An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
translated by Lee Harwood
Leafe Press
4 Cohen Close
ISBN 0 9537634 9 8
3.50 [$7]

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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

A5 stapled booklet with 25 pages. It is nicely edited. Tristan Tzara (1986-1963) was born in Romania, and he wrote in French.

It says in the acknowledgements that the selection was taken from Tristan Tzara: SELECTED POEMS (Trigram Press, London, 1975) and CHANSON DADA: Tristan Tzara Selected Poems (Coach House/Underwhich Editions, Toronto, 1987). Both these publishers usually publish in English and Lee Harwood has been a major translator of Tzara's poetry in the past. The original sources are given but, according to the acknowledgement, this is a selection of Harwood's previously translated material. An introduction would have clarified how this interesting selection came to be chosen.

Any work of Tristan Tzara is of interest because he was a Dada poet and major Dada theorist. Consequently, it is good to have such a booklet on the market and be able to compare and contrast Tzara's poetry with the poetry being produced today. Tzara was an early explorer of the boundaries of poetry and Lee Harwood is well qualified to explore and empathise with such work. Lee Harwood is an early Writers Forum member. He is a well-respected experimental poet.

The Dada poets were never able to capture the hearts and minds like the Dada painters such as Jean (Hans) Arp. However, Dada poets were central to the movement and Tsara was the driving force in the production of Dada manifestos.

Dada techniques employed juxtapositions of the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the normal and the abnormal; and so we progress to late surrealism and melting clocks (Salvador Dali). Tristan Tzara used visual effects both in terms of the layout of his poetry on the page and in terms of the images evoked by the words. Dada was an extreme movement that embraced anti-art and anti-poetry. It was part of the wider movement to relax the restraints of formal typography.

The rhythms used by Tzara are haunting, and the syntax borders the incomprehensible. I give below a section from the last poem in the booklet, GOOD TIME:

	blighted fruits
	jagged walls
	dead snow
	polluted hours
	locked steps
	have broken up the streets
	the disgrace of living
	floods my eyes
As with much experimental poetry, there are heavy stresses at the beginning of many of the lines. In this selection, there is much irony and you could almost be forgiven for substituting "soft walls" in place of "jagged walls". Notice too how the imagery is richly visual. We are given "blighted fruits," which is a common term. However, this is put next to the "jagged walls" and "dead snow." What does "dead snow" mean, when snow was never alive? Yet, it is not at all odd when we think of movement as a form of energy. The terms "live flames", and "live wires" are in common use today, and therefore dead snow can be easily interpreted as settled snow. But there is more. Blighted fruits are spoilt fruits. Settled snow has a pureness, and so it goes on, toying with images of life and death, and, indeed, toying with unrelated words. Phases are disrupted in an anti-syntactic and anti-semantic way. Tzara's work, as with much Dada work, is not easy to read. This is a book for those interested in 20th century poetry, and those who love the richly-dark depths of language.

By translating Tzara, Harwood has given us an insight into Dada thinking. Such translations show the early use of non-literal juxtaposition techniques that subsequently began to seep into mainstream poetry and prose (ULYSSES was first published in 1922).

reviewer: Doreen King.