Virginie Lalucq wrote Fortino Sámano after seeing an exhibit of photographs on the Mexican Revolution by Agustin Victor Casasola. Her series is a meditation on the single, extant photograph of Fortino Sámano, a Zapatista lieutenant and counterfeiter, which Casasola snapped as Sámano, smoking a last cigar, appeared to stare death nonchalantly in the face moments before his execution by firing squad (it was reported that he himself gave the order to fire). This photograph is not reproduced for the book but is, rather, “transmitted” into poetic images over the course of forty poems. Little is known about Sámano, and Lalucq’s poem makes no attempt to be biographical or historical. Rather, she treats the image itself, the fact that the camera caught the image of life just prior to its end: what, then, does the image represent? is among the questions Lalucq poses. Jean-Luc Nancy’s section, Les débordements du poème, is a series of poetic commentary on each of the poems in Lalucq’s series. It is thus a philosophical contemplation of the specific poem, Fortino Sámano, and also of the poetic image: what does it do and how does it do it? Fascinating, full of punning wordplays, with exquisite attention to the lyric qualities of Lalucq’s language, Nancy’s section is itself a poetic investigation of the lyric genre, which works hand-in-hand with Lalucq’s poems. The two sections are distinct and intertwined.
Here we present four dialogues from the book.
Helixes or loops arrows. Short distance.
In toting around a thickness for example –
escapes us – we suggest joining in resis-
tance. A resistance on the order of a hair’s
breadth after being divided by 100,000.
Poetry’s resistance: resistance of nothing, of an infinitesimal. Of that which does not finish words, does not finish meaning, flees and makes us flee with it. This thickness without thickness stymies speech, shies away from, slips off. But it is not like an apocalyptic and supraëssential ecstasy. It is the thought of the escape of thought.
* * * *
Words come back to you like ghosts with their insults the first formed
sentences forming a language your language onelanguage which
returning returns you to words
Language comes back, drawn from an absolute immemoriality, from a past forever bygone, to which it nevertheless, passing through the opening, returns. The first sentences, the invention of binding, of holding, of setting word next to word, the modulation mine, that which one calls phrasing, my style, my tone, the inimitable, the absolute uniqueness of my intonation, of my inclination. What the theorists of “genre” have sought in vain with restless fervor: whether I have been speaking in a genre high, middle, or low, in pure diegesis or in pure or mixed mimesis, in epic, tragic, comic, lyric or didactic . . . How, yes, how are you yourself speaking?
But language comes back to the words: this is both more severe and more difficult. Words alone, released into parataxis, uttered as insults, that is, causing harm. The word harms the thing and harms my desire to speak. But it comes back, it haunts my days and silences. It troubles me.
* * * *
I can slide along the wall, I can count the
bricks, I can. I can ask myself how much
time this will take, I can tell myself that this
will take the time it takes, I can tell myself
that this time is long enough but it’s also
short. I can.
Poetic measure: the measure itself. What she is able to do—the scant she can—is to count, and to calculate the count, to estimate the counting right up to the end of exactness. Charming poetry and severe mathematics, the study of structure. Theory of numbers: succession of times, the sum of unit over unit. Yet the time at which she establishes the computation is also the instant of Fortino’s death.
Counting the bricks, measuring the wall: precision, exactness even of the narrow horizon in the image’s background. There is nothing behind the wall. The bullets that Fortino’s body could not stop will have been stopped by the wall. But the wall does not die. Fortino’s body will fall against it, perhaps will slide along it before collapsing on the ground. Everything will go into the wall, bullets and blood, smile and smoke, and in the end the poem.
* * * *
The moon, you have noticed its planetariness.
The embankments, someone trimmed their beards
with a scythe, call it to pare down or skive
off,I’ve noticed I skive off that for weeks I
Grass then hedge ditch leaf form stem
words are not a kind of label (those
should be on plain white paper, glued and
a bit sturdy without being too thick) since
words are not enough (they don’t allow us
to put in all the necessary pieces of information).
For example, a word 0.38 yards long and 4 to 5
yards high is not large enough to contain them.
As much as possible, words are not all alike,
this is how they differ from labels (it’s in the
nature of labels to be identical to meet the needs
Words are unmeasurable, in excess or by default. The poem gives them a common measure, which reading recalculates each time. Now the poem must be read aloud: For-ti-no Sá-ma-no . . .
Virginie Lalucq is part of an emergent generation of experimental feminist poets in France who often work collaboratively, and who draw their material from a wide range of sources and languages. Her poetry has been included in the anthology Autres territoires, edited by Henri Deluy (Ferrago/Leo Scheer, 2003), and published in numerous journals. In addition to Fortino Sámano (Galilée 2004), she is the author of Couper les tiges (Act Mem/ Comp’act, 2001).She is a librarian at the National Foundation of the Political Sciences, and lives with her husband and son in Paris.
Jean-Luc Nancy trained in philosophy and science at the Sorbonne and the Institute of Philosophy in Strasbourg. Until 2004, he served as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Université Marc Bloch (Strasbourg). In 2002, Nancy was awarded the “Liberty” Prize by the International Center for Peace in Sarajevo, and in 2005, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in France. He is the author of many books, among the most recent of which, Au fond des images (Galilée 2003), was translated into English as The Ground of the Image (Fordham UP, 2005).
Sylvain Gallais is a native French speaker transplanted to the U.S. nine years ago. He is currently a professor of Economics and French at Arizona State University. His most recent book is France Encounters Globalization (2003). His translation into French of Alberto Rios’ novella, The Curtain of Trees, appeared in Studio (2011), and his co-translations from the French of Virginie Lalucq, Nicole Brossard, and Nathalie Quintaine have appeared in the past two years in Aufgabe, Interim, American Letters and Commentary, and Poetry International, among other journals.
Cynthia Hogue has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Or Consequence and When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, both in 2010. She has received Fulbright, NEA (poetry), and NEH (Summer Seminar) Fellowships. In 2005, she was awarded the H.D. Fellowship at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and in 2008, a MacDowell Colony Residency Fellowship and an Arizona Commission on the Arts Artists Project Grant. Hogue holds the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University.
Original text: Lalucq, Virginie and Jean-Luc Nancy. Fortino Sámano: Les débordements du poème. Paris, France: Éditions Galilée, 2004.
Published with the permission of Omnidawn Publishing (Richmond, CA) from the forthcoming title Fortino Sámano (the overflowing of the poem).