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Jean-Michel Espitallier
(France, 1957)   
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Jean-Michel Espitallier

Jean-Michel Espitallier was born on 4th October 1957 in Barcelonette, a small village in the Provençal Alps. While at the University of Aix-en-Provence, he studied literature in the daytime and was a drummer in different rock-bands in the evening. This background is audible in such  statements as: “You have to force yourself to keep the readings short (max. 15 minutes), get rid of all that sacred stuff. When you read poetry, you’re not reading a sermon! It’s got much more to do with rock music!”

When discussing his poetic method, he talks about 'sampling' and 'cut-up', two techniques in which words from other people's work are re-mixed for his own texts. The cut-and-paste method is brilliantly used in Gasoil (Fuel Oil, 2000). Espitallier has taken as his point of departure a highly technical manual from 1902 on the refining and adulteration of types of oil. The quotes from this manual have been mixed with fragments from other books. "It just so happens that you are not doing anything other than rewriting other people's books," he explains. That last statement is not completely true. Espitallier has admitted that he has also incorporated self-composed fragments. But then the question is just how personal that "own hand" is: "I am critical as regards the Romantic pep-pill. Today, the poet is no longer the spokesman of the deeper Self – that is completely outmoded. Writing poetry does not mean cutting yourself off from the world. You are right there in it."

The parodic interweaving of intra- and extra-literary material is again to be found in Le théorème d'Espitallier (Espitallier's Theorem, 2003). This time, the extra-literary material is an arithmetic textbook. The poet is constantly on the move with figures, numerals and lists of numbers, starting with the counting of sheep. Quite a lot of mathematical and other signs are inserted and shifted around, but the theorem is missing. Finally, the counting of sheep just continues of its own accord, for no reason at all, just like poetry.

Espitallier played an essential role as a pioneer, mediator and promoter of a new generation of poets in the 1990s, in particular via the periodical Java, which in 2002 published a hefty dossier on the Dutch Poets of the Fifties. His role as spokesman was publicly recognised in 2000, when he was entrusted with the compilation of Pièces détachées (Kit Form), a wide-ranging anthology of contemporary French poetry. This was followed in 2006 by a critical panorama of contemporary French poetry, Caisse à outils (Tool Kit).

© Jan Demian (Translated by John Irons)

Selected Bibliography

Ponts de frappe (1995)
Limite de manœuvres (1995)
Gasoil: prises de guerre (2000)
Pièces détachées: une anthologie de la poésie française aujourd'hui (2000)
Fantaisie bouchère (grotesque) (2001)
Le Théorème d'Espitallier (2003)
Tanger / Marseille: Un échange de poésie contemporaine (2004)
En Guerre (2004)
Où va-t-on? (2004)
Toujours jamais pareil (2005)
Caisse à outils : un panorama de la poésie française aujourd'hui (2006)
Tractatus logo mecanicus (2006)

Link

PennSound
Reading in 2004 at the Kelly Writers House (audio)

 




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