Michel Deguy, born in Paris in 1930, stretches the very concept of poetry. Winner of the Prix Mallarme and the Grand Prix National de la Poesie, he is currently professor of French literature at the Universite de Paris VII (Saint-Denis); the Director of Po&Sie (Editions Belin), the major French journal of poetry and poetics; the Editor of Les Temps Modernes, the journal founded by Sartre; and the former president of the College International de Philosophie. He is also active as a translator of, among others, Heidegger, Gongora, Sappho, Dante, and various American poets.
Michel Deguy, who prefers the term “writer of poems”, is always asking himself one question in his poetry and his poetic theory: what is “that strange contradictory object, constituted in language yet separate from linguistic assemblies, enunciation, discursiveness, diction, inscription . . .”? Michel Deguy is a poet for whom poems truly exist. However, two things are immediately obvious: only rarely do his poetry collections contain only poems. Most often, poems enter into a confrontation or a dialogue; although they remain ‘poems’ and identifiable as such within their particular formal limits, they are, so to speak, integrated into a vast system. This fact is equally true of each of his individual books and of his work as a whole, in which all forms of writing and aspects of rhythm coexist and call upon each other.
One should not expect of Michel Deguy a narrowly formalistic definition of poetry, although he does define what a poem is – “the poem is made of sequences in which images, figures of speech and rhythm are undivided. One needs to enter this ‘undivision’”, and what it does, the proposition it issues, in both senses of the word, logical and erotic: “Let us call a sentence a proposition. A poem makes propositions.” A place of exchanges, transactions, extension/expansion of things, of commonality and one-ality. So to speak: “a net-work of possibilities stretched over the world”. If a poem does not define itself any further, it is that it constantly seeks/finds its definitions and indefinitions. Each and every page by Michel Deguy supplies a fragment. If, in his own words, modernity is characterised by “the generalisation of the figure”, one might say that what is characteristic of Michel Deguy’s thought-practice is the generalisation of poems and poetry in a perpetual anamorphosis: the net-work may just as easily turn into a door, open on to the world, swinging to each rhythm, each entrance or exit, each and every draught.
Biographical information from Joshua Cody
Greater intimacy with the stars
Coming Out of St. Peter’s Basilica, I Write
It is between us
The ensemble Sospeso
A musical performance of Deguy’s work.
Maulpoix and Co
An essay on “University and Poetry, Today in France”, including remarks on Deguy.