Why This Book Should Win: "The Invention of Glass" by Emmanuel Hocquard [BTBA 2013]

Over the course of this week, we will be highlighting all 6 BTBA Poetry Finalists one by one, building up to next Friday’s announcement of the winners. All of these are written by the BTBA poetry judges under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win.” You can find the whole series by clicking here. Stay tuned for more information about the May 3rd ceremony.

The Invention of Glass by Emmanuel Hocquard, translated from the French by Cole Swenson and Rod Smith, and published by Canarium Books.

Brandon Holmquest is a poet, translator, and the editor of CALQUE.

1. Because it manages the difficult trick of being intellectual without being academic, of being lyrical without being Romantic, of being poetic without being precious.

2. Because it is skillfully, by which I mean subtly, modeled on glass itself. There is a transparent quality to the poems, they are faintly traced through with colors at times, they tend to slightly warp the images and people one glimpses through them.

3. Because it contains lines like:

. . . Between Deleuze and Wittgenstein
there is Reznikoff and there is also
a wall . . .

4. Because after an 84-page section called “Poem” comes a 24-page one called “Story” which appears to explain the references and anecdotes in the poems, and does to some extent, but which also contains a further crop of anecdotes, more prosaic but no less charming than any that come before.

5. Because in it there is an openly-declared influence of American poets, which somehow does not result in the translation simply sounding like the specific poets quoted or winked at. This “somehow,” in my experience, is almost always explained by the skill of the translators, and such is the case here.

6. Because it is a book of poems from France that is about the difficulties of being a real person, as opposed to the more frequently seen subject of recent French poetry, the difficulties of being a person with money.

7. Because in reading it one is reminded of those French poets of the last forty or fifty years that really matter, especially Ponge and Char, without feeling like what one is reading is derivative of those writers. It seems rather to be the case that Hocquard is himself part of something they are part of as well, and he therefore merits wider readership so that this larger whole may be better understood, if for no other reason.

7.5 Because there are many other reasons.

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