The Straw Sandals
Selected Prose and Poetry
Edited, Introduced, and translated by
Paperback, 334 pages
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Selections from Fragments, Pages de Journal 1981, L'angle mort (The Dead Angle) and Les sandales de paille (The Straw Sandals), plus the complete texts of La langue des fumées (The Language of Rising Smoke), L'entrée dans le jardin (The Entryway into the Garden), À la merci des sentences (At the Mercy of Maxims), and L'approche (The Approach).
PIERRE-ALBERT JOURDAN (1924-1981) worked from 1947 to 1981 as the manager of a mutual insurance benefits program, spending his non-working hours in pursuit of spiritual understanding and literary clarity. He was known as a poet only by a small group of well-known fellow poets. His focus was on nature, particularly his garden in the Vaucluse village of Caromb and the surrounding landscape, which included the snow-capped Mount Ventoux. In 1981 he received a diagnosis of lung cancer and decided to note down his thoughts as it progressed. Thus resulted L'approche. In the first decade after his death, the prestigious firm Mercure de France astonished the poetic world by publishing two collections of his work, each more than 500 pages and prefaced respectively by Yves Bonnefoy and Philippe Jaccottet. Offering a generous selection from the first volume of these two collections, John Taylor introduces this singular and self-effacing poet to English-language readers.
JOHN TAYLOR is the author of the three-volume Paths to Contemporary French Literature and Into the Heart of European Poetry-all four books published by Transaction. He has also written five books of stories, short prose and poetry, and sometimes mixes the genres, as in The Apocalypse Tapestries (Xenos Books, 2004). Among his translations are books by Jacques Dupin, Philippe Jaccottet, Laurence Werner David and several modern Greek writers. His work is highly acclaimed and has won prestigeous awards. He lives in France.
"How is it that writing so fresh, so spontaneous and with such deep friendship for the best of what mankind and world can offer-writing that always strikes the right note-is not harkened to more attentively?" ~ Philippe Jaccottet
"What Jourdan experiences in his morning garden, and records as an experience of the absolute, is [ ] the surprise of one who has returned to a beloved countryside after long months of absence, his marvel following upon the fatigue of highways and a sleepless night ~ Yves Bonnefoy
"For Jourdan, writing was a tool for exploring what it means to have come into being, for determining how to live in the world every single day and thus how to die, and for intuiting possible spiritual truths in our midst. This task was always more important than seeing his work in print and establishing a name for himself. This radical genuineness now radiates from all the pages that, thankfully, are in print." ~ John Taylor, Introduction.
"For Jourdan, paradox and its close kin aphorism were ways to approach the ineffable, the immanent, and above all the state of unity between self and world that he devotedly, passionately sought. [. . .] Between moments of disgust with the human (and human-made) world, moments of rapture for the natural world, and, at the end, moments of fear at losing that very self's ability to sense, he writes in hope that the paradoxes he has provided will help to free us as well as himself: 'Writing throws out a bridge that it destroys with every page.'" ~ Kate Schapira, The Arts Fuse
"Each sentence sends the imagination spiraling off into a different spectrum of images and memories. Each phrase may be savored and contemplated as a separate poem :
The fragrance of cypress beneath the eyelids.
[. . .] We are deeply indebted to Chelsea Editions for making this important body of work available, and to John Taylor for supplying not just a literal translation into English sentences, but a luminous transmutation into English poetry." ~ Martin Abramson, Book/Mark
"Reading Jourdan's observations from Caromb is to move through the gamut of scale; to enter the flower-head with the bee and observe the rippling of the wind in the shrub or its effect on the peregrinations of the butterfly before looking up to the ever-changing cloudscapes of the mountain and the vast extent of the intervening country; to follow Jourdan as he walks, observing the fissile bank of the road or the cloud raked on a ridge. It is as if Jourdan's tiny stitches, his microcosmic observations, cumulatively sewed together a vast panorama of his native Vaucluse, in its definite-indefiniteness having few parallels outside such Shakespearian landscape music as Tippett's Triple Concerto or Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream." ~ Chris Miller, The Warwick Review, volume 5, No. 4, December 2011.
"Jourdan didn't write so much as attempt to purify the desire to write and scrub its purpose. His oeuvre is made of compressed prose texts, aphoristic notations, and pithy descriptions. Although he wrote with the disclosing regularity of a diarist, he insisted, 'One must learn to speak above oneself in the same way you can help someone climb over a wall.' [. . .] With The Straw Sandals, we finally have finely attuned English translations (with the originals en face) of Jourdan's entire first book, selections of his mid-life writings, and the whole of L'Approche or The Approach, his final work. . ."
~ Ron Slate, On the Seawall
"Very few books have the capacity to change a reader's life, but this splendidly moving anthology of writings by Pierre-Albert Jourdan is one of them. Introduced with perceptive brilliance by the well-known critic John Taylor, it includes selections from eight of the author's works, spanning the twenty years of his maturityan arc cut short by lung cancer in 1981. Born in Provence in 1924, Jourdan was a masterly stylist in the French tradition of short prose, which can encompass aphorisms, brief meditations, prose poems, journal entries, or simply jottingsapercus of reality caught on the wing. But Jourdan's notes constitute much more than a literary oeuvre of remarkable deftness: they trace his evolution toward a state of secular grace. This is the testament of a self-effacing saint with no need of a church, who consistently keeps his foibles on display with humble, resolute honesty. Whether he is observing the behavior of animals, communing with the plants in his beloved garden, or pursuing his workaday existence in a transport company, he never fails to probe the essence of things, profoundly and unobtrusively. The Approach, composed in his last few months, as he traversed the painful wasteland of medical treatments, grants us a luminous vision of the astounding power of joy, a joy that does not shrink from the minutae of suffering, decline, and death. Despite his obvious links to Eastern doctrines of detachment, even in extremis he retains a sensuous delight in light-washed landscapes, the humming of bees, the small firework of a flower, and every 'unexpected magnitude' revealed by the everyday world. It is easy to see why such celebrated poets as Yves Bonnefoy and Philippe Jaccottet have long admired Jourdan's rapt and courageous prose, which teaches us to die because it teaches us to live. We cannot thank John Taylor enough for bringing this unjustly neglected author to the attention of the English-speaking public in his sensitive translation: at every turn, he renders Jourdan's extraordinary range of tone and diction with flawless skill."
~ Hoyt Rogers, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 2012
". . .to our great good fortune, the publisher Chelsea Editions now offers us two beautifully designed, bilingual books editions of two major twentieth-century Francophone poets, translated magnificently by John Taylor. And, Nonetheless by Jaccottet and The Straw Sandals by Jourdan were published in 2011 and include selected prose and poetry, with introductions by the translator. [...] Both Jaccottets and Jourdans poetry is grounded in nature, yet it is far from being nature poetry. It is not inspired by nature the way some melancholy, idle observer watching a garden from behind a lace-curtained window might be. It is a poetry born out of the desire to cross the line between nature and the invisible beyond it; it is a poetry both thought and felt. For Jaccottet, as for Jourdan, looking at nature is never simply an act of letting your eye/I touch the surface of things; rather, it is an act through which your eye/I relearns how to see." ~ Daniela Hurezanu, The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 28, Summer 2012
The Straw Sandals
Poet Pierre-Albert Jourdan
From L'angle mort (The Dead Angle)
Chants d'oiseaux invisibles. Seules voix pures. Peut-être parce qu'ils sont flammes dans l'air. Qu'ils brûlent sans déchets. Oiseaux condamnés dans un mond encombré. Un rêve que je fais: que ce soit eux qui m'accueillent, que je m'avance dans un nuage de plumes. (Que ce soit la dernière image.)
Invisible birds chirping. The only pure voices. Perhaps because birdsongs are like flames in the air that burn up completely. As for birds themselves, they are doomed in this crowded world. One of my dreams: that birds be the ones who greet me. that I go forward through a cloud of feathers. (That this be my final sight.)
Tu as été conduit en aveugle prè de ce paysage. Alors tu l'as reconnu. Comme on se transmet une lampe allumée avec prècaution, ainsi, peut-être, seras-tu conduit prè de cet paysagele tien depuis toujours.
You were led like a blind man near this landscape. And you recognized it. Even as a lighted lamp is handed over cautiously, perhaps you will similarly be led near that other landscapeyours from the beginning.
From L'entrée dans le jardin (The Entryway into the Garden)
Vraiment le paysage vient à toiqui n'est plus enfermè dans ton regard. Un immense troupeau d'arbres est lâché dans l'espace. Le berger dort dans ta pointrine.
The landscape really comes to youit is no longer locked up in your eyes. An immense herd of trees is released into space. The shepherd sleeps in your breast.
From Les sandales de paille (The Straw Sandals)
Jeudi 10 janvier.
Il faut se hisser jusqu'à la brance trop fragile pour percevoir avec nettetè ce qui se passe en dessous.
Thursday, 10 January.
You have to climb all the way up to the branch that is too fragile if you wish to perceive clearly what is happening below.
From L'approche (The Approach)
Situation somme toute banale. Mais n'interrogez pas trop la banalité. Vous risqueriez de buter sur une terrifiante énigme.
Ultimately, an ordinary situation. But don't question ordinariness too much. You risk running up against a terrifying enigma.
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