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Jean-Paul Michel. Defends-toi, beaute violente!

Paris. Flammarion. 2001. 199 pages. ISBN 2-0806-8129-X

POETRY, for Jean-Paul Michel, is a vigorous inclusive gesture, battling on in the midst of disquiet, seeking and seeing the "gold" of raw existence in the very tumultuousness, the "order and disorder" of the teeming energies deployed within and without. Poetry, far from collapsing into some assumed impotence, the residual modes of fear and melancholia, thus affirms its audacity, acknowledges its powerful empowering capacity for "greeting," does not hesitate before the free, honest, and exhilarating "madness of naming." Appreciation, love can permit an upliftment, an accession to "the all of being in its fresh presence," a lyrical embrace of the consciously and viscerally chosen teemingness of the contrastive manners of what is: "We sail upon a superb ship & / we are in tears." Here is our error: an intellectualized refusal to recognize and admit into our ontological equations the splendors of existence, entangled as they may be in the violent energies of being's beauty. "To fail joy," Michel writes, "is to fail being." Our primary purpose remains that of restoring within ourselves our defiant and confident mode of celebration, thus giving back to the ordinary its intrinsic radiance. Poetry's achievement would be sufficient therefore if it would offer a "rhy/thmic ca/dencing [of] so much / splendor beyond meaning."

Gerard Manley Hopkins hovers over Michel's work, of course, and he is appropriately quoted at the beginning of the second part of Defends-toi, beaute violente! where "mortal beauty" is seen as that safeguard that "keeps warm / men's wits to things that are." The (poetic and daily, gestural) celebration of what is--all, everything, with all its paradoxical, "contrary" manners--is not so much a strictly rational or rationalizing "calculation" as what Michel terms a "burning": a passion, a flaming desire, an intensity, a blinding, instinctive consumption of being--that, though beyond "meaning," makes profound emotional and ontological sense. To love is, thus, the only "necessary" gesture worth making in the face of whatever real we may feel "biting" into us. Thus, too, is the notion that art is at its end fatuous in the eyes of Jean-Paul Michel: it is, as it always has been, "in love with laughter, risk and celebration."

Michel is to be read and exulted with.

Michael Bishop

Dalhousie University
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Author:Bishop, Michael
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:376
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