Jean Follain


“… The French poet and magistrate Jean Follain was born in 1903 in the village of Canisy in Normandy and went to school in nearby Saint-Lô. Although Follain’s true concern, his translator W. S. Merwin insists, is ‘the mystery of the present – the mystery which gives the recalled concrete details their form, at once luminous and removed, when they are seen at last in their places’, all of his poetry commemorates the largely pre-industrial world of his provincial childhood, framed by wars past and to come. The poetry is analogous, perhaps, to the early photographic process of salt printing in which a negative is pressed against paper coated with light-sensitive substances (memory, imagination) and exposed to sunlight – today’s sunlight, the light that pours from the sky at the time that the writer writes (and the reader reads). The ‘concrete details’ in Follain’s poems include bowls with cracks in which sauce congeals, and baskets and buttons. Listing the repertoire of physical objects in the poems might suggest they are vintage sepia postcards: white stones, inky desks, hooks, spades, scythes, hoes, a ‘gap-toothed’ rake, a dog’s footprints in damp sand. But always what snags attention is movement: a squirrel hopping, a child sucking at its mother’s breast, a boy stooping to tie a shoelace, a girl scrabbling for a slipper under a wardrobe, a woman sewing by a window (‘nimbée à la couleur du jour’), another rolling down her stockings, a man turning a key in a lock, another slicing off two fingers to avoid military service, a pin dropping to a floor that ‘no one has waxed’, apples rolling out of a sack, a wasp buzzing in a curtain’s fold, a pan of milk seething on a stove. So the poems are more like snatches of a film than postcards, a film both documentary and fictional, like memory, and invariably in the present tense, which is when remembering happens. The eye’s quick attention to movement is surely evolution: to evade predators. In one of Follain’s prose poems children pose ‘for a photographer from the postcard company’. A bell tolls: someone has died. A single branch of a rosebush is shaken by the slightest of breezes – it will be blurred in the photograph, while the features of the children themselves will be clear and sharp. ‘Their faces have a modest look, suspicious, already cruel, the town cynic might say.’ …”
Approaches to Jean Follain
W – Jean Follain
A Different Tuning: Jean Follain
LA Times: PROSE POEM
Copper Canyon: Speech Alone
amazon: Jean Follain: 130 Poems, Transparence of the World

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