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Rene Char (1907-88) is acknowledged as one of the greatest French poets of all time. His work speaks in tones both universal and grounded in his native Provence, where during World War II he commanded the Resistance maquis. Originally allied with the Surrealists, his poems afterward evolved from the "fury and mystery" of the war period to his later existential and metaphysical reflections. His poems are violent and tender, passionate and cool, massive and of small scope-at once local and cosmic. The Selected Poems of Rene Char is a comprehensive, bilingual overview reflecting the poet's wide stylistic and philosophical range, from aphorism to dramatic lyricism. In making their selections, the editors have chosen the voices of seventeen poets and translators (Paul Auster, Samuel Beckett, Cid Corman, Eugene Jolas, W.S. Merwin, William Carlos Williams, and James Wright, to name a few), in homage to a writer long held in highest esteem by the literary avant-garde. Mary Ann Caws is a Distinguished Professor of French, English, and Comparative Literature at the Graduate School of the City Univeristy of New York. The former co-director of the Henri Peyre French Institute and an officer of the Plames Academique, Caws has lectured all over the world and is the author or editor of more than twenty books. Tina Jolas was a translator and ethnologist. She was the wife of the poet Andre du Bouchet and the companion ofRene Char.
An interesting feature of this book is the number of contributing translators (19, editors included) who are themselves well-known poets or writers: they include Samuel Beckett, William Carlos Williams, and James Wright, to name just three. Another felicitous choice by the editors is the book's bilingual format; each original poem and its translation appear side by side, so that Char's (1907-88) many feelings, moods, and tones are captured in those 99 selected poems. Char's poems have already been translated ( Poems of Rene Char, LJ 6/1/76), but the earlier translation does not include such a chorus of voices. Indeed, the reader will find this latest publication a useful contribution to the understanding of a poet whose artistic voice found its initial expression among the surrealists and whose craft developed into an intensely personal style, various and multiform, fiercely independent yet based on universally human concerns. Recommended for informed readers.-- Danielle Mihram, Univ. of Southern California Lib., Los Angeles