Ivy Writers featuring Luc Bénazet and Michael Heller
Review by Yann Rousselot.
Le Next is a trendy bar and nightclub in the heart of the 2nd arrondissement hosting the Ivy Writers poetry readings once a month. In the batcave below, under the blacklights, red LED strings and glowing play/pause button decorations strung across the vaulted ceiling, an intellectual cultural event could appear a little out of place to some. But I disagree: who said literature wasn’t cool anymore?
Micheal Heller was the first of the evening’s readers. He picked out a selection of poems from what I at first took for a telephone book, but turned out to be a copy of his collected works. In his own words: “Great for pressing your wine bottle labels, or as a doorstop…”
Opening with his piece Seven Praises, Michael expressed commandments of what seemed to me a rich, fun, and inspired life, including “Be drunk (repeated a few times) / Be Light / Be Found.” His ekphrastic poem Ok Everybody Let’s Do the Mondrian Stomp was similarly light in tone and full of energy, a rhythmic, musical piece that went a little something like this: white blocks, black blocks, blue, yellow, green blocks… It seemed fitting for a nightclub.
What I got from his work, especially the later pieces, was a deep sense of erudition, a love of language for the culture it vehicles. The piece Stanzas at Maresfield Gardens, focused on a tour of the Freud Museum in London. Sketching the outline of Freud’s consultation room, the poem brought to light parallels between object and abstract in the mystical statuettes the psychoanalyst seemed to cherish: “Figurines of ancient deities […] What to will from those shapeless shifters of speech […] Osiris, onyx-faced ones […] Divinities claimed in flawed obeisance…” In Eschaton, the closing line struck me such that I didn’t even have to read my notes to recall it: “Skull: the old relic box.”
Reading in a chronological order of his writings, it only seemed fitting that the final poem would be about our 2.0 world: Internet Enabled.
Where Michael Heller was light-hearted, warm, and full of jest, Luc Bénazet brought us the other side of the poetic spectrum: gravitas, the slow appreciation of verse, and a darker touch of humour.
Reading in slow, measured and eloquent French, his opening piece Mon adieu aux orifices (My Farewell to Orifices) explored the relation between body and thought, between physical manifestation and (you guessed it) desire, impulse, sex. “Pourquoi penser quand la pensée excite les trous du corps? […] Comment parvenir à ne pas penser?” Why think, indeed, its risky business. In all his work, there is a strong meditation on language for its potential as a real-world event, an act, the act of speech.
Meta-linguistic magic tricks seem to be one of Bénazet’s preferred devices, as we saw with Mes Adresses, a piece addressing language via the vehicle of language, “Mes adresses aux verbes.” What I took away from this piece was a reflection on the endless potential of the word, a potency betrayed by its insubstantial nature, like “the whisper of cannonshot” (“coup de danon dans le creux de l’oreille”). Alongside this power, however, Luc Bénezet sought to capture the fallible nature of words, the treacherous terrain they represent, sometimes literally: one of his pieces was a craftwork of stuttering, broken French, an act of deciphering as much as an act of expression.
Language is risky business, as he put it himself: “Lorsque l’oralité des choses ne peut être articulée, on y mets la jambe”—“When the aural nature of things cannot be articulated, you have to get your hands dirty.”
Bios courtesy of Ivy Writers Paris and the authors. For more information please see their blog here, their facebook group here or email your info for their readings emailings at ivywritersparis at gmail.com.
MICHAEL HELLER lives in NYC. He has published over twenty volumes of poetry, essays, memoir and fiction. His most recent books are This Constellation Is A Name:Collected Poems 1965-2010(Nightboat Books, 2012), BeckmannVariations & other poems (Shearsman, 2010), Eschaton (2009), and his renowned scholarly volume on Objectivist poet George Oppen: Speakingthe Estranged: Essays on the Work of George Oppen (2012). Collaborations with the composer Ellen Fishman Johnson include the opera, Constellations of Waking (on Walter Benjamin) and This Art Burning. Among his many awards and honors are the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Prize, a New York Foundation on the Arts Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Humanities Poet/Scholar Award and the Fund for Poetry. For more, seehttp://www.michaelhellerpoetry.com/
LUC BENAZET lives in Paris though he is currently in Tangiers on a writing residency with the cipM (the international center for poetry in Marseilles). His most recent book is : La vie des noms (Nous éditions, 2013). He is also the author of Envoi, a collaborative work with Benoît Casas (éditions Héros-Limite, 2012), nÉcrit (Nous éditions, 2009), m à o, un hors série du MdP, 2007 and the text for the film L’été à Zedelbeek, directed by Chiara Malta in 2007. His work appears in the literary reviews k.o.s.h.k.o.n.o.n.g. and, in Swedish translation, in Slot (out of Sweden) as well as in Ligne 13, MIR and Grumeaux. To read a book review in French, see: http://www.sitaudis.fr/Parutions/la-vie-des-noms-de-luc-benazet.php For more on Bénazet, see: http://www.editions-nous.com/benazet.html