There is something delicate and extremely fragile about Pierre Lepori’s poetry and about the character(s) he creates. The voice he writes in is hushed – you really need to be free of any distractions to tune into it, to adjust to the seemingly plain language and pace, to the language stripped of anything surplus. And only when you do that, do you start experiencing its richness. Occasionally you can taste a small lyrical morsel popping on your tongue (‘Rotting meat of refusal’ or ‘Roots of hatred do not breed children’). Together, the quiet images created by Lepori strengthen each other, to the point at which their power can become almost scalding, transformative, but also dreamy.
Henceforth what was known as rain,
was now salt,
the smoke rising from the sleepy village,
known as chimney-smoke,
was in fact the cause of my despair.
clothes carefully tucked away in the
for the summer months, the mothballs
thrown in the sand.
Everything was given to us
once and for all.
But the cry that arose from the stomach
would never give birth to speech.
and the imagined: nymphs
What I admire about this book is the fact that the painful and traumatic issues discussed are presented without the usual drama (‘There are wounds with no name’), in a way that almost suggests, without justifying them, of course, that they are a regular part of the fabric of life. There is something archetypal about these poems, something grounding, perhaps even something that can help deal with such issues. Which doesn’t mean that the suffering behind those incidents is any less apparent, or that the tragedy is less sizeable. It’s just that it is painted with a more subdued, almost pastel-like technique instead of screaming expressionist colours. It’s almost as if Lepori focuses on the stretches of silence between words being said and things being done, directing our attention to the negative, the reverse of events, as if he believes in silence: ‘Silence is your heart of wind and your childhood home’. And somehow he allows the private pain to distil over time into non-personal history, into pure archetypes.
That silence of
the countryside asleep in the sun,
no longer any omission or guilt
for not having spoken: instead there
a fire in which nothing burns, crying for
Pierre Lepori had been writing for years before he decided he was ready to publish, before he felt ready to call himself a poet. And that comes across very strongly in this, his first volume. The reader can almost sense all the work that went into simmering those poems down to their complete and absolute essence. As he says in the note closing the book, his ‘goal – certainly too ambitious – had been to start medicating the language. This is the reason for certain purely descriptive inserts (though not devoid of affection), in a book born as a path towards the re-appropriation of language.’
There is no doubt that he successfully achieves his goal.
Reviewed by Anna Blasiak
WHATEVER THE NAME
Written by Pierre Lepori
Translated by Peter Valente
Published by Spuyten Duyvil (2017)
This review was originally published in The Swiss Riveter in December 2018 and on European Literature Network website in January 2019.
Photo of Pierre Lepori by Yvonne Böhler