Francis Ponge - Called the “poet of things,” Ponge often centers his poems around mundane everyday objects, thereby defining them in his own terms. All artists “must open workshops and take in the world for repair, as it comes them, in pieces”

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Francis Ponge, Nioque of the Early-Spring, Trans. by Jonathan Larson, The Song Cave, 2018.


On the 50th anniversary of its publication,The Song Cave is honored to publish the first English translation of Francis Ponge's NIOQUE OF THE EARLY-SPRING. Ostensibly a book written to honor the season itself and the cycle of time, upon its first publication in Paris, May 1968, these notes took on a greater metaphorical meaning within this context, addressing the need for new beginnings and revolution.

"April is not always the cruelest month. In these stray notations dated early April 1950, Ponge provides a latter-day version of Stravinsky's 'Sacre du printemps' or of William Carlos Williams' 'Spring and All'--a vernal enactment of all the resurrectional energies of a spring­time-to-come, as witnessed firsthand at the farmhouse of 'La Fleurie' in southern France. When subsequently published in Tel Que in May 1968, eighteen years later, Ponge's rural, pastoral text now acquired a specific urban history and Utopianism, its Lucretian 'Nioque,' or gnosis, now speaking to the gnomic revolutionary slogans of the Left Bank barricades: 'Be realistic, demand the impossible,' 'Beneath the cobblestones, the beach.' Jonathan Larson's careful engagement with Ponge manages to seize what is most prosaic about his poetry--its fierce communism of the ordinary, its insistence that taking the part of things means taking words at their most etymological everydayness."--Richard Sieburth

"This startlingly fresh and necessary document of the 1950s by Francis Ponge comes to us via the all too rare feat of true poetic reenactment. Understanding that each poet creates language anew, Jonathan Larson has found a poetics suitable for the occasion of Ponge's own poetic logic In this rendering, Larson's absolute care and attention to syllabic weight and measure, to the syntax and length of each line as it unwinds, allows us--as readers--to come into the drama of a text newly made, in other words, to discover a new poem in its very making. Yet, none of this comes at the cost of accuracy or through the subjugation of the original at the hands of one wielding the imperial language This is no mean feat in this day and age and, by way of Larson's exquisite ear, we are again given the poignancy and urgency of Ponge's own moment."--Ammiel Alcalay

You are there all around me—today you trees, pebbles of the orchard, clouds in the sky, wondrous dead nature, uncontested nature.You are there,
You are there indeed!
(from “Capital Proem”)

For those unaware of the French poet Francis Ponge, this new translation by Jonathan Larson offers a glimpse into a realm of glimpses, a fraction of poetic marvels in a realm of mere fractals. As a single work surrounded by many others, this book on its own is ultimately a gentle, inviting framework through which Ponge’s work and endurance, seasoned and lightened at once, can explore the gradients of concept and theme. It is filled with openness and propulsion. It is a thorough radicalism and also a challenge to the immensity of time and space. Knowing and to be known, the process and the result, a spiraling enthusiasm, wondrous, an investment, and an engagement. It is relational and intentional.
Time, nature, knowledge. These are key spaces of the macrocosmic warp and wordplay Ponge iterated originally though Nioque, as explored by its translator’s introduction. Through a significant treatment, Jonathan Larson has recrafted a book capable of encountering time in the umbrella of the creative process. Poems of 1950-1953, entries and explorations into and out of the wrapped, frolicking springtime. Nature as a reflection of seasons, perhaps with Spring serving as keystone, and nature as spirit, as something remarkably anew, consciously reverberating in circumspection. Nioque provides a portrayal of significance in its self-referential patterning. At what better, triggering instance does a poetics have an opportunity to grow, does a mode of thought lead to future elevations?

The earth offers all this, the arms extending into trees and bouquets. Boreas the winds, the sun (Phoebus) pass underneath or replenish.
(from “The Egg.”)                                                                                                         

The collection speaks to the height which Ponge, perhaps beyond original insight, allowed the work. In many moments the book, as far as “many” can be used to describe a text both short and dense, is curiously arousing in its linking. Poem to poem, in elongated prose and brief fragments. These are the realms of connectivity, conscious and subconscious, which evoke those manners of Ponge’s greater associations.
Nioque is as much about itself as it is about the nature of craft and creation through existence, which reflects well the biographical proclivities of this French writer. As interrelated to the poet’s relationship to Surrealism as his seeking through Existentialism, the book identifies and sprouts through lineage. It suits well to exist, in its latest English form, alongside the relatively new translations of Char, Desnos, and others.
I am not through, have nothing but incomplete ideas (incompletely stated) and it is not so much about them than it is about completing them.

They are like fierce birds of passage whose form I regret not having been able to know entirely, or rather more like lightning bolts, since their singular virtue is, above all, it seems to me, in illuminating the conscience.
(from “Proem”)

Perhaps what is most enjoyable to explore and attempt to understand in Ponge’s acclaimed work and the year 2018 is its humble, personal core. The nurturing core that is political and revolutionary comes out of a fateful, awestruck naturalism providing ample room for personal, affected junctions. Ponge, certainly beyond any sense of neutrality in his own contemporary warzones, crumblings, and oppressions, offers a heartfelt, incising gaze through inspirations and observations of the very source of where knowledge goes. Creation and the creative act become the pivotal dualism between the epiphanic states that the close and distant bring together, Ponge himself serving as triangulation.
Larson’s treatment of Ponge’s tone is accessible and in being accessible reflects well the book’s imagery and undulations of the natural spirit. What better platform for revolt and uprising than in being nurtured into confidence? - Greg Bem

Jonathan Larson On His Translation Of The Poetry Of Francis Ponge ...
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Francis Ponge, The Table, Wakefield Press, 2017.             

Written from 1967 to 1973 over a series of early mornings in seclusion in his country home, The Table offers a final chapter in Francis Ponge’s interrogation of the unassuming objects in his life: in this case, the table upon which he wrote. In his effort to get at the presence lying beneath his elbow, Ponge charts out a space of silent consolation that lies beyond (and challenges) scientific objectivity and poetic transport. This is one of Ponge’s most personal, overlooked, and―because it was the project he was working on when he died―his least processed works. It reveals the personal struggle Ponge engaged in throughout all of his writing, a hesitant uncertainty he usually pared away from his published texts that is at touching opposition to the manufactured, “durable mother” of the table on and of which he here writes.

The last of Ponge’s published works, and the final volume to receive an English translation, The Table invariably carries the tone of an author returning to the very heart of his vocation through the things that make his utterances possible. It is his singular achievement to have submerged so fixedly into the world of everyday objects and coaxed from it a new cosmogony of language. - Erik Morse

A new iteration of a pillar of French critical thinking.
Known for his obsession over the phenomenological, Ponge (Partisan of Things, 2016, etc.) sat at his table morning after morning, between 1967 and 1973, setting out to write. The result is a series of disjointed fragments that mirror perfectly the confused mindset of a writer at the moment of enunciation—or of linguistic unraveling. Translator Zamponi explains that “in The Table, the text itself becomes a workshop, laboratory, and artist’s studio all at once….This methodology here strives for an awareness of the word in its infant state and an understanding of its history and potential.” So Ponge treats a word as he would a child—with both care and severity—and holds it to the highest standard. In these brief but semiotically dense fragments, the author offers a cubistic perspective of the word “table.” He explains, “it takes many words to destroy a single word (or rather to make of this word no longer a concept, but a conceptacle.” Ponge subsequently takes great pleasure in dismantling the definitions we associate with a table. Not once does he consider it as what we think of as the communal object: where families gather, friends dine, and children play. Instead, the table is “soil for the pen.” It is the object that “awaits [the writer], where everything is arranged….I sit against it, I hold it to my side, lie back and rest my heels on it.” A rocking chair for the mind and a support for the ink, the table is thus muse and catalyst. It is both the inspiration and the thought. Clearly, Ponge recognized the seduction at play. As he writes, “the charm of the table is to find yourself at it.”
A meticulously rigorous translation of a book that adds much to Ponge’s rich body of work. - Kirkus Reviews

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Francis Ponge, Partisan of Things, Trans. by Joshua Corey and Jean-Luc Garneau, Kenning Editions, 2016.

"There is no escape from trees by means of trees."
The ordinary objects to which Francis Ponge directs his attention a tree, an oyster, a cigarette come uncannily alive in his seminal first book of prose poems, newly translated by Joshua Corey and Jean-Luc Garneau. Published in 1942, as Ponge was enlisting in the Resistance to the Nazi occupation of France, these poems offer their own dryly humorous resistance to our tendency to take "things" for granted as either dead matter or as commodities for our disposal. Arch, alive, and unexpectedly profound, here is a new Ponge for the age of hyperobjects and the revenge of nature, a poet of the Anthropocene avant la lettre."

The poem “Vegetation,” from Francis Ponge’s Partisan of Things, opens with a line that Derrida might have written: “The rain is not the only hyphen linking earth and sky: there’s another kind, less intermittent and more thickly woven, so that even the strongest wind won’t blow away the fabric.” Ponge’s word for “woven”—“tramé”—signals both the sense of “to weave” and “to screen,” marking the vegetation as both a type of medium and a form of representation: a tapestry, a textile, a text. For Ponge, language is an interface, what he has called elsewhere the “copulation” between things and words.
Across its thirty-two prose poems, Partisan of Things turns its queer eye on the unremarkable objects of the world, such as oysters, moss, trees, and bread. Resisting the taxonomist’s critical gaze, the poems withhold a stable lyric speaker and present language as coextensive with its referents. Objects gaze back, speech emanates from the landscape itself: “only a brief word is entrusted to the pebbles and shells, which are quite moved by it, and the wave expires as it utters it; and all those that follow will likewise expire while saying much the same thing, though sometimes in a longer and slightly more emphatic sentence.”
The poems in this collection, composed in the years leading up to World War II, often disclose an uneasy awareness of language’s political valence. This anxiety becomes visible in the double entendre of “expression” in the poem “Orange”: “Like the sponge the orange wishes to regain its shape after it has endured expression. But where the sponge always succeeds, the orange never does: its cells have burst, its tissues have been torn.” Expression, in the physical sense, collapses form, wrings out a substance. Verbal expression does violence to things. The solution to this problem lies in the recognition that things can also alter language. “We must focus on the glorious color of the liquid that,” Ponge writes, “better than lemon juice, forces the larynx open wide enough to pronounce the word as well as for drinking it.”
It might be tempting to over-translate Ponge, to try to get to the bottom of his koan-like deferral of conventional meaning. Joshua Corey and Jean-Luc Garneau transmit Ponge’s peculiar charm, by turns absurd in turn of phrase and crystalline in imagistic commitment. Corey’s detailed introduction recontextualizes Ponge alongside the posthuman, Actor-Network Theory, “hyperobjects,” and the Anthropocene, lending a darker cast to lines “after the slow catastrophe of its cooling the story of this body can only be one of perpetual disintegration.” Partisan of Things delivers a compelling and necessary model for alternative ways of seeing and knowing the objects around us on nonhuman terms. After all, in Ponge’s world, we are on “vegetable time.” - Zack Anderson

There could hardly be a better moment to translate Francis Ponge. Glaciers are melting; sea levels are rising. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase. Scientists and cultural theorists are beginning (perhaps all too late) to rethink humanity’s relationship to natural spaces and the beings that inhabit them. Such thinking demonstrates, as the philosopher, scholar, and writer Timothy Morton suggests, “that all beings are connected.” We as humans must consider how all things inhabiting an ecosystem—human, animal, vegetable, or mineral—contribute to its overall function. Enter Ponge, the mid-century French poet whose lauded 1942 prose poetry collection, Le parti pris des choses, interrogates the very nature of things. The collection examines inert objects at a radical level of specificity, placing them against the backdrop of consciousness and representation. Hence the urgency of Joshua Corey and Jean-Luc Garneau’s Partisan of Things, a retranslation of Ponge’s Le parti rendered with the prospect of anthropogenic climate change in mind. The collection inflects the already thing-oriented nature of Ponge’s work, underscoring the ecological consciousness inherent to his poetics. The result is a necessary new translation of a book that looks deeply and astutely at the nonhuman world, recognizing the role such entities play in shaping the assemblage of beings which comprise an environment.
The opening poem “Pluie,” or “Rain,” models the ecological connectivity Morton describes, tracing the various rates, forms, and sizes at which raindrops—as individuals and as a collective unit—descend: he calls it a “fine discontinuous curtain,” which “falls implacably and yet gently in drops.” The gesture disarms readers, who seek to view the rain either as singular or plural, but not both. Such simultaneity defies the categorization thrust on perception by grammar itself. But Ponge, via Corey and Garneau, insists on viewing the rain as a “network,” a collective of distinct nodes which functions as an individual unit. “Network,” from “réseau,” recalls the Actor-Network Theory popularized by French sociologist Bruno Latour—perhaps too overtly. The term is employed almost too frequently in academic circles, especially by figures such as those whom Corey cites in his introduction: Jane Bennett, McKenzie Wark, and Latour himself. And yet, Ponge’s translators have often rendered “réseau” as “web” or “mesh,” both of which are used by theorists to describe connectivity. (“Mesh” is one of Morton’s interventions.) In that regard, “network” lends definition to Ponge’s term, seeing it as a distinct form of relation similar to “web” or “mesh,” but that emphasizes the unique role of individual actors within an ecological sphere, which seems characteristically Pongian.
Ponge portrays the speaker as a participant in this “network,” even if his role is merely that of voyeur: “The rain, in the backyard where I watch it fall, comes down at different rates.” As much as Ponge draws attention to objects, one cannot forget the role human agency plays in shaping ecological systems. Such is the trouble of the Anthropocene: we have overstepped our bounds. But it is imperative not to overstate human presence. Anthropocentrism has played a major role in enabling the wasteful consumption of fossil fuels precipitating climate disaster. Already in 1942, Ponge recognizes such potential, and minimizes human presence in response. Rain performs nearly all action in the poem; the speaker is a mere node in the larger “network.” Of course, human presence is never entirely erased. An elaborate conceit betrays the poet’s rhetorical hand: Ponge compares the rain’s “intensity” to a “steam-powered clock whose spring is wound by the force of precipitation” (emphasis mine). Through clever double entendre, Ponge underscores the rain both as the simile’s vehicle and its tenor, comparing it not only to the mechanical potential of a compressed spring but to the spring’s necessity as a component within the clock’s ecology.
“Blackberries” more openly interrogates the poet’s role in shaping the ecology of the poem. Ponge begins by describing “bushes” as “typographical” (literally, “buissons typographiques”), “invented by the poem on the path that leads away from things (or toward the mind).” The suggestion is that, through the act of linguistic representation—by putting “things” into words—the poet creates distance between objects and the perceiving self. The “bushes” in the poem are mere representations of bushes, more a product of the mind than of phenomena as such. Corey and Garneau take some liberty here. The French reads, “sur une route qui ne mène hors des choses ni à l’esprit”: “on the path that leads neither toward things nor toward the mind.” Ponge uses this ambiguity to collapse the Cartesian division between body and mind, suggesting that linguistic representation is neither physical nor cognitive. Corey and Garneau emphasize this division, suggesting that if linguistic representation “leads away from things,” it must lead “toward the mind.” Neither model is necessarily correct, but by holding thought and things in partition, the Corey-Garneau version accentuates the materiality of things, highlighting their essential thingness.
The problem of representation—which in English is also the problem of translation—comes to a point in the poem’s final prose stanza. Ponge writes, “mûres, partfaitement elles sont mûres.” The line is notoriously difficult for translators because, in the plural, the word for “blackberries” is indistinguishable from the adjective “ripe.” The line might read, “blackberries, they are perfectly ripe,” imagistically suggesting that, teleologically, the blackberries have actualized their potential as blackberries. It can also read, “blackberries, they are perfectly blackberries.” That is, in the Platonic sense, the blackberries perfectly exhibit the essential attributes of blackberry-ness, transcending their particularity as individual blackberries. Both senses are built into the line, in French; the problem is traversing the chasm of language. As Corey and Garneau put it, “blackberries, they are perfectly blackberries.” Reversing Ponge’s typographical emphasis, Corey and Garneau highlight linguistic representation as the central conflict of the poem. The word “blackberry,” Ponge suggests, perfectly recalls the object, “blackberry.” For Corey and Garneau, the opposite is true: the object slips into representation—“toward the mind” and “away from things.” By rendering the object into language, one deprives it of its thingness, transmuting it from a material ecosystem to a linguistic one.
A late poem in the collection, and among the shortest, “The Piece of Meat” investigates the boundary between mechanical objects and organic materials. Subject to consumption, both are passive agents. But, as Ponge humorously demonstrates, even a piece of meat is not entirely inert. The poem consists of one long conceit, which describes the titular “meat” as a “kind of factory, milling and pressing blood.” Readers don’t typically think of organic processes such as digestion or decay in mechanical terms, which makes Ponge’s description especially beguiling. The process of decomposition, Ponge suggests, is as reliable and efficient as an assembly line. Indeed, “its exhaust manifolds, blast furnaces” and “vats” sit alongside “jackhammers and greasetubs,” much as they would in an actual factory. Like such entities, the piece of meat produces excess material, which it must purge: “Waste products,” he writes, “open to the sky, rivulets of slag and bile.” The decomposing meat also emits gas, as anyone who’s left organic matter too long in the fridge can attest. Corey and Garneau colloquialize Ponge’s language, underscoring his characteristic humor: “Serve immediately! Otherwise rust or other chemical reactions will manufacture the most revolting smells.”
Despite its relevance for ecocritics, some have sought to dismiss Le parti pris des choses as apolitical—a hermetic work concerned with the nature of objects but blind to the conflicts of the human world. Readers should keep in mind that the book was first published under Philippe Pétain’s Vichy government, when Ponge aligned himself with the resistance. The Nazi party was treating human bodies as objects, executing and incinerating them, less than eight hundred kilometers from where this book was written. In that light, it is difficult to read Le parti—its opposition to the classification and commodification of objects as tools for human use—as anything but a highly charged political tome, one that doubles down on its central premise (that things act as much as, maybe more than, human beings) in the face of catastrophe. While such poetics cannot solve the problem of climate change, it can help readers to retool how we think about the object world, our relation to it, and the systems of connectivity that comprise ecological networks in a global society such as ours. In its ability to highlight such systems and confirm the role things play in shaping them, Partisan of Things becomes not a mere translation but a model for hybrid thought, one equipped to tackle the intellectual challenges of an age on the verge of political and environmental disaster. - John James

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Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud, Trans. by Beverley Bie Brahic, CB Editions, 2008.

A bilingual French/English edition of new translations of prose poems by a writer praised by Italo Calvino as ‘a peerless master . . .  I believe that he may be the Lucretius of our time, reconstructing the physical nature of the world by means of the impalpable, powderfine dust of words’ (Six Memos for the Next Millennium).

Still radical, the poems of Francis Ponge seek to give the things of the world their due. Impatient with the usual baggage of literary description, Ponge attends to a pebble, a washpot, an eiderdown, a platter of fish, with lyrical precision; playing with sounds, rhythms and associations of words, he creates wholly new objects – ‘but which may be more touching, if possible, than natural objects, because human’ (‘My Creative Method’).

‘Ponge’s vision is painstakingly matter-of-fact, and herein lies his strength as a poet: in this commonplace vision, coupled with a refusal to be poetic and a scientific-like examination of language, lurks a breathtaking sense of wonder . . . Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation is wholly in keeping with Ponge’s own premiss that he should “never sacrifice the object of [his] study to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject”. These new translations never interfere with Ponge’s vision, and things do not lose their thingness. We can be grateful to both the translator and CB editions for bringing back the unique work of Francis Ponge to the attention of English-speakers.’– Lee Rourke,
Times Literary Supplement

‘He’s a writer who makes you feel like writing – and that’s really about as noble an end to writing as there can be . . . Unfinished Ode to Mud is the first parallel text version of Ponge's work I have come across. The numerous American editions I've enjoyed and consulted in the past have presented the translations only. This is an act of generosity as well as bravery . . . The directness and simplicity of Brahic’s translation are refreshing, and to finally see such previously untranslated works as the titular ode is a great thing indeed.’– Luke Kennard, Poetry London

‘No one before or since has managed Francis Ponge’s quintessentially French style, balancing documentary narration with classic encyclopedistism with bemused koans with grandfatherly humor. “The Crate” (page 9 in Beverly Bie Brahic’s translation) we get his special brand of Objectivism with such a pleasurable command of diction/telling: “…it is not used twice. Which makes it even less durable than the melting or cloudlike produce within.” I have no compunction about calling him magic.’  – Peter Longofono, LunaLuna

‘The fact that [Brahic] has chosen as her title for this volume Unfinished Ode to Mud is highly appropriate, since mud is essentially a formless substance and one which it is impossible to grasp – it slips through one’s fingers, it ceases to be mud as it dries out – and in the “unfinished” there is the recognition, characteristic of Ponge, that, however neatly he may end a poem, it can never be the last word on the subject. His project is unrealisable but in its very existence (Ponge the existentialist, as Sartre had it), its at times taxonomic ambition, it reveals the endless possibilities of both language in its grip on the world and of objects in their yielding and unyielding to human consciousness . . . This volume is a welcome addition to the availability of Ponge's poetry in English and includes many hitherto untranslated pieces.’– Ian Revie, Warwick Review

Primarily, this is a brief advertisement for CB Editions‘s irresistible bi-lingual edition of the great Francis Ponge; Unfinished Ode to Mud, translated by Beverley Bie Brahic in 2008. It’s a selection from what she has translated as The Defence of Things and Pieces, some of the latter being their first appearances in English…
So, firstly, please get hold of a copy of the book from the publishing miracle that is CB Editions whom, it’s worth knowing, work on very short print runs. I have no links etc., but urge you to take up their current offer here, while getting hold of this beautiful selection and give copies to people that you wish loved you…
‘Unfinished Ode to Mud’ itself, is also an ode to the Resistance and was written in 1942. Let me share some lines with you;
“Mud pleases the noble of heart because it is constantly scorned… Who needs such constant humiliation? …/
Despised mud, I love you. I love you because people scorn you./
May my writing, literal mud, splash the faces of those who disparage you!/…
It wards off any approach to its centre, necessitates long detours, stilts even.
Not, perhaps, that it is inhospitable or jealous; for, deprived of affection, at the least advance it attaches itself to you…
I love the way it slows my footsteps, I’m grateful for the detours it makes me take…
All in all mud delights the strong of heart, for in it they see a way to test themselves which isn’t easy… As for mud, its principal and most obvious claim to fame is that one can make nothing of it, one can in no way inform it… And I cannot do better, to its glory, to its shame, than to write an ode diligently unfinished…”
Just a tiny bit of the brilliance of Ponge with whom I’ve spent quite a bit of time this year. I hadn’t realised the degree to which I’d been left up a Derridean creek without a Pongean paddle [Signeponge-Signsponge , ‘Psyche; Inventions of the Other’.] and so -since I’ve been in e.things mode much of this year, most obviously with In Ramallah, Running– it’s been a real joy to discover such close inspiration and shared intents and to have made direct ‘use’ of classic early Ponge in a certain film work completed this year…
I’ve also spent a lot of time amongst trees, feeling their insurrectionary potency in the context of place; actual place and what that might mean to us all in this Century. More, much more on this to come. For now, one of the places that connection takes me is towards the Utopic of course and I was whizzing through some of my favourite bits of Calvino this morning, the pieces in The Literature Machine and in particular those on Fourier.
In the third of those famous pieces, Calvino contrasts the risk inherent to and in the utopian impulse with the peculiar fixity of the literary or written utopias of old [rather as I would contrast Ponge’s work with his over-literal teenage-materialist fanclub]. It reminds me of the notion I once had about ‘dirty Utopianism’, articulated best in an essay called Forting, which lays out the most thorough version yet of the fortifications built during the English Civil War by all Londoners to protect the city’s then revolutionary Parliament from an autocratic sovereign.
I wrote then of insurrectionary mud; these massive forts were built of mud, turfs and timber and would be the biggest built structure in Europe if they were still present today, not least one of the largest of them built at the Elephant and Castle. My energies have been poured in to the trees in the Elephant and Castle Urban Forest lately, and though it would provide an overly romantic gloss to describe them as insurrectionary trees it would also be dishonest to pretend that the histories implied by such a gloss have not driven and clarified my thinking in this context.
In On Fourier III, Calvino writes that line about how “one does not hand out recipes for the cooking of the future” and I think that is right. He goes on; “It is always the place that gives utopia such trouble.” Again, this is dynamite to me in my current thinking. But with Ponge’s mud in mind I can’t resist this; “Utopia has no consistency … the best that I can still look for is something else, which must be sought in the folds, in the shadowy places, in the countless involuntary effects that the most calculated system creates without being aware that perhaps its truth lies right there. The utopia I am looking for today is less solid than gaseous: it is a utopia of fine dust, corpuscular, and in suspension.”
Here is the place of the Utopic then; formless, to be formed, present in all things, times, places… including, very clearly, trees in their ground and the accessibility to all which they protect in urban contexts like no other thing. In the mid 17th Century, mud was the utopian dust that Londoners used ‘in the name of’ the people to consolidate a notion of place and leap in to the future. In the 21st Century, some of the people of London are using trees to achieve exactly the same things…
If that sounds willfully obscure you can chase links to find out  more, but things will also becomes clearer not only in ECUF’s work and play but also my own coming written work in two distinct projects.
For the moment, grab yourself some utopian dust in the form of Ponge’s Unfinished Ode to Mud and encourage CB of CB Editions to continue doing the radical work of one of the very few real publishers around in London.
Here is a small pdf sample from the publisher.
Meanwhile, do not await the film or tv adaption of Mud, nor Ponge: The Musical… - gma

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Francis Ponge, Soap, Trans. by Lane Dunlop, Stanford University Press, 1998.
read it at Google Books

". . . And now, dear reader, for your intellectual toilet, here is a little piece of soap. Well handled, we guarantee it will be enough. Let us hold this magic stone."The poet Francis Ponge (1899-1988) occupied a significant and unchallenged place in French letters for over fifty years, attracting the attention and admiration of generations of leading intellectuals, writers, and painters, a notable feat in France, where reputations are periodically reassessed and undone with the arrival of new literary and philosophical schools.
Soap occupies a crucial, pivotal position in Ponge's work. Begun during the German occupation when he was in the Resistance, though completed two decades later, it determined, according to Ponge, the form of almost all his postwar writing. With this work, he began to turn away from the small, perfect poem toward a much more open form, a kind of prose poem which incorporates a laboratory or workshop, recounting its own process of coming into being along with the final result. The outcome is a new form of writing, which one could call "processual poetry." Ponge's later work, from Soap on, is a very important tool in the questioning and rethinking of literary genres, of poetry and prose, of what is literature.
There is a blurring of boundaries between Soap and soap (which was hard to come by during the Resistance and is also, of course, metaphorical for a larger social restitution). Soap contains the sum of Ponge's aesthetics and materialist ethics and his belief in the supremacy of language as it becomes the object of the text. In the words of Serge Gavronsky, "this work, perhaps one of the longest running metaphors in literature, slowly unwinds, bubbles in verbal inventions, and finally evaporates, leaving the water slightly troubled, slightly darker, but the hands clean, really clean. . . . Out of murky literary habits, Ponge has devised a way of cleaning his text, and through it, man himself, his vocabulary, and as a consequence, his way of being in the world."

"My mother was an admirer of a little-known French writer whose name was Francis Ponge, a sort of parody name. Ponge was a man after my mother's own heart. Ponge wrote in minute detail about the appearance of such things as sand and mimosa and soap. Soap particularly fascinated him. Ponge wrote long essays on the appearance of soap, page after page of descriptions of soap. He wrote a novel titled Soap. My mother translated some of his poetry. This also concerned soap." - Jonathan Miller, in 'Among Chickens', Granta (159)

Soap is a small book, a collection of texts written by Ponge over the course of about two decades chronicling (and presenting) his attempts to create a specific work:
Ah ! this dossier-soap, this soap-dossier, what trouble, for twenty or twenty-five years, it has given me, this soap ! which I am going to rid myself of today, in a few minutes (what luck !).
       From the earliest attempts he believes: 
     There is much to say about soap. Precisely everything that it tells about itself until the complete disappearance, the exhaustion of the subject. This is precisely the object suited to me.
       But Ponge's isn't a rigorous, pedantic obsession. This isn't a book that considers everything that soap is and means; indeed, it is exhaustive only in the most limited way. It's nothing like the currently popular books that consider a very small subject in all its detail and history. Instead, Soap is a playful-poetic (and personal) variation on the theme -- some froth and bubbles, a good deal of repetition (as he warns there will be), and certainly very little technical or historical information about soap. It's not meant to be an informative book.
       The earliest text dates from April, 1942, Ponge writing from a place where he and his family were: "in retreat -- or refugees". He notes that it was a time of privation, and: "soap, real soap, was particularly missed". There is a distinct feeling in these writings that 'soap' itself becomes a substitute, something to fantasize about in a time where there was little to hope for, something it was safe to be passionate about. And Ponge certainly is passionate, almost rapturous in how he gets carried away with the soap-concept.
       There's a great deal he can imbue it with too. So, for example, he finds:

Soap is a useful object. It has its qualities. It has its inner conflict, for it never forgets its duty, its destiny.
       Instead of just assembling the texts he has written over the years, Ponge also provides some commentary and explanation, charting the evolution of his attempts to treat the subject-matter. So, for example, he writes of sending some of the early texts to Jean Paulhan and Albert Camus -- and quotes from Camus' response, taking both that and Paulhan's silence to heart. It's an odd example of a writer offering insight into his work and methods, but certainly of interest for that as well.
       Assembling a mini-drama, poetry, and various prose-bits, and with some running author-commentary along the way, Soap
is a strange book -- but it certainly has its charms. Ponge is passionate, and that comes across and helps carry the reader along as well. And despite not being a very straightforward treatment of soap, there are some fine displays of writing, too.
       An appealing curiosity.  -

Francis Ponge, Mute Objects of Expression, Trans. by Lee Fahnestock, Archipelago Books, 2008. 

In Mute Objects of Expression, Francis Ponge proclaims his goal: to accept the challenge which objects offer to language. Fortunately for the reader, these objects — less chosen than received spontaneously — are perceived with unique Pongean art and humor in this volume growing out of the unoccupied southern Loire countryside where his family lived from 1940 to 1943. Ponge’s poems recall the violent perfume of the mimosa, the cries of carnations, and the flirtations of wasps. He is bound to explore a shadowy town square glimpsed from a passing bus window. Ponge also agonizes over his own limitations: “Never … to conquer this landscape of Provence? That would be too much!” Because of the wartime shortages, much of the book was drafted in a small notebook that made up his sole supply of paper.

“Francis Ponge’s prose accepts the truth that things themselves defy our language. The writing accepts this, but is not resigned to it: in Ponge, the presence of trees, ‘the slow production of wood,’ senility itself, bespeak a blazing conflagration that has not happened, which is to say that in Ponge, Being holds out against its every nemesis, and both Being and Non-Being offer themselves to our dream of silence. Ponge is the great poet of our being with things.”—Leonard Schwartz

“Ponge wrote like a scientist whose language is poetry. He was endlessly inquisitive about his subjects–including the wasp, birds, the carnation, “The Pleasure of the Pine Woods”–but what we end up learning is how the mind animates the world.” —American Poet Journal

“Ponge, to be sure, forfeits no resource of language, natural or unnatural. He positively dines upon the etymological root, seasoning it with fantastic gaiety and invention.”— James Merrill

Mute Objects of Expression collects writings by Ponge from 1938 to 1944. Despite the circumstances -- Europe at war, the invasion and occupation of France -- there's little sense of what is going on in the world at large here; the closest it ever seems to intrude is when Ponge complains of being: "Deprived of all reading material for several weeks and months", and the fact that his entire stock of paper is his little pocket notebook.
       Ponge's focus in these pieces is very narrow, but also only partially introspective: what he is concerned with is capturing -- by comprehending and, in writing, conveying -- the object. In the short opening piece, 'Banks of the Loire', -- which should be required reading in poetry classes -- he explains what he's after, and what he hopes to avoid. Poetry seduces. Language and word play seduce -- and if one gives in too easily they keep one away from what is more important: the object, and its essence.
       He begins: 

     From now on, may nothing ever cause me to go back on my resolve: never sacrifice the object of my study in order to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject, nor piece together any such discoveries in a poem.
       He needs to remind himself because he does seem to get easily carried away, and much of Mute Objects of Expression has him tempted by the poetic, only to return to the very basics, to the object itself. So he finds: 
     I thought myself able to write a thousand pages on any object at all, but here I am breathless at less than five, and turning towards compilation ! No, I feel that on my own (and from the bird) I can naively draw out more than that. But basically isn't the important point to grasp the crux of the thing ? By the time I have written several pages, upon rereading them I'll see theplace where that crux resides, the essential, the qualities of the bird. I really believe I've already found it.
       In his eagerness for precision he's constantly off seeking out etymologies, trying to find and employ the proper words. He doesn't say as much, but it's part of the exercise: a moving away from the object, no longer having at it hand but rather finding the proper abstraction for it. So, over and over he leaves nature and: 
     Having reached this point, I went to the library to consult the Littré, the Encyclopedia, the Larousse
       He is very much a word-person, and he can only imagine reducing the object to words. But he's also concerned about how he goes about it:
What matters to me is the serious application with which I approach the object, and on the other hand the extreme precision of language. But I must rid myself of a tendency to say things that are flat and conventional. it's really not worthwhile writing if it comes to that.
       So ordinary expression is not sufficient; 'conventional' will not do. And throughout there are examples of his creative approaches to fixing the object in language, fascinating examples of the possibilities he explores.
       He sets out his ambition clearly: 

     Accept the challenge things offer to language. These carnations, for instance, defy language. I won't rest till I have drawn together a few words that will compel anyone reading or hearing them to say: this has to do with something like a carnation.
     Is that poetry ? I have no idea, and it scarcely matters. For me it is a need, a commitment, a rage, a matter of self-respect, and that's all there is to it.

       (And, indeed, the French title -- La rage de l'expression -- echoes that better.)
       Ponge is not always entirely successful, but Mute Objects of Expression is so powerful because it is both an account of the writer's struggle, wrestling with the subject matter and the words, as well as a case-book of examples.

       Well worthwhile, especially for would-be poets.

The first official act of the German occupiers of France in 1940 was to move French time up by an hour to synchronize with Berlin time. My grandfather once described to me the sinister dark mornings of that first winter. The familiar warped by the unopposed unfamiliar, the ordinary made bizarre, the sense of feeling at home blown away. The French called it un sentiment de viol -- a feeling of rape. They had been transformed into helpless objects, their image in the eyes of invaders. “I will corrupt the countries I occupy,” said Hitler whose soldiers, instructed to behave properly, paid in marks for goods in the shops and stalls, while the treasury was confiscated and the premiers crus were shipped to Goering’s castle.
The resistance writer Vercours (Jean Bruller) wrote after the war, “French writers had two choices: collaboration or silence.” Perhaps it has been underestimated how the effortless disruption of “reality,” deeply shameful to the French, influenced the arts and philosophy of the post-war period. When local time, tantamount to local identity, can’t be counted on to signify itself, then the way is open to structuralism and the unstable, arbitrary surface effects of postmodernism. The corrupted state subsumes the invader’s mendacious moralisms (into the prideful French tongue, via the complicit Vichy regime), so the rebellious arts will exceed such postures and discredit signification itself.
By 1942, when Francis Ponge’s Le parti pris des choses appeared (titled in English as The Voice of Things), the French had become endangered, mute objects of disdain. “Kings do not touch doors. They know nothing of this pleasure,” begins his little prose piece “The Pleasures of the Door.” In Why Read the Classics?, Italo Calvino described Ponge’s method and purpose: “Taking the most humble object, the most everyday action, and trying to consider it afresh, abandoning every habit of perception, and describing it without any verbal mechanism that has been worn by use. And all this, not for some reason extraneous to the fact in itself (for, say, symbolism, ideology or aesthetics), but solely in order to reestablish a relationship with things as things.” Ponge believed that the root meanings of words contained or pointed to the physical uniqueness of the object. Through precision of expression, the object revives (survives) in our sight. But sometimes “facts” got in the way. For instance, he claimed that birds care little for blackberries “since in the end so little is left once through from beak to anus.” This fanciful inaccuracy then sets up his self-referential point, the comment on art:
“But the poet during his professional stroll is left with something: ‘This,’ he says to himself, ‘is the way a fragile flower’s patient efforts succeed for the most part, very fragile though protected by a forbidding tangle of thorns. With few other qualities – blackberries, black as ink – just as this poem was made.”
Mute Objects of Expression includes pieces written in the late 1930s, and also during 1940 to 1943 when Ponge lived in the Loire valley, a part of “unoccupied” France managed for the Nazis by the Vichy proxy government. The writing here is very much in keeping with The Voice of Things, but includes more concentrated bursts of comment on his sense of mission that gloss and add depth to the earlier work. Lee Fahnestock’s fine translations capture the feel of a speculating mind, its pause and sidetrack, fixing a now finicky, then whimsical gaze on the object.
The simple but still accurate take on Ponge (encouraged by Ponge himself) portrays him as an adulator of the common object of his attention for the purpose of enlivening the reader’s ability to appreciate the world. In “Banks of the Loire” (1941) he says, “Always go back to the object itself, to its raw quality … Recognize the greater right of the object, its inalienable right, in relation to any poem.” Animated by an agenda that would extend beyond the act of description, Ponge made promises to himself such as “Never sacrifice the object of my study in order to enhance some verbal turn” or “Never try to arrange things” since “the point is knowing whether you wish to make a poem or comprehend an object.” But, of course, he did arrange things and made many verbal turns. By putting “making a poem” in opposition to “comprehending” and favoring the latter, he suggested that his language would always be reaching toward that understanding but never attaining it fully. Thus the object may be paramount as pretext, but the pathos and interest are located in the failure. “I have to say that the mimosa doesn’t inspire me in the least,” he writes in “Mimosa.” “It’s simply that I have some idea about it deep inside that I must bring out because I want to take advantage of it.”
For all of Ponge’s insistence on object-reverence, “Notes for a Bird” actually peers through the bird to the quality of the person speaking of it. “For man to really take possession of nature,” he says, “for him to direct it, dominate it, he must accumulate within himself the qualities of each thing.” This is how I interpret the statement “I want to take advantage of it.” The man is empowered, through the force of language, to leverage the thing-ness for his own elevation. To be a powerful thing among the evil forces. “The poet is a moralist who separates the qualities of the object then recomposes them.” The bird leaves an impression of “great levity and extreme fragility … little more than a cage, a very light, very airy chassis,” an analog for Ponge’s output. This is why the wasp is described as carrying out “an intimate activity that’s generally quite mysterious. Quite astute. What we call having an inner life … Betraying an exaggerated sensibility … susceptible as well perhaps because of the very precious, all too precious, character of the cargo she bears: which merits her frenzy, her awareness of its value.” We read through the wasp to the man. But sometimes, we only find the wasp: “Analogy between a wasp and an electric streetcar. Something mute in repose and vocal in action. Also something of a short train, with first and second classes, or rather the engine and the observation car. And of a sizzling trolley. Sizzling like a deep fry, like an (effervescent) chemical reaction.” The comparison is delightful, even if it is something of a tart confection.
So the mimosas, wasps, birds, carnations and pine woods don’t inspire Ponge. Then what does it mean to “comprehend an object”? He writes, “Instead of feelings or human ventures, I choose as subjects the most indifferent objects possible … where the guarantee of the need for expression appears to me (instinctively) to reside in the object’s habitual mutism.” This is simply a preference for the kind of subject matter that best “guarantees” the ignition of his own engine. Feelings or human ventures have been spoken of elsewhere in given forms. Ponge speaks of the oyster, the cigarette, a cut of meat, each of which offers a back entrance to a more refined human feeling. Nevertheless, he undercuts the presumed status of literature by mocking his own performance. He must not pretend to achieve too much (he needn’t worry). “Some day a fine critic will surely happen along,” he says, “perceptive enough to reproach me for this eruption into literature by my wasp in a manner that’s and trifling all at once.” This ability to win by losing is also found in the mimosa where “at the very moment of glory, in the paroxysm of flowering, the leaves already show signs of despair … It is as though the expression of the leaves belies that of the flowers – and the other way around.”
Ponge became a darling of postmodernism not so much for his spare descriptive prose (he insisted that he wasn’t a poet and didn’t write poetry, and he was correct) but for his statements of intention. “What matters to me is the serious application with which I approach the object, and on the other hand the extreme precision of expression,” he writes. “But I must rid myself of a tendency to say things that are flat and conventional,” thereby admitting he had achieved only the first half of his goal: being serious about the theory. But Mute Objects of Expression is filled with wonderful strings of sentences. Also, it includes correspondence between Ponge and Gabriel Audisio (and others) who wrote, “I cannot help deploring that your ‘heroism’ in facing the problem of expression nonetheless wound up leading you into a sort of impasse.” But the impasse was the whole point to Ponge – the attempt somehow to squeeze or slither through with freed and precise language. Ponge responded, “No! G.A. has (apparently) failed to understand that it is much less a matter of the birth of the poem than an attempted assassination (far from successful) of a poem by its object” – as if the object were finally getting a meager measure of revenge.
I wonder where all of the carefully observed objects have gone in poetry – the willingness to let a poem hinge on the decisive aspect of things. Calvino says, “In Ponge language, that indispensable medium linking subject and object, is constantly compared with what objects express outside language, and that in this comparison it is reassessed and redefined – and often revalued.” And sometimes devalued among us, his followers. The modest production of Ponge promises something beyond itself, and we love him for the dream of pure potential and the fresh chill of its near presence, even as his cherished objects pass by. Yet Ponge is invoked even by those poets (drunk on theory, ideology, or workshop trends) who treat the object with indifference. Perhaps he would have concurred with Randall Jarrell’s assessment:
“Malraux, drunk with our age, can say about Cézanne: ‘It is not the mountain he wants to realize but the picture.’ All that Cezanne said and did was not enough to make Malraux understand what no earlier age could have failed to understand: that to Cézanne the realization of the picture necessarily involved the realization of the mountain. And whether we like it or not, notice or not, the mountain is still there to be realized. Man and the world are all that they ever were – their attractions are, in the end, irresistible; the painter will not hold out against them for long.” - Ron Slate

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Francis Ponge, The Nature of Things, Trans. by Lee Fahnestock, Red Dust, 1995.

This letter was received from Barbara Wright:The following is the text of a letter from award-winning translator Barbara Wright on Lee Fahnestock's translations of the poetry of Francis Ponge. I knew nothing of how Francis Ponge's poetry had been presented to Anglo-Saxon readers until I was unexpectedly given Lee Fahnestock's translations of his The Nature of Things and Vegetation. My immediate reaction was: Lee Fahnestock must certainly be "Ponge's voice in English". Several rereadings, and a comparison with the French originals, confirmed this opinion. Ponge was the first modern poet to be moved to imagine the inner nature of objects - "things". Things animal - vegetable - mineral. Snails - moss - pebbles. Ponge's imagination delves into the very being of the objects, he sees how even the most apparently insignificant of them is an integral part of the world we know, he shows us how the nature of inanimate things is intricately linked to all things animate, to all of us human beings. He made it his lifelong task to use his fastidious felling for words and language to make strange and beautiful poetry out of his vision. To represent this unusual view in another language, it is evident that the translator must have a deep empathy with the original visionary, and it is clear that this empathy was what urged Lee Fahnestock to make these poems wider known. Ponge's poetic intentions may seem very serious - and they are - but he expresses seriousness in a joyous, often insouciant style, full of humor, lighthearted word play, puns, alliteration, allusions, imaginative contrasts. And I feel that this unique combination has be reproduced with love and understanding by Lee Fahnestock. She gives us Ponge's tones, rhythms, humor. She has maneuvered his word play with respect and unostentatious discretion; she knows how to read between the lines. Here, to my mind, is indeed Ponge in English.

First published in 1942 and considered the keystone of Francis Ponge's work, Le parti pris de choses appears here in its entirety. It reveals his preoccupation with nature and its metaphoric transformation through the creative ambiguity of language. "My immediate reaction to Lee Fahnenstock's translation was: this must certainly be 'Ponge's voice in English'...[She] gives us his tones, rhythms, humor...[and] maneuvers his word play with respect and unostentatious discretion" - Barbara Wright
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Francis Ponge, Vegetation, Trans. by Lee Fahnestock, Red Dust, 1987.

Francis Ponge's VEGETATION is a short grouping of pieces originally published in his book Le Parti Pris des Choses in 1942. Interested in the "copulation of things and words," Ponge aimed to bring a materiality of language to surface. Lee Fahnestock is a critic and translator who has contributed to a new version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and completed a later work of Ponge's in translation, "The Making of the Pre."

Francis Ponge | Poetry Foundation

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Patrick Alan Meadows: Francis Ponge and the Nature of Things: From Ancient Atomism to a Modern Poetics


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