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From A-Kind-of-Afar: Poems by Franck André Jamme

In May, I was lucky to hear poet Franck André Jamme give a house reading from his recently translated collection, To the Secret (translated by Norma Cole, La Presse). The reading evoked for me a sense of my own eyeballs, nested in sockets, thinking in their own liquidity: the feeling / that something lost / is walking around in your dreams. In each poem, I felt that I could almost achieve what was lost or hinted at, that wonderful sense of “almostness” that drives thought deeper. The poems moved between pages without titles or linearity, and occasionally a phrase would reappear in slightly altered form, as though we had been there before, but it was hazy; perhaps, among the larger emotional landscape, we remembered only a stone by the fence-post, or the sweater one wore, given on that day, she worried a tiny hole through its sleeve.

Thus, after reading the book entire I was intrigued to discover that Jamme originally composed at least half of the poems for To the Secret at the bequest of a Parisian group called “Les Souffleurs [Whisperers].” Jamme summarizes the group as “…actors, always elegantly dressed in black, who, thanks to their long hollow pipes, whisper texts into people’s ears, most of the time in public places—and one of whose hopes is to ‘slow down the world.’” I investigated Les Souffleurs and found that the “long hollow pipes” are at least as long as a body, and that the chosen audience member would be shielded under a black umbrella as she listened from a-kind-of-afar to a “blown” poem, like, maybe, this one:

bizarre satisfaction

of being fed

by the hand of a stranger

who gives you food

without knowing it


Or this one:


the being

of the rope dancer


as precise

and light

as his steps


the abhorrence

of shackles


she who said




it’s true


you will live


it’s your luck

I love you will live / it’s your luck. And, it’s mildly terrifying, hinging as it does on “unluck,” or unliving, which is a central theme of this book. Reading, I felt the narrator floating through his unease of not knowing what lies on the other side:

since year after year

you feel more and more

that the keys are elsewhere


or moreover don’t exist

The poems as a whole constitute a great sense of wandering, of gathering realizations from the materiality of the living:

the fact of hiding

a kingdom

in a very simple


They are uncanny, not dark, unless uncanniness occasionally leads to darkness, which, I suppose it does. Still, the energy inside the search for “answers” bumps up against the beauty of being, unknowning-being, which is to say, an acceptance threads through, too:

the singing gestures


of the beginning


the wild ones


who perhaps have breathed on you

everything you know

This is a book about the limits of what one can know, about the frustration of those limits, and, in a way, about the celebration of them. Perhaps there’s a balance between acceptance and despair, underlined by awe of the actual body. It makes sense that the poems might be whispered into your ear, as though from some other realm, full of static, blanketing the answers underneath.