by Jacques Roubaud

Translated by Katheryn McDonald


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E is by Jacques Roubaud

Translated with an introduction by Katheryn McDonald

Jacques Roubaud's poetry moves in two directions at once. It is resolutely complicated, structured by mathematical symbols and many-optioned choices. This is poetry that draws attention to itself as language, offering the reader the opportunity to move blocks of it around, structure a book as she pleases. The re-combinatory, repetitive conception of poetry-as-words contrasts with the alternative, also present in Roubaud's work, of a healing poetry, expressive of grief or joy. The dual aspect that characterizes Roubaud's poetry is in place from his first published book of poems, _E_, which appeared at Gallimard in 1967. This volume presents itself in a dry and very formal manner, presaged by the mathematical symbol that serves as the book's title. The poems themselves are at the intersection of several formal constraints: the movement of white and black markers in a game of *go*; the structure of a sonnet of sonnets; finally the order imposed by the poems' physical presence in a book of poetry. The possibilty of re-ordering the poems of _E_--presented as an integral part of the work--presumes the idea of these poems as a sort of game. Their configuration can be changed, indeed is constructed around the possibility of change, according to previously delineated rules. It is these rules that open the book, under the heading "mode d'emploi de ce livre." But across these poems, divided into paragraphs marked by mathematical symbols, seemingly simply the markers in a complex and formal game, we hear a very personal cry of loss at the death of a brother, and the troubled search of a poet coming to terms with the place of poetry in relation to his own life.

Jacques Roubaud sets up the parameters of his search in the first complete movement of _E_, which is the first sonnet of sonnets. His "conclusion" is a departure for the rest of the book. Although each poem can stand alone, the sonnet can also be read as a suite. The reader can follow the movement of thought that unfolds as the poet moves from rejection of the outside world through an interrogation of language, concluding with an acceptance of that world through the medium of his own past.

--Katheryn McDonald

[The French version of this poem appeared with fully-justified, three and four line, paragraph-like stanzas. The translator has chosen to preserve the interlinear effect; the bracket ( [ ) indicates lines that were wrapped because of length.--eds.]

_E_ by Jacques Roubaud

1.0 Disposition

This paragraph consists of twenty-nine sonnets in prose, made up of two sonnets
of sonnets followed by an isolated marker: these two sonnets are separated by a
black marker; the quatrains and tercets of each sonnet of sonnets by white

1.1 First sonnet

1.1.1 o                                                [GO115]

I no longer see the sun  nor the water  nor the grass having imprisoned 
     [myself where 
no morning rules  if in the pure cube of the night I
distinguish other branchings than on the arch of thoughts I
chase them away I conceal them

no place except for the lamps   the division from light to dark in
front of me cutting off the visible  the bit of world materially
spread out flat yes in front of me  accessible everywhere to my  hands

because all  objects  from here  have disappeared I brought forth sun for sun
for water I made heaps of opacity to be crossed by sun-
shine from elsewhere   o   suns in which I have confidence

at what point you are me  I can show you to all say color
of wood orange say read and be believed   suns awakened on my
tongue   suns surrounding-rains

1.1.2  *                                          [GO 131]

I live without winters without places   no place  no time is more than
another  I have ceased to hear the noise the water makes today I do not
say  the world is a vat of gall I do not say  here are eyes and
marvels I am evening and neutral

the path love was not followed  collective time is but one
knowledge and I know the heavy form that encloses me but   on the white
that presents itself I do not write  I find little   I take little  in the
white of cities I trap myself

if there are always voyages from which one does not return the same a
fountain not of wisdom  but of signs  maybe it is the place
where I am merely headed

who do not seek the future   the stone the source of great wealth 
     [nor the play of trees nor
that of the ribs of boats   who live without sky   who live without cold
questioning where tell me where   will I be

1.1.3  o                                          [GO 133]

I belong to the nerves of streets  to moray eels  to hieroglyphs to
the bark of autumn  to the babble of enamels  to the gift of oneself to
greediness to greatness  smally certainly moderately in the wrong way
(for centuries minutes hours for nothing for a dot of yellow in
the light)

the all-sun   the round fire  the blue foam  the long trumpet the heap
of bones the gilded word  the spaniel or the thistle  the narwhal I am  I am
also the late hour that puts flies to sleep  or the version of stars not
more new however not more sure

I have been there   I know   I believe you   I belong to a time
where everything begins  the void  the plasm  the calculation the living  what
thought I one does not yet figure out the morse code of mountains

one does not know how to infer with spores!  (there were some windows which
closed a noise of cars  quarrels a noise of errands
in this time I had not abolished the immediate)

1.1.4 *                                           [GO 117]

I belong to the finger that strikes the *the*   to the weave to the coat to
the plate of honey to the moccasin to the fur of the bee I belong
to the blue signal of the window

I belong to everything  not yesterday to the fire   tomorrow to  the nail  
     [to everything
simultaneously I have this power which is not what I can do no  what
I am   I belong

what said I   there some ashes that I am not  some wheels
that I didn't turn  some squares where I wasn't angle

what said I there are some eyes by which I didn't see some
crowds without me threw themselves on stones  some truths without me
have found the end of their chain

1.1.5 o

1.1.6  *                                          [GO 135]

I hunted the first one the rose that reaches up in the gardens
full of potsherds of villas in the May that embarks on the thread of the
     [dormous and I 
became sealed off separated  the color green melted in the
color red I hunted the almost-red the budding bee of

I mutilated the tight weave of things  I tipped over the greening
statues of the year  would that time were without landmarks  that nothing
indicates neither salt in the air  nor cork sky  nor decorated boutiques I
traced the frontier in the thick circle of the lamp

I muzzled joy with death I hooded not objects
but their sight  would that there were no more to see hidden that there 
     [were nothing to desire
to see   I condemned up to the very idea of sounds

I had given myself this task  to rip off the dead skin of the present
 I wanted to be free to no longer see  I wanted to keep some distance
 to watch to stay far away  to become far away  to be order  to be calm become

1.1.7 o                                           [GO 119]

I am a punctual crab I am a courier without event my
field is vacant  pure  swept of the smallest star I veiled with
velvet the arched mass of my eye  this instrument will no longer 
     [detail anything
but its dusts

I do not risk silences  I only oppose plain speech
like windows that the rain rinses  and I have a taste for the evening
I have indulgence for the dawn  there is never anything to read in my

by counting grains of rice on a kitchen table  I secured
my saintliness a life of perfection contemplate a thousand times the same
fountain which falls

starting with me time disciplines itself  what said I there is
still a river sensitive to the cold  an island with lakes and
aborigines what

1.1.8 *                                           [GO 137]

shelter of signs  constructions like an abstract tree which
ramifies each branch rubbing its name its design rather which
names it substitutible twig where will take place this form that must be
said (as in: the Noun that you Verb another the Verb)

(as in: and bettyandisbel come dancing)  constructions where
distant times melt together  senses exchange  where veins per-
haps fill up with far off seas  and the stained glass maker screeching the
     [ploughshare june (these
are sentences)  constructions which freeze quickly

barn of signs  methods  inherited manner  no (o false new
worlds)  and certain ones only decree rules and others any old thing
their plates their wives their postage stamps their shoes

it would be simple  if the boundary emprisoned space as much as  necessary if
the relationships were given by succession by position  when
surge up too many responses in the distance (and the remorse of a
somber vowel)

1.1.9 o                                           [GO 121]

each word avows your name where you only wanted to give the mark
abstract unique  something appeared in your constructions
a signature scribbles on the most pure of your orders

each word that a vision filters  poor as always if the same color
flowed  that in vain complicates the exterior of the same
single substance and repeats more feebly the same note greedily

avows without much hope to illuminate if not be error the smallest part
of that which was the heart of these words this why they were assembled
laden entrusted

traces  if you will of the world that carried you   diverted no longer
signifying the world but barely a rite  an absence  a

1.1.10  *                     

1.1.11 o                                          [GO 127]

you will find your own good in the most distant of words  treasure protected
from geese with red crops  it's the ore that is not under the open sky
it's the union of usages contrary to speech

others will lodge more in the planets  or in the law  [infinity sign]
ly miniscule ping-pong of the sub-atom  (there are pastures of
all flavors for mouths trained for the future

but words for you are the salt and the game with which one deduces the
sentences which will dry with with which one burns all the way to childhood

the double drug which detains double paradise   the one like a 
stone under the earth's crust  and the one like a design in the dust

1.1.12 *                                          [GO141]

in this tongue one does not know how to say prairie  snow is a vocable
that no longer walks on two legs  nor bramble on the face always
turned away of chant  mulberry metals make silent neighbors

in this tongue lies lose their substance  trees walk
truly on the sky   the lantern falls back  towards the audible
epoch of pointed roofs  of harlequins

give me more pure colors in this tongue  like
waves which even break apart rock  give me newness some
rapidity in this tongue

give me your help  on the sand I drag myself  I will never be able
to push time  give me centuries in this tongue

1.1.13 o                                          [GO 139]

give me waves that carry the past tubes so fine that they
suck in the least extricable of moments (the chromatic escalade
of remembrance) give me moving backdrops  films
furs paintbrushes of photons characters tastes  give me
markings never before used

give me the possibility of arranging the same voyage of the eye on a
lock of hair which falls  put me in the interior of the raging core
of the sun  give me  a flame  and infinity (heads of a pin of the

let me slice into the world of a man  like a 
scalpel terrorizes a tissue  let me find the default of snow of
the winter I only demand a thimble to put it on your finger

do not give me wine if it's not possible but  a porthole  a telescope
through which I might go come in its color  through which I might read its
     [genesis give
me rapidly because I only have

1.1.14 *

                    white stays white

1.1.15 o                                          [GO 123]

a garment of days briefly  compared to the days without number
that I shuffle  like a wheel that dips down in its well
returns overflowing with green water

some reams of days   just enough  to exhaust I do not
know the substance of a springtime  the noise of a sand paper a
syntax a calculation

to delimit  one time  the exact year of a snail on a window
of a wall  torn under a bee

a cloth of days thrown on eyes that don't know how to see  that
no longer need vision  clairvoyant on this side

1.1.16 *                                          [GO 125]

how many handfuls of snow did we throw on the grey flowers the
peonies of smoke then while playing how many on the ramparts  on
the footpaths covered with cork  how many earthy snows did we
throw  on the knucklebone bushes  the sloe  the blackberry bramble  the
     [licorice  the

we knew  how little would last the blanket of snow on the 
vines  sleeves under the black brambles or split on the threshing floor 
     [covered in
corn silk  how little new snow would melt at the
rings of iron or on the brick of the hearth   on the dusky artery of

the snow was precious almond  rare and tender few   days of little
not even every year  ah keep vivid the taste of snow when it
made the wind fall  on the parchment of undergrowth the inverse
gulf of crows

when we felt that there are but a few snows capable
of a hollow in memory  capable of dazzling fresh 
ferns  on a window that a mouth at dawn covers with mist

1.1.17 o                                          [GO 129]

there were diamond days placed rarely across the years  a
charming series pulled from the unmarked series of days  days of
chestnuts   and  days of bears  days of fire diversely separated
marking lighting the duration shadow

a tree presided over the equilibrium of riches  its leaves advanced
on invisible distances of time  from green to brown a 
veiled rhythm seizable solely by the blood by a diffuse vision by
something like the ubiquity of senses

the journey was still long of the sky in the sky  where nomad
winds pitched tents light then dark  and longer  slower
was the slope of marked days

as if life sliding by had wanted to hold itself back  add its signature
to the natural alternation  to crease the downy cheek of childhood to                
to light up

RIF/T: An Electronic Space for Poetry, Prose, and Poetics
Editors: Kenneth Sherwood and Loss Pequeño Glazier
ISSN#: 1070-0072
Version 4.1 Spring 1995

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