. Such “ethnopoetics” (as Joris accords them) were debuted on the smoky stage of the Cabaret Voltaire at the height of the Dada explosion. This is followed by the perhaps slightly more academically accepted work of Rainer Maria Rilke in a long-unpublished work, a strange agglomeration of letters, poems, prose fragments and notes. Joris explains how this work called Testament, the result of a love affair with one Baladine Klossowska, became the blueprints for greater works like Sonnets to Orpheus. From there we are transported some thirty years to the work of Jean-Pierre Duprey, a lesser surrealist light perhaps, but allowed to shine exquisitely here. Another eccentric compilation of intermingled poetry and prose, The End and the Manner contains sharp shards of nightmare and anxiety, as well as a gorgeous outpouring of bardic lament. The foursome is rounded out by the more contemporary Arab poet, Habib Tengour, in an ethereal morsel from his work, The Old Man and the Mountain. Joris, a leading voice in Arab and Middle Eastern literature, introduces us to a new Maghrebian world full of mirrors and mirages, all with fresh intrigues and resonances for the would-be Western visitor.
There should be more books like 4 x 1. The connections and hazard-happings come slowly through a willing immersion in these texts, strengthened by Joris’s illuminating notes on translation. He gives us a new way to perceive of and amalgamate literature, allowing us to “trace a weirdly exemplary, if abbreviated, poetic map” – one that transcends traditional borders and cultural containments.