In recent years, the young French poet Marie Quatrebarbes has been hard at work in Paris’ literary underground: she started La Tête et les cornes in 2014 with Maël Guesdon, creating a journal dedicated to poetry (in translation); she is the driving force behind the magazine série z; she edited the collected poems of the experimental 1970s poet Michel Couturier; and she has written countless contributions to journals and (online) forums. Thus far, she has also published four collections, among them Les pères fouettards me hantent toujours (2012), La vie moins une minute (2014) and Gommage de tête (2017).
It is not easy to label or situate Quatrebarbes' poetry. Most striking are her resolutely experimental approach, her tendency towards estrangement and her powerfully developed use of form. Those characteristics might be related to her studies at several Paris art schools, but in any case, her poetry bears both traces of Gilles Deleuze's theory and Marcel Duchamp's art, of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, of the language of women's magazines and Internet speech.
In her first collections, Quatrebarbes uses a disruptive poetics, causing the autobiographical tale beneath to surface only occasionally: in a series of free verses a story emerges just briefly – about a (solitary) childhood, a (turbulent) romance. This does not mean that these narrative snippets are written in the first person, however; the subject changes constantly. You never know who is speaking, whether the text is actually a mesh of quotations, whether it is mocking or self-mocking, or just how many double meanings lie in wait. In her most recent collection, Gommage de tête, a title inspired by David Lynch's Eraserhead, that autobiographical subtext has disappeared, and the poet starts to explore forms that are less fragmented, more like prose: minimalist storylines, snippets of dreams and folk tales.
As a poet activist and practiced performer, Marie de Quatrebarbes does not shy away from risk. Without any trace of coquetry, she makes her way through the brousse of the French language: memories and desires, stereotypes and clichés, word games and sound effects, nonsense and humour – within the liberated space of the poem, anything goes. Sometimes, Quatrebarbes' universe of estranged language even aligns with great clarity: "I'd like to write sentences nested like Russian dolls. To dwell in their/ hollow wooden bellies, a secret can preserve// a rose is in a rose, a bee in a bee".
Les pères fouettards me hantent toujours, Lanskine, 2012
Transition pourrait être langue, Les Deux-Siciles, 2013
La vie moins une minute, Lanskine, 2014
Gommage de tête, Eric Pesty, 2017