Bernard Noël - The author recounts an intense initiatory sexual quest which occurs on a mysterious remote island. Chosen as the moon’s lover the hero undertakes a Dantesque voyage through sucessive levels of pain and ecstasy.

Bernard Noël, The Castle of Communion, Trans. by Paul Buck and Glenda George, Atlas Press, 1993.

When Le Château de Cène (here translated as The Castle of Communion) first appeared in France in 1969, under the sonorous pseudonym of Urbain d’Orlhac, it created a sensation. Immediately recognised as being among the finest works of French literary eroticism (along with, say, Bataille’s Story of the Eye, or Reage’s Story of O), its author was soon identified: the poet and essayist Bernard Noël, born in 1930.
The author recounts an intense initiatory sexual quest which occurs on a mysterious remote island. Chosen as the moon’s lover the hero undertakes a Dantesque voyage through sucessive levels of pain and ecstasy. The book’s climax is a beatific rite of sexual purification in the Castle of Communion, which is described in a poetic language at once incantatory, crude and almost mystical. The intensity of the book matches its method of composition: dictated into a tape recorder and finished in only 3 weeks, and written as a partial response to the atrocities of the French authorities in Algeria. This edition is postfaced by Noël’s essay The Outrage Against Words, his thoughts on the government’s unsuccessful attempts through the courts to supress the novel for "outraging public morals." He illuminates the intimate connection between writing and censorship in general.

I've read some pretty outlandish and excessive material over the years, I've also read some very poorly written garbage that really should have been written better for its cause and some really great things with no purpose.
This was unbelievably dark, hallucinogenic, unbelievably well written, and was written for a good reason.
The book itself is an epic journey through horrific torture and sex into the heart of ecstasy. Once you begin getting close to the end it all makes sense as to why he did this. The imagery is something you won't forget, you cannot. There are parts that still stick in my mind and turn my stomach. It's unbelievable that I have read a fair amount of de Sade but this book alone was more punishing and brilliant than de Sade's whole gamut.
Beautifully written, yet at the same time exceedingly horrific. The cause for which this was written NEEDED something this striking to get the publics attention. After reading I couldn't imagine many people who wouldn't take notice. The final essay is a perfect end and a great insight into the heart of the author, Bernard Noel.
This book is not for the weak of heart, the weak of stomach, or the orthodox. I can't even describe how terrifying this book was at times. What was amazing is the language and how Mr. Noel rose above the degeneracy of the acts to present something astonishingly powerful and poetic. You're torn apart. Where part of myself could barely get past some of the imagery, another part was blown away by the mastery of story-telling and words.  - r. kopisc

Bernard Noël, The Rest of the Voyage: Poems, Trans. by Eléna Rivera, Graywolf Press; Bilingual ed, 2011.

Winner of the Robert Fagles Prize for contemporary poetry in translation
Eléna Rivera’s translation of Bernard Noël’s The Rest of the Voyage is at once original and remarkably faithful—indeed, its originality lies in the care and music the translator has brought to her commitment to follow Noël’s forms as closely as possible. Rivera succeeds beautifully in setting the rhythms of the French original into English. The succession of poems has a fluency that becomes as mesmerizing as any mode of transport, for Rivera is remarkably adept at varying the lines, landing with emphasis or muting the effect as she follows the speed and light of Noël’s themes. Those themes are no less than a meditation on the traveler’s encounter with landscape in the late twentieth century. Noël takes on distant shots and close-ups, moving too quickly to see particulars or so slowly that objects become abstractions, conveying the smells, tastes, and sounds of each location in wholes and parts, reflexively considering what is invisible to a visitor, and meditating on the ancient theme of the voyage of life with great vividness and freshness. Noël is one of the most distinguished living writers in France. Yet Rivera’s is the first translation of his poetry into English, and her work thus remedies an unfortunate weakness in English-language letters." —Susan Stewart

“[Noël] here contemplates time, memory, history, death, and, especially, our voyage toward self-discovery. . . . This is the poet as creator, casting his sight on objects visible and invisible to bring them to the fullness of life . . . Noël’s various techniques include cinematic scenes, theatrical monolog, detailed historical accounts, and photographic shots to create a vivid text. [Rivera] skillfully captures the energy and beauty of the original.”—Library Journal

“Bernard Noël is a cerebral, urban-realist mystic caught up by the extraordinary in everyday language as it passes by, carried in things themselves. He captures the instant of wonder, filled with longing, lust, and above all necessity, grounding it in earthy satisfaction.”—New Pages

“[Rivera’s] introduction is essential for understanding the decisions that make for the extraordinary beauty of this difficult work. Rivera has not elided its complexities; instead, she has passed the work’s challenged on to the reader. Put simply, the book is about the soundless and irreparable damage of time’s glacier-like passage over human monuments of faith and bad taste.”—Booklist

“[These] poems move quickly and provide much pleasure in their swiftness, their sounds, and the kind intelligence of the speaker.”—Conversations Across Borders

"In her introduction, [Elena Rivera] describes translating Noël's work as a resource and gift. The translations convey this sense of wealth in the abundance and mastery of her line variation, rhythm, and pacing. . . . This is a book to read slowly, to feel your own complicity in the creative process."—The American Poetry Review

“For any international poetry collection, The Rest of the Voyage is a choice and much recommended addition.”—The Midwest Book Review

Bernard Noël is a cerebral, urban-realist mystic caught up by the extraordinary in everyday language as it passes by, carried in things themselves. He captures the instant of wonder, filled with longing, lust, and above all necessity, grounding it in earthy satisfaction. What the eyes see wanes but lives on as a concern of thought. The book is a record of a life of such sight:
it all issues from our bodies from the earth
there John dips his quill into it when he writes
the Apocalypse and the very base seem then
at the tip of the nib ink is obscene light
The Rest of the Voyage is only Noël’s second book of poems to be translated from French into English, and arriving as it does in his eighth decade of a much-celebrated life of writing, it is well past due. While the failure to include the original French in this edition is a major disappointment, especially since translator Eléna Rivera follows the strict eleven syllables per line count which Noël set himself composing these poems (which no doubt enforced upon her some tricky hijinks of enjambment), this is nonetheless a stellar work. Rivera is particularly faithful to what’s happening inside of the poems, each translation possessing the feel of adhering closely to what the poem wants. As she observes, “I became an interpreter within Noël’s poems, as if the poems were growing out of an understanding, a closeness to the words.” The clarity of her translation, which allows for the innate concerns of Noël’s writing to be bared upon the page, bears this out:
climbed up on top of others a head protrudes
its gaze turns and turns and then it comes toppling
another head climbs upwards its eyes shut closed
beautiful balloon stuffed with noisy trinkets
it’s forgotten the position of the real
in the end it’s only a head full of heads
In an interview, which Rivera quotes from in her introduction, Noël echoes but significantly expands upon Rimbaud’s Je est un autre (I is another), emphasizing that “one must make an effort toward the other.” He stresses the point that such circumstance as he has achieved with writing is a product of effort: “One must make an effort to read, to look, to love.” This substantially clarifies how much work is required in order for the poems to arrive. It is from this avowal of recognition and commitment to the toil required that his poetry begins to grow, continually sustained with promise of work yet to come.
As Noël says, quoted from the same interview, “The number one lesson in writing, is that it takes place in the present.” In other words, be where you’re at. And hopefully dig it. Poet Joel Oppenheimer’s mantra went something like: be there when it happens and write it down. In his new poem “When I was a Poet,” David Meltzer reminds readers of poet Robert Creeley’s penchant for saying “dig it.” Both Oppenheimer and Creeley share ties to Black Mountain College and poet Charles Olson as friend and mentor. The Rest of the Voyage evidences Noël’s comfortable leanings in line with Olson’s ideas concerning the poet’s job. As Rivera attests, Noël is “a poet whose concerns are life itself, how the body lives life, and how the corporeality of polis presents itself, in all its permutations—the responsibility to the world around us and the people around us.” Such attention to the poet’s individual role as a participating body (in all senses) to a community (polis—a key term of Olson’s) is central to Olson’s approaches towards writing.
The demand for English translation of more of Noël’s work is already a foregone conclusion. His subtle lines, with their strict syllabic count and lack of punctuation, are both obvious and disarming: “the poem doesn’t give a damn for fairness.” There’s little question that poetry doesn’t come easily for Noël and that being aware of the sacrifice required, as well as the luck he’s had acquiring his skilled handling of the language, he never takes the poems for granted. Noël returns the poem again and again to the world: "again vapor volcanoes blowing great clouds / that send chills down the spine of this little life."
Reading these poems is as stimulating to the imagination as any white water adventure or super-endurance mountain hike. Noël has written extensively on the visual arts in France, and his poems demonstrate some spill-over effect of this work as well as indicate evidence of a writing life committed to the integrity of placing priority upon the work itself. While certainly not everything (how it could it be!), this book is quite enough. - Patrick James Dunagan

air steams borders leafless branches a low sky
makes eyes believe that finally they see matter
what is the space between these open fingers
a steeple nails the view point of history
forest then green wheat a residue of sun
a handful of cows positioned like white stones
there’s a bridge an orchard a precocious lamp
day hesitates to let go of the world’s frame
it must hang already on that other side
an old sheet returned from too many passions
slowing down helps one discover gentians
a copse on an embankment dappled in red
two idiots in ties talk of added costs
of man’s interface before-seeing-must-see
horizon turn blue to give itself to night
a luminous punch puncturing the moment
the black vapor and play at divine splendor
there is there a kind of maddening beauty
and something at the end like a final gift
when life withdraws by leaving behind to dry
the pinch of nothing that gave it its savor

tiny pasta in a lentil purée then
friarielli a local herb flavored
with a bitter liquid in which the spicy
contradicts the sweet of the word on the tongue
a city barely glimpsed is an aroma
of images where the steep gardens make faults
among the colored terracing of the streets
no other cited place stands similarly
it compresses time under the golden stone
the yellow and the red that colors its walls
history is here eternally present
all eyes stand facing you look at you make that
we always walk in the middle of the view

Who knows what the Chateau de l’Oeuf incubates
its walls protect the delicate shell that one
need only to break to ruin the city
the passerby dreams that this never seen egg
is the eye torn from the Cyclops and kept in
the deepest bottommost in a bath of tears
all the streets are paved with slabs of lava this
way everyone can trample the volcano
it’s acting dead this morning under a cloud
lest it suddenly opt not to play porte-ciel
a few palms that make one think of giraffes’ necks
drawing out curtsies at the core of the view
everywhere gestures make in air that which make
arabesques and tendrils in Baroque ceilings
and the waves on the surface of the ocean


the proportions at times prompt the sky to think
the garden therefore is in the open head
to look is to see the interior view
the long fold stirs according to the hidden
which comes to the edge of form a white shadow
the boxwood knows that better than us it builds
by ardor of the line springboards for the eye
the infinite sets itself thus within reach
the tree is always of life or of knowledge
from the moment where the sap of breath appears
it isn’t important to have a green thumb
but to be able to bring through the branches
this flowering of air that we call being

Poet, novelist, essayist, historian and art critic Bernard Noël received the Prix National de Poésie in 1992. He was given the poet laureateship as well as the Grand Prix International Guillevic-Ville de Saint-Malo for his oeuvre in 2005. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, novels and essays, among others: Les Plumes d’Éros, Œuvres I (P.O.L., 2010—the first volume of a collected works which P.O.L. is editing and publishing), L’espace du poème, interviews with D. Sampiero  (P.O.L., 2004), Les yeux dans la couleur (P.O.L., 2004), Un trajet en hiver (POL, 2004), Romans d’un regard (P.O.L, 2003), La Peau et les Mots (P.O.L, 2002), Le roman d’Adam et Eve_  (L’Atelier des Brisants, 2001), _La Face de silence (P.O.L, 2002), Le Syndrome de Gramsci (POL, 1994), La Chute des temps (Gallimard, 1993), La rumeur de l’air (Fata Morgana, 1986). In France, his poems are accessible in three pocketbook editions: La Chute des temps and Extraits du corps from Poésie/Gallimard and Le Reste du voyage : Et Autres Poèmes from Points/poésie Seuil.


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