In Memory of Anne-Marie Albiach, 1937-2012

                              ...in the number
                                                  such equation again would find
                              nevertheless previous agreements;

But this POINT especially void of color determines the urgency
such precise notation at the breath's trajectory/deviation:
         a rhythm under which the deformation of bodies
would mimic a subtraction of reflection
                                              --Anne-Marie Albiach, Mezza Voce

Anne-Marie Albiach in 1971; photo courtesy of Norma Cole

Last week during one of my brief and rare visits to Facebook, I saw a post from Kevin Killian that saddened me as it passed on the news from Norma Cole that Anne-Marie Albiach had just died.  Years ago--it must  have been 1997--Dodie Bellamy and Kevin hosted the Small Press Traffic 60th birthday party/reading for Albiach who remained in her apartment on the outskirts of Paris. I attended this event and while my memory of who was there and what was read is foggy, Kevin, our great community diarist (among many other things!) had written the event up and posted it to the SUNY Buffalo Poetics List. Thanks to the list archive, Kevin found his report and he is generously allowing me to post it here:

This is Kevin Killian.  Today's the 60th birthday of the French poet
Anne-Marie Albiach and last night here in San Francisco was the Albiach
tribute organized by Dodie Bellamy and Small Press Traffic.  I was there,
in the theater space at New College, and I know you're all curious, how did
it turn out?

Successfully I think.  OK there were a few glitches here and there.  Kush
the marvelous videographer failed to show up, and earlier in the week Small
Press Traffic's office was rifled and the microphone stolen.  However a
tape recorder was available and thus Dodie can prove the event really did
take place, documentation being "everything."  Norma Cole began the evening
by sketching out some of the salient turns in Albiach's career and showed
us a double portrait.  One photo was of the young Albiach in 1969, a glamor
portrait a la George Hurrell on the occasion of the publication of "Etat."
We were all struck by how much she (AMA) resembled the young Katherine Ross
in Curtis Harrington's "Games."  Then another kind of portrait, Jean
Daive's imaginative portrait of AMA done solely through her punctuation.
Cole then read from Albiach's "Gradiva," and read part of AMA's translation
of Louis Zukoksky's "A"-9.  Barbara Guest rose and read what sounded like a
new poem, a "Reverie" for AMA.  Benjamin Hollander combined parts of two
previous essays to create an atmosphere, a theatrical atmosphere which
effectively illustrated what he called the "nocturnal" aspect of Albiach's
writing (and its effect on the reader).  Michael Palmer read an essay
reminiscing on visiting (or trying to pay a visit to) AMA in Paris, she
wasn't home, so, he said, the absence of the non-encounter lived up to the
highest expectations of both parties, and then he read "Five Easy Poems,"
dedicated to AMA.  Mary Margaret Sloan spoke briefly on the influence AMA
has had over the years on the work of North American woman poets, and read
from AMA's book "Mezza Voce."  Cole Swensen read from "'Vocative Figure.'"
Then everyone turned to the cake, the "gateau," and tore that sucker to
shreds (or crumbs, I suppose).  There was much mingling, wine, and etc., if
only Steve Carll were still on this list he could tell you all the names of
the poets and artists who attended.

I thought it would be a case of preaching to the converted but there were
many there who had apparently never heard of Albiach, and all the copies of
"Mezza Voce" were quickly sold out, attesting to the event's success as,
well, a kind of promotion for the glamorous, reclusive diva of
Neuilly-sur-Seine.  However not all were so easily persuaded and one famous
poet afterwards was overheard murmuring that she still disliked Albiach's
writing and what was all the fuss about anyhow.  This made me think of
Rachel Levitsky's post about when "the dominant obliterates the
marginal, the dominant will always assert itself"though I can't piece out
how it applies exactly.

Anyhow, thanks to all who worked on this event behind the scenes, in front
of the podium, in the audience, and thanks to all the US and Canadian poets
who signed the series of tacky Hallmark cards for AMA's birthday, which
were delivered to her ahead of time and which stunned and surprised her and
made her weep with this kind of absent French pleasure.

Sometime after this birthday celebration and thanks to Norma Cole, I had the great fortune to meet both Claude Royet-Journoud and Anne-Marie in Paris, or rather, Claude in his Left Bank apartment and Anne-Marie in her Neuilly-Sur-Seine flat. Anne-Marie was a grand dame. I think I only actually got to see her because Claude cleared the way; he must have phoned her. She was hard to get a hold of and reclusive.  After falling in love with the Arion Press book about it, I also tried, on this same trip, to get permission to visit Le Desert de Retz, an 18th Century French Folly Garden long closed to the public, but failed to convince the official gate-keepers!

But I did have the great pleasure and large experience of meeting these two amazing French literary giants. When I arrived at Anne-Marie's I might have been wearing jeans and a fabulous pair of Spanish black shoes with three superfluous buckles; they went with everything, casual and less so.  Oh, how I wish I still had those shoes! Anne-Marie pretended she didn't speak any English. I had been working on my French conversational skills by joining a little conversation group that included Fran Herndon and a young man whose name I don't remember. I recall Fran telling me to speak, to open my mouth. I was quiet and probably mostly listened. There is nothing like the shame of trying to speak another language with people who know you are trying. Somehow once in France, one is forced to give in to shame and to reach beyond it, to speak.

But Anne-Marie. I think she enjoyed my flailings and failures in French. I remember her smoking. Maybe she even had one of those black slender cigarette holders that Marlene Dietrich used in the Blue Angel. Albiach's smoky apartment was full of books and a divan, or chaise lounge. Maybe it was merely her bed covered in velvet, china cups strewn about.  I wasn't sure if I'd imagined these details but in a recent email Norma confirmed them.  In the 1990s I had fallen in love with Albiach's work: all that glorious white space, words as so many discrete shards.  Her voice and presence will be missed.

Here's a poem inspired by Albiach that was published in my book making mARKs (a+bend 2000). I offer it here in fond remembrance and appreciation.

departure: albiach


Below are some links to announcements of Albiach's death, in French disparition:

Le Monde article here

De Contrabas: Literair weblog post  here

Jacket2 notice here

1 comment:

Joseph Simas said...

As translator (Mezza voce, Post-Apollo Press), friend, caretaker, facilitator, interviewer and poet-colleague of Anne-Marie Albiach, I was deeply saddened by the news of her death. I had/have lived in Paris for almost 35 years, the last five of which have been mostly elsewhere. I gave way to understanding silence with Anne-Marie and communicated only rarely with for near fifteen years. Those years were as intense as our years of seeing or talking together everyday, at great length and often at the expense of others. It was as her poetry, loading meaning, over-loaded with significance which many will try to fathom for years to come. She, one of the last few great poets of the 20th century wrote for a time that has no markers or boundaries. The basic elements of nature with an abundance of fire and water, a solid grounding on earth, and an airy lightness of wit combine in a mind whose senses converge in poetry——immersed in language, neurological, dramatic, harsh, and worldly. I am moved to have grown in your presence, Anne-Marie.

Joseph Simas, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2013