Cantos: A New Directions Blog

Queneau’s witty verse

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Raymond Queneau, along with his translator Barbara Wright, is a big favorite in the house. Each time I pick up my copy of Exercises in Style with the whimsical doodles on the cover, I want to giggle…and sometimes, I do. And almost always, I giggle out loud when I read the book. While the book itself is a novel, of sorts (if the book can be categorized in such a prosaic fashion…oops, pun unintended), it does contain some verse recounting the minor spat on the bus. Here are two accounts:

Alexandrines

One midday in the bus–the S-line was its ilk–
I saw a little runt, a miserable milk–
Sop, voicing discontent, although around his turban
He had a plaited cord, this fancy-pants suburban.
Now hear what he complained of, this worm-metamorphosis
With disproportionate neck, suffering from halitosis:
–A citizen standing near him who’d come to man’s estate
Was constantly refusing to circumnavigate
His toes, each time a chap got in the bus and rode,
Panting, and late for lunch, towards his chaste abode.
But scandal was there none; this sorry personage
Espied a vacant seat–made thither quick pilgrimage.
As I was going back towards the Latin Quarter
I saw him once again, this youth of milk-and-water.
And heard his foppish friend telling him with dispassion:
“The opening of your coat is not the latest fashion.”

Haiku

Summer S long neck
plait hat toes abuse retreat
station button friend

It’s sheer genius: to convey the anecdote in such radically different formats, the Alexandrine with its discursive long lines, and the haiku with its brevity manipulated into an almost telegram-like language. Also, kudos to Barbara Wright, the wonderful translator who managed to interpret Queneau’s French with such panache.

Speaking of telegrams…:

Telegraphic

BUS CROWDED STOP YNGMAN LONGNECK
PLAITENCIRCLED HAT APOSTROPHISES
UNKNOWN PASSENGER UNAPPARENT
REASON STOP QUERY FINGERS FEET HURT
CONTACT HEEL ALLEGED PURPOSELY STOP
YNGMAN ABANDONS DISCUSSION PRO-
VACANT SEAT STOP 1400 HOURS PLACE
ROME YNGMAN LISTENS SARTORIAL
ADVICE FRIEND STOP MOVE BUTTON STOP
SIGNED ARCTURUS

Soo Jin

Written by New Directions

March 31, 2009 at 4:17 pm

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