Francis Ponge is a French poet of incredible originality too much ignored in this country where his techniques and accomplishments correspond to those found in the latest developments in dance, new music, experimental theater and even the visual arts. But Ponge first appeared in the 1920s. Associated later with the surrealists, Ponge never fell prey to the confusion of politics and poetics that led many of them into self-parody and/or self-righteousness. Ponge devoted much of his time and energy to revolutionary politics, but always based his poetry on criteria unique to his own sensibility and separate from polemics and cultural directives.
Working with repetition and chance in ways that resemble musical techniques (Soup , a major work written between World War II and the '60s, is a masterpiece of symphonic variations and interplay). Ponge has created a body of work that should ensure his being recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. Unfortunately, he is neither obviously ironic, anxiety-ridden, nor self-promotional. In fact, his approach to his subject-matter is passionately objective, and his technique is obsessively pure. Thus his work, though often truly profound and illuminating, maintains tension that is undramatic and undisturbed and a tone that is emotionally even and secure. The reader looking for the obvious boot in the heart or brain might be dissapointed. The thrill in reading Ponge is in discovering the wealth of revelations, and extensions of them, to be found in the careful and accurate descriptions of "things" (the title of another collection of Ponge's poetry) and the possible variations that can be made on those descriptions while still being accurate.
Unfortunately The Sun Placed in the Abyss contains some of the first work of Ponge's I have seen that is not up to par.But considering that these are translations, the fault may not be the poet's. Nonetheless, the title piece is vintage Ponge and there is an interview with him that is rare and full of insights into the man and his approach to his work. (Sun. 456 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027, $3.50)