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Wesleyan University Press
Poasis / Edition 1

Poasis / Edition 1

by Pierre JorisPierre Joris


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Pierre Joris's poems are characterized by an arresting mix of passion and intellect, by what Pound called "language charged with meaning." For Joris, a language is always a second language, and his poetry takes as its main concern the question of marginality and exile. He is unique in being an American poet comfortable in three languages, and his work is filled with a dynamic language play, cross-linguistic puns, and themes of speculation on language, translation, and nomadism. Poasis, Joris's first major publication in the United States, highlights his work since the mid-1980s.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819564351
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 03/01/2001
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 212
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.49(d)

About the Author

Pierre Joris is the author of more than twenty books, most recently h.j.r. (1999) and Winnetou Old (1994), and has translated Paul Celan and Pablo Picasso, among others. With Jerome Rothenberg he co-edited Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry (1995 volume 1, 1998 volume 2). He is Professor of English at SUNY-Albany.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Canto Diurno #1

Sunday, February 23rd, 1986

0.10 a.m.

Je répète, pour Bataille, l'interrogation: pourquoi "communauté"? La réponse
est donnée assez clairement: "A la base de chaque être existe un principe d'insuffisance
..." (principe d'incomplétude).


    0.45 a.m.

after the storm
the flat
lineaments of

world a letter
on the lam
      a greek
      da / fort
missing the
eleventh leg

—not a wooden
—not a toy
of this journey
though it is
the meat we eat
in this house
after the storm
the skies
where we
fiction our
selves to be
at one

    * * *

1.30 a.m.

Reading a book should not belike filling a vase but like lighting a fire.


2.05 a.m.

Prose demands that one read between the lines. Poetry, that one read the

7.15 a.m.


night moves
dark in
to grey
bulb burns re
flects on

piano in
to mor
diodic deity
a place of wonder
of work
night like
this night
move in
small steps
the hordes follow alpha
horizon down
the hand

    * * *

shadows of
ashes of ashes
of mor
    we burn only

once i.e.
       we better burn
all the time
             in this
soon to be

    * * *

here you go
again old
George used
to say burning
that mid
night oil again—
he up nights
cups of tea
night street cats houses dark moon
watched his
own old
bones age & mornings
out for the
paper he'd stop
me tell me
his nightwatch tales
conspiracy of him &
I nightlording it
over deal road
dawn did
come slid in on
sirens over boulevards
the usual news stereo
phonic aubades
from the bedroom english
bbc voice
here in the living room
the french announcer
—morning bulb keeps burning
only its reflection
dims & dies out
more coffee
by now your body
warmer under covers
night's last

    * * *

    8.10 a.m.


pros trate

    cloud claw





    * * *

8.30 a.m.

But the individual is only the residue of the dissolution of the
community. By his nature—as his name shows, he is the atom, the indivisible—the
individual reveals that he is the abstract of a decomposition.

... one doesn't create a world with simple atoms. One needs a clinamen. One
needs an inclination (in both meanings of the word) of the one towards the
other, of the one by the other or of the one for the other. The community is
at least the clinamen of the "individual".

—Jean-Luc Nancy

9 a.m.

THE NEWSPAPER DEAD. the paper picked up taken home, like going to
church on sunday, long ago, as regular, as much of a rite. the double ritual
of reading, of writing, take notes, see how it can enter, that world, your
world, too. introïbo, no altar but what rolled off the presses, heavily inked.
iconography of random death: if to pray is to give thought, intensely, then
that is what I am doing right now. unalienable format: too large to be cut
out and glued into notebook: this dead will have to stay where it is, on the
front page, tomorrow's dustbin liner, this is a Reuters dead from Rome,
young woman in heavy wintercoat, wool cap with studded rim pulled
down to half-inch above eyebrows, face pressed three quarters towards me
to the asphalt, ear to the ground as if listening for a distant tremor an approaching
train a faroff revolution or simply for what the earth has to tell
her. whatever it is, she can no longer hear it. Vilma Monaco, 28, carrying a
.38 in her hand and a German MP40 in her bag, 15 spent cartridges littering
the ground, the pointless numbers, do what you want, they all spell
death, Vilma surrounded by numbers caught in a web like a medieval hex,
killed in Rome trying to kill a roman politico who played with bigger
numbers, she a member of the Fighting Communist Union, a splinter-group
of the Red Brigades, offshoot born to die out of the second split of
the BR in Paris 1984. collar frayed where a bullet went through I think. I
would like to put my finger there, to shake you death of europe, by the
shoulders, get up, it was all a dream of winter, the minor corrupt christian-democrat
politico not worth it, wrong strategy, though who am I to
say despair is ever wrong, coldblooded: she is wrong because she is dead.
one of us is dead, one more skull to be strung on a chain we all carry
around our necks, but that too, too romantic, as gooey as her own harsh
choice. Vilma Monaco, a name Hollywood might have picked, this is
hello and good-bye, Vilma Monaco. Vilma Monaco, you leave me here
with only an introïbo, with no credo, which is all you had, you leave me here
with your name only, with your smudged inky deathmask, already a
twenty four hour dead, Monaco, Vilma, your face pressed against the
street, listening to someone I cannot hear.

    * * *

    11 a.m.

      that dream, co
incidence of a day
now 14 years
      a day
planned as a page

to write
      a canto
diurno all
day long
& as large as I
could make it.
      (& how
to tell today
coming out of
another night,
      how to
tell the making
of that un-
made dream?

unmade canto
coincidence of
dawn & night,
had gotten up
in pre-dawn
November light,

had started
the tracking, had
turned the radio on,
heard the news
(the only news
instanter as old

as it ever gets)

      It stopped
me for a day, a year, a decade.
      shaking off the fathers.
here it goes on.
      some un-
finished busi
ness, skirting
not shirking
the farther

    * * *


re Sobin's work:

      two ways of working, essentially: first the vertical / spine poem that
turns/twists on grammatik,
           cf.: 'compose. (no ideas
           but in ...)'

                          a grammarye I sense owes much to Celan, as
does that corkscrew movement that anchors the poem downward, into
earth, air into earth, from the top of the page, the heading, chapter, caput,
no longer gives permission for any kind of spread, the poem runs from its
own title/inceptor i.e. first word or line given who knows how, runs in the
shortest line possible, ie hairpin curves, mountain travail, where the descent
beckons, in a spiral, narrowing, downward, vertical straights,
sharpest clinamen, always downward, screws itself into, earth.
                                                                          (this vertical
tropos is not to be confused with the 'organic'—romantic image of poem
as tree, of art/work as natural growth, tree with bole/trunk, roots &
branches, or with man as tree confusion, the renaissance romance,
Leonardo's tree-man inscribed upright in the cosmos, that cosmic anthropocentrism
out of which (even if seemingly as reaction against) came romanticism,
all the way down to us—for us still there in Duncan, though
he already on the edge of a new configuration, twin to the explosante-fixe,
already close to what this new figure might be, is, in, say Celan, Sobin,
some others', my own work: a necessary denial of tree image, a first approximation
of the rhizome.)

                                                           &, secondly, a
horizontal/horizonal single line sprezzatura (even when it takes two, or
three, or, rarely, four or five lines, it always works on the one/single, line.
These, nearly always truncated, fore-shortened, literally, as if the eye (the
writer's?, the reader's?) cld only catch that tail-end, or started out too
fast, flew over, too eager at the beginning, the beginning therefore, the
origin therefore always hidden/in hiding, the breath that is inhaled, invisible
air that goes in to come out again of the body, colored, thus visible,
inky glyphs shaped by lips & teeth & tongue—but something always already
caught / now catches / in the throat.

banner of words / no banter here / no more air about to breezily agitate
the sentences. It is as if all the air there was, was needed in the breath-making
of the line and now those foreshortened lines rest exhausted, after
a long journey, a trajectory described, come to rest in the playing field of
gravity (of words, of language—the invisible ether/origin maybe the
ideas as forerunners ((but what does come first: thought or language? the
aim of poetry clearly the attempt to put that question out of play by creating
the concordance of the two: the shadow and the thing, the thought
and the word)) gravity, I said, then there is play again, ça en découle, gravitas,
gravide, grave/grave—bringing it all back down to earth.

* * *

The horizontal and vertical forms interpenetrate in the architectonics of
the book, creating for the reader the design of a cross, a cross firmly
planted in the grass and ground of southern France.

but that cross formed, that many-armed figure is not meant for the man
who wrote the poems: it is not even meant as the man's shadow: it is the

his shadow the high summer scarecrows speckle the Vaucluse.

or maybe his shadow is only the shadow of those scarescrows.
he said them.
unsaid them all.

crows are birds of omen. so are scares, so are the scars we call words.

* * *

Strange how I hear Blanchot in so many of the horizonals:

"towards that ear, that ether, that absentia of all presence: presence itself."

* * *

& this, which Duncan immediately worried out of the 'ars poetica':

"but death continuously discharged, expelled,
                   projected ...

a death kept alive."

i.e.: our life alived
        in the tension
        of the worded

* * *

ex-vita, he writes, I hear the rime: ex-voto, & look up

    votive: 1. given or dedicated in fulfillment of a vow or pledge:
a votive offering
            2. expressing a wish, desire or vow. A votive prayer.

    ex-voto: (according to a vow) a votive offering

* * *

that many-armed cross also a loom, the woof & weft of the cloth woven

and in woven there is the vow makes the poem a votive offering.

which is not the violent/bloody sacrifice of devotion where everything
goes up in fire and smoke, no sparagmos here, what happens here happens
as air, as breath that a-lives, and thus "the earth as air," even.

* * *

... and come now, a few pages further into the text, to the word 'votive' I
had earlier teased out of ex-vita:

the rose
as votive: for

of the rose.

2 p.m.

to write through the numbness of body—
             stretching the dream-

                   skin /
this length of thread, a yarn-wound
twisted around a loose skeleton
        earthy suggestion of this, a
quote a twisted skein of lies
the story

           goes on not-
withstanding the numbness, the cackle
of geese
       warns of danger
                  the sky pierced
arrow-shaped flight of similar
things, birds or
tales of

                  an anlace piercing
porous nighthide
                        through which sweat
of my life
             dangles me from a ropetrick,
o how I envy
Mozart's ease
             let it come down, fragrant
                  —pushed through.
to hold, held, told in hell.

2.45 p.m.

second attempt at translating "Todtnauberg," Celan's encysted record of
his 1967 meeting with Martin Heidegger (a disaster as far as Celan is concerned,
according to most sources). Clearly Celan had hoped for something
(the opening botany, arnica, eyebright, is of healing plants) which
Heidegger did not (could not?) (would not?) provide: in the visitors'
book he wrote a line "von einer Hoffnung, heute, / auf eines Denkenden
/ kommendes / Wort / im Herzen,". Then a walk on unevened, unplaned,
ground where they walk singly "Orchis und Orchis", then in the
car, later, driving back, more talk, rough talk ("Krudes") overheard by a
third person, the driver. And then a harsher landscape, high-moor, log-paths
or trails, humidity.


Arnica, eyebright, the
draft from the well with the
star-die on top,

in the
written in the book
—whose name did it record
before mine?—in this book
the line about
a hope, today,
for a thinker's
word to come,
in the heart,

woodturf, not evened,
orchis and orchis, singly,

crudeness, later, while driving,

he who drives us, the man,
he listens in,

the half-
trod log-
trails on the highmoor,


    * * *

    6.35 p.m.

the hearth again
& against
the encroachments,
pull of
       polis, its

    the question of

hearth as elective
polis as de facto

"the community of lovers
has as its ultimate goal
the destruction of society"

a war machine
two beings made
or not made
for each other

a possibility
of disaster

here is the room
the closed space

here no night
can come

to an end
here happens

the lie
of union

a union always takes place
by not taking place

(there is no
free union)

these walls are
against polis

here we hatch
treachery against

those who glorify us by
codifying us


By Rachel Hadas

Wesleyan University Press

Copyright © 2001 Rachel Hadas. All rights reserved.

What People are Saying About This

Nicole Brossard

"To read the poetry of Pierre Joris is to listen to the ticking of the words, to observe them preparing to move and alter themselves so as to expose the nature of what a split second of fervor in language can do to meaning. Reading Poasis is experiencing the pleasure and the challenge of being constantly on the edge of what matters, be it the alphabet, a tree, a lake, a lemur, or 'a dream of a desert in a book'"
Nicole Brossard, author of Picture Theory and Installations

From the Publisher

"To read the poetry of Pierre Joris is to listen to the ticking of the words, to observe them preparing to move and alter themselves so as to expose the nature of what a split second of fervor in language can do to meaning. Reading Poasis is experiencing the pleasure and the challenge of being constantly on the edge of what matters, be it the alphabet, a tree, a lake, a lemur, or 'a dream of a desert in a book'"—Nicole Brossard, author of Picture Theory and Installations

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