Authors: Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour
Translated by Pierre Joris
Publisher: Inconundrum Press
ISBN: 0-9679859-0-0

Click Here To Purchase 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour

A remarkable group of translated writings comprises 4x1, meaning four poets, one translator.  Poet and educator Pierre Joris translates works by old and new writers: Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour.  The opening question is why this quartet of writers?  Joris answers with the following reasons: he has chosen writers he considers his favorites, the works share a surrealist leaning, and, although he doesn’t state it explicitly, the works must have been great fun to translate. They provide a recipe for success.

Opening the book are the Poèmes Nègres by Dada poet Tristan Tzara. These are the total output of Tzara’s ethnopoetic works.  They are sharp, surprising poems based upon tribal and oral tales from non-European cultures that Tzara assembled and composed from a variety of scholarly sources. The poems are astonishingly strange in that they are built upon a repetition and musicality quite different than what common today.   The suite shares a pedestal in this regard perhaps only with the poems in Stephen Watson’s Song of the Broke String (1991) in which he draws upon traditional /Xam stories.  I would acquire 4x1 for the Poèmes Nègres alone.

Other excepted works include Rilke’s diaristic The Testament and Duprey’s The End and The Manner in which we find the brilliant lament, “I, for one, should never have gotten my feet caught in this galaxy!”  The book wraps up with the first few chapters of Tengour’s The Old Man of the Mountain. The story develops slowly as attentive description knocks against capricious musings.  Representation becomes ethereal much like the scent of wood smoke tracing through a campground -- it’s definitely there but impossible to physically grab.

When once I delved into Rilke, I spent a good deal of time flipping pages to compare the German with differing English translations. Through this process I could better understand the translators and their choices.  For this reason I wish the book had also included original language texts. But we are forced to trust the decisions of Joris, who states at one point that he, “stayed on the whole as close to the main versions as possible, even if at times this means a certain loss in elegance or clarity.” I appreciate this far more than translators who lose the original in wild poetic conceits.  I’m about to head into unbridled praise but first must warn casual readers, a couple of sentences in the introduction are burdensome literary jargon.  Don’t be scared off, they are a tiny anomaly. 4x1 is the rarest of treats, available, quite luckily, for instructors, students, and everyone whose world demands great poetry and contemporary fiction. Rhymingly put, four times one is four times the fun. 

Click Here To Purchase 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour