Review of Benjamin Fondane’s Cinepoems and Others
Benjamin Fondane was a Romanian poet, though many of his writings were in French. He took inspiration from the surrealist movement, however his lyrical tone and styling; kept a more formal structure to his poetry leaving it to rest somewhere between surrealism and traditional sonnet or ballad frame.
There is a philosophical background to the majority of his poetry. The musings and lessons he churns in each line reach for understanding in the veil of the subconscious psyche of humanity. He chooses to explore the depths of human nature, at the time when we were at our most monstrous. He was a poet of loss, of treasured memories, and of relenting hope for to find beauty among the ruins, or at least to recognise why humans could be so destructive, especially to themselves and others.
His last manuscript was written just before Fondane was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he later died.
Fondane discusses the heritage of his culture, and of the history of Jews, and the suffering that has spanned their history. He speaks of diaspora, their loss of home and reckons it to the experiences of those condemned under the Nazi regime. He speaks truth and honesty in his poetry, it makes modest display of the agony of himself and those living through that time, it is almost written as a song, there is a sense of peace among the terrors they lived through; he speaks of the lack of place and home they were left with during the time of the war, and before when the Jews were scattered through the desert after Israel.
Yet he maintains beyond the physical world, that they could keep some sense of tranquillity among their despair, because they found home in their beliefs and their religion. This notion is referred to in Latin as Amor Fati : an attitude, in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good. Nietzsche referred to this philosophy regularly within his essays and work.
LANGUAGE AND LOVE
Another dimension to the wrangled heart felt in his language is the on-going battle Fondane had with forms of communication in our world, where once for him writing was an escape and a medium he could rely upon for morality and purpose, his experiences through the war stole this from him. In this book as it discusses the perspectives and consequent subjectivities of Fondane’s writing. It reads
“As he has lost all confidence in words, Fondane had a great deal of enthusiasm for silent film. Totally free from language and thus rational discourse and the norms and limits it engenders, cinema appeared to him like a new mode of understanding, even more authentic than poetry. It offered a chance to arrive at another conception of the human, something lived, no longer in contradiction with thought.”
It was this thought process that led Fondane to his preferred method of work: The Cinepoem.
A Cinepoem (or cinematic poetry) is neither film, nor poetry fully. You may find a short film or motion picture styled in the lyrical and metaphorical flow of a poem, or you may find a bit of prose, where the description and metaphors in the writing are dedicated to portraying scenes or images as if written for a script or setting the scene within a film. This is a simplistic rendition of the movement, and there are many interpretations of work befitting of this advancing genre of work.
Fondane’s cinepoems are analysed as:
“Each numbered line purports to describe an image that exists off the page. They are Fondane’s most playful works, poetry that revels in film’s erotic charge and the magic of appearance and disappearance.”
The Book features both French originals of his work, and the English translation; this is the first of his works to be published in English. Even if not fluent in French, it is interesting to compare the fluidity and expression of the poems in both forms. The French allows you to absorb some of the raw emotion and tragedy of the poetry, while the English allows you to observe the fatalistic, almost detached distance through which he experiences are being reported; through his own acceptance of these events and the belief there is greater meaning to the sufferance he was going through.
Given the context of his work, Fondane’s poetry is not built for skimmed or light reading and will be difficult at times to stick with. It is also hard at times to catch everything that is happening within the pages, as there is so much. But for the vivacity that springs from the lines, and the powerful punches to be observed in his language it is worth pacing yourself through. I have found myself traversing it with a pen as I read, making notes and reminders as I go. Again with the French translations this has slowed my pace further as well, but it is more than worth it.
If anything to have the chance to study a new movement of poetry, that visceral in its tip toe of lines between cinematography and prose, can open the audience of poetry and make it accessible in an interactive and engaging way, that films hold the ability to do over their audience.
Introducing Benjamin Fondane: The First Poem of the Book
1 along a poorly lit wall runs the shadow of a hand
And parallel to it runs a white hand with a pointing
2 another shadow on the same wall the pointing finger
Runs the other way
3 the head of a streetlamp with two candles and two
Flames whose human gaze
4 plunges desperately into the night: illuminating dim
Forms with a reflector moving right and left: signs
Windows hesitating over
5 long stretch of sidewalk on which
6 a hat rolls
7 the arc of a punch
8 a dangling hand gloved in white
9 another punch
10 a pair of trousers with an impeccable crease sags
11 overalls standing in a boxer’s stance
12 a bloody nose
13 a cap on a silk scarf seen from behind
14 a black eye
15 a flaccid hand tries to catch the end of the scarf
Grasps nothing but air
16 a sledgehammer falls
17 a hand digging through a pocket on the ground
18 the streetlight, leaning so far that it almost falls,
19 the blood-drenched hat demolished by violent kicks
20 an explosion of magnesium
21 a store window with a pale mannequin
22 wildly applauds
There is more to the poem but Fondane’s works are long, this poem alone six pages, but it is well-worth completing as this is one of my favourites in the book and I love X-Rays.
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