My head hasn’t been in poetry lately. Call it burn out—last year I read mostly poems—or attribute it to grad school killing my love for poetry, but I have been reading more prose as of late. Subsequently, my recent poetry reading has mostly been out of obligation.

That being said, it takes a lot to get me excited about poetry. Jacques Dupin’s work is, thankfully, the kind of poetry that does intrigue, delight, and reward, making it the ideal poetry to reignite my old love. The recent release of three of his works, collected under the title Of Flies and Monkeys, makes the case for Dupin’s importance in the world of contemporary poetry. Dupin is an interesting figure. A contemporary of Yves Bonnefoy and follower of Francis Ponge, his name is not bandied about with the regularity of his peers. Add to that, his poems ride the crest between the legacy of surrealism and the state sanctioned aesthetic of political rumination. Neither of these trends suited Dupin, whose work is at once immediate and startling (“a clearing sodomoy / her saintly hem fucked / under the same low leaves”) even when the images veer into the obscure (“As if I were the moist imprint of her voice. The oil and the gathering of her endless worm-screws in the air”). Dupin’s images are both strong and subtle, suggesting a modern-day Artuad who pulls back just before his poems become clouded by the grotesque. This is a writer who understands his craft, and while he refuses to adhere to trends his work has the balance and grace of a trained master.

The title work, “Of Flies and Monkeys,” is flanked by two other books, “Mother”—a series of mostly prose poems—and “Hazel Tree.” Of them, the middle section is the strongest. It is there that the reader sees Dupin vacillating between direct confessionalism and the unapologetically imagistic:

I write whenever

in the distance
fertilized by anguish

fear squirts out

and no longer has but words
but knives

to calibrate the suffering

If Dupin lapses into dreamy poetics, and risks alienating his readers, he does so in a manner that continues to engage:

As long as I breathe monkeys dance

A dance whose long arms dangle
voluble thoughts
a glass language a language

of sulfur
of iron pigments leading astray

the ocher of the excremental

the firedamp blue of interstice.

To significantly excite this reader, a poet needs to involve me in the process of reading the poem. In short: craft is not enough. I need something more to hang my hat on. Lesser poets churn out works riddled with empty vulgarities, which I find dull, or capitulate to the trends of academia, which I find unforgivably dull. Dupin’s work extends itself, inviting one in even as it does the reader no favors. There are no easy answers in his work, but however elliptical these poems may be they remain engaging and graceful, excrement and all.

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Of Flies and Monkeys
By Jacques Dupin
Translated by John Taylor
Reviewed by Vincent Francone
288 pages, Paperback
ISBN: 9780978633547
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