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Beyond Elsewhere by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac
reviewed by Antonio D'Alfonso

Beyond Elsewhere
Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac

Translated by Hélène Cardona
White Pine Press


Every so often the French produce poetry brimming with spirituality. It begins with Eros but soon Agape flows in and sweeps reality into metaphysics. Such is Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac’s undertaking. I quote Hélène Cardona’s painterly words: ‘Beyond this day-to-day too narrow for our wings exists a place revealing the supreme star.’ The stuff contemplated in such a literary project goes beyond content, if such a visualization is appropriate.
Like a prayer, like a psalm, the form takes over and becomes its content. Words become diaphanous and what we read is sound, image. Whatever the reader wishes to use in order to appreciate this moment of religiosity.

In the Afterword, Basarab Nicolescu mentions William Blake as an inspiration. There is also Dante, George Herbert, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, William Everson. There are many, many more who explored this experience. Paul Schrader called it transcendental style. I like that. Something special occurs when you open any page of this long prose poem. It is like looking at the dark paintings of Georges Rouault’s Miserere, ‘the painter of original sin’.
‘This is the absolute dawn… Everything here is an Elsewhere’, writes Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac. I use the verb ‘writes’ but ‘writing’ is the last action a poet produces when embarking on such an adventure.

‘Where is the burnt toast?’ asks the realist. There are no kitchens, no living rooms, no fast cars, no quickies. ‘Love tucks you in bed one last time and gives you the big night kiss.’ Even passion is a vast hunger and its end devastating (Arnou-Laujeac’s imagery used here). Clearly we are guided into a parallel world with its correspondences with this one.
In her Introduction, Hélène Cardona mentions how the poetry ‘conveys a wild carnal and sensual body, animal and glorious…’. Don’t see paradox where there is none. No contradiction here. I mentioned parallelism but it is more like superimposition, an overlayer of sorts. A pellicle-film covers the thing we thought we saw. ‘All this warm flesh drunk with the wine of oblivion nauseated me.’

This is a short book, sixty-seven pages, which includes the Introduction and the Afterword. The intensity of the prose poetry took my breath away. I had no idea how to explore such a fine work without having to look elsewhere for explanatory concepts. That is the nature of the beast translation is. We are in unknown territory. Translators are guides to these foreign lands. Hélène Cardona is a masterful pilot.

Antonio D’Alfonso is a Canadian writer, editor, publisher, and filmmaker, and was also the founder of Guernica Editions.

This review originally appeared in Pacific Rim Review of Books 24.