Breccia: Selected Poems 1972-86 by Pierre Joris

Breccia300It is from our bodies’s furrows that the first permission arises.

The drag of it. The pull of the pen across the magic writing pad.

It is the necessary violence we all call life

Breccia is an inspired grouping of poems from celebrated poet, translator, anthologist and essayist, Pierre Joris. It is a Collected Works, dated 1972 to 1986, that was first published in 1987 in Luxembourg by Editions PHI and in the USA by Station Hill Press. Unfortunately, the first edition was not widely distributed and the work has not thus received the readership it deserves. This all-new edition is a slightly expanded version of the former, restoring all the poems to their original states as first published in a series of small presses.

Such an important work is perhaps best introduced in the words of three fellow New York sages, all great poets, translators and teachers in their own right. Jerome Rothenberg was the co-editor (with Joris) of a much-acclaimed two-volume anthology of 20th Century Avant-Garde writings, Poems for the Millennium. Rothenberg had this to say about the impact of Joris’ work:

“Pierre Joris is a genuine Luxembourgian Yankee, who has invaded the American language, not to plunder but to enrich us with his presence. The scope of the work is large, the thrust is synthesizing, the idiom particular and rich. A renard-coyote, his accomplishment is there for all of us to see and hear.”

Cherished Brooklyn born poet, Robert Kelly, provides a lucid assessment of the language and literary scope of Joris’ work:

“Joris’ language (like that of Celan before him) makes the most honest claim on our ability too understand. He is not willing to lull us with music or charm us with images. The world his poems start out by hopelessly uprooted from, that world is never suavely commoditized for us, packaged. His language refers to nothing stable, only the domain between this thing and that. For all of us who are honest, it is necessary to admit: language itself is a second language, And Joris returns us to the primacy of the gulf between. He is the master of the unbridgeable chasm, the hand that cannot quite make it to the other hand. And the distance is precise, and his work vastly understands the distances, the sadness that is not patient with itself, the precision that does not thin itself any great thing for being right. This is honest, radical work, close to the beginning of a poetic disenchanted with its own airs and graces … Pierre Joris is a wonderful poet of remarkable breadth of concern and lyric occasion.”

Don Byrd, SUNY’s acclaimed sound artist and poet speaks directly to Breccia and how it clarifies Joris’ sense of poetic nomadism:

“[Breccia] is a showcase for poems from roughly twenty, sometimes rather fugitive, volumes, written and published during a time when Joris was living as a kind of postmodern nomad. One of the virtues of this in-gathering of work is that it makes clear the extent to which a sense of ‘nomadism’ — of being intensely in a place because one knows one has already left it — marks Joris’ poetry…. The sense of immediacy in his work is striking. But the images of weather and shifting light and shade that give so many poems their climate of feeling, always play against a complex flow of conceptual activity and the possibility, but only the possibility, of archetypal permanence…”

The new edition of the book retains the original introduction, ‘Oasis and Crossroads’, penned by the late great Eric Mottram – a central figure in the British Poetry Revival. Here, Mottram attempts to locate Joris in a borderless poetic landscape:

“…Joris’ poetry emerges within an active, varied cultural life – specific poems as moments of penetrative self estimation as critical estimation of the problems of the culture within which he is mobile, unrooted rather than uprooted, and yet consistently involved. In this sense, he is very much a late twentieth-century poet, outside the limits of nationalism, the parameters of limitation which wreck official poetry scenes, the legitimacies of prizes and government grants.”

In the original 1987 Preface to the work Joris himself speaks to the mixilating histo-cultural ethers that make up his intent:

“What I would have liked to see come through in Breccia is the tension between the fragmentary nature of experience & knowledge, & the desire for a narrative syntax, for the whole story of the tribe, the telling of which does inevitably blur the sharp edges of those shards. Europe gave me my history, those ghostly voices of the ancestors, real or made up, lied to or listened to. America gave me geography, the space of my dance. My hope has been that language, or what little of it I have been able to serve, has made a threshing floor for their marriage.”

It appears that such conjoining of narrative voices has been hugely successful throughout the breadth of Joris’ work. Breccia closely follows the recent publication of Barzakh: Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) and Breathturn into Timestead: The Complete Later Poetry of Paul Celan, translated & annotated by Pierre Joris (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux). The cover features a painting of an antlered Blakean figure by Allen Fisher, another wonderful poet associated with the British Poetry Revival. Skylight Press is proud to reissue this volume of experimental poetry and support the work of an important voice that has served to enrich the literary landscape in myriad ways.

Breccia: Selected Poems 1972-1986 is now available from various retail outlets such as, or direct from the Skylight Press website.


About Daniel

Writer & Musician
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1 Response to Breccia: Selected Poems 1972-86 by Pierre Joris

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