Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is not only a translation, but a transformation. It is a translation of Jean Genet’s novel Notre Dame des Fleurs, transmuted from prose to poetry. Originally written in prison as a masturbatory aid (Sartre in fact called the book “the epic of masturbation”), Chris Tysh has taken Genet’s work and made something completely new out of it.

“On the news Weidmann, his head
Like a nun in white or a wounded
Pilot, falls down in silky rye
The same day Our Lady of the Flowers
Stamped all over France dangles his crimes
By a golden string—nimble assassins mount
The back stairs of our sleep”

The poem follows the life and death of the drag queen Divine, chronicling her (or his) misadventures and tribulations with the pimp Mignon-Dainty-Feet and the young murderer, the eponymous Our Lady of the Flowers. Throughout the narrative, there is love, hate, crime, passion, sex, and death. The story is told in the form of seven-line stanzas (two per page), broken up in a way to confuse any internal rhythm, just like the characters confuse traditional assumptions about gender. The last line of one stanza may appear to be one thought, but when read with the beginning line of the next stanza, it creates a completely different idea. The text is emotional and evocative, transgressive to both past and present audiences while never seeming to use shock for shock’s sake. It paints a scene of Gay Paris and the criminal underbelly those deemed immoral or unnatural by mainstream society were forced to accompany.

Reign holds court down below
I need a dream, a poem to shatter
The walls of my prison. Swallows
Nest in my armpits; if you look away
For a second, a young murderer appears
A silk hanky in his buttonhole, he’s just
Come back from a night of dives with sailors

I wish Tysh’s word alchemy were practiced by more translators. Turning a prose novel into a poem is a brilliant literary move, especially when coupled with talent like hers. According to the translator’s bio in the back of the book, Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is the second work in a three-part project, called Hotel des Archives, “inspired by the French novels of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Marguerite Duras.” I can only imagine that those other poems are just as marvelous as this one is.

Overnight, Our Lady
Becomes a sensation
His name a household
Item across all of France
Under the rubric of thefts
Rapes and assaults with
A deadly weapon [. . .]

One last remark I would like to make is on the back cover art. Drawn by Alice Könitz, it depicts a room containing what appears to be modern sculpture, along with the handwritten text “An international team of well known doctors brings chemical remedies along with herbal solutions, and tangible devices to alleviate the suffering.” The meaning here is not precisely clear, but the art’s mystery, along with its starkness and sketch-like quality lends an atmosphere of ambiguity to the text that is warmly embraced by author and translator alike.


Comments are disabled for this article.

....

Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic
By Chris Tysh
Reviewed by J.T. Mahany
144 pages, Paperback
ISBN: 9781934254479
$15.00
The Madmen of Benghazi
The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .

Read More >

The Four Corners of Palermo
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza
Reviewed by Patience Haggin

The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .

Read More >

Writers
Writers by Antoine Volodine
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .

Read More >

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >