Salah Stetie is a poet of the essence of things

Born in Beirut in 1929, he has published more than forty collections of poetry both in French and Arabic, in which, as Yves Bonnefoy points out in his inspired préface to Fièvre et Guérison de l’Icône, the poet ventures onto the risky and breathtaking bridge that separates the two languages.

 Stétié is also a remarkable essayist and a poet-ambassador in the tradition of Paul Claudel, Saint-John Perse, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. Fièvre marks only the second time, after the poetic anthology of Aimé Césaire, that Les Editions de l’Imprimerie Nationale have published an author during his lifetime.

 photo-7Stétié’s poetry encompasses two levels of reality. Ordinary language names the objects, places, and situations that obsessively structure the whole collection as an incantation would: the cool and pure houses of things, the lamp, grapes, our dogs, our books, male and female organs, blood, burning legs, the death of the mother. Then, the disturbing and unexpected layout of words in the poet hints at « l’inconnaissance », a reality that exceeds both language and human perceptions and upsets our systems of representation.

 Incompleteness and iteration characterize Stétié’s poetry. Things are incompletely represented, says Yves Bonnefoy, and therefore they are substituted for an essence. The materiality of the word unveils a network of obscure relationships that echoes the lovers’ fingers weaving the world and contains the memory of a lost primeval unity.

 Iterations delineate the elusive space that lies between the contingent and the immaterial. An extreme pattern of imagery opposes snow and burnimg fire, it unfolds, intertwines, and neutralizes itself through the crystal image of an everchanging light. The lamp, like language, is successively theatrical, rainy, burst out, girl-like, bedazzled, indestructible, undivided, homeless, absolute. A  » great trans-parency  » illuminates golden children and written characters of the poet’s metaphysical insights. The context constantly changes, but iteration  » weakens the context of meanings « , says Bonnefoy. An apparent tautology disintegrates any glimpse of memory and even undermines the notion:  » l’image est endormie dans le feu de l’image « ,  » l’attente de la neige est pure attente pure « ,  » nous avons déplié nos plis « ,  » avec leurs clés dormantes qui dorment « ,  » c’est l’écriture qui écrit « . The balanced architecture of the collection contains a deconstruction of representation which, from images seen and remembered to forces unseen, evokes notions that disintegrate like the broken mirror of a hologram, only to reappear in full on one of the broken pieces.

 A dormant kind of eroticism smolders under the dominant imagery of the burning fire that illuminates the evanescent unity of the collection:  » Elle écarte les jambes… A la fin morte sous le poids de sa lumière / Comme une femme absolue par le sang « . A dreamlike but violent sexuality permeates the text of the painful images of wound, blood, shame, and circumcision. Salah Stétié’s poetry weaves an esoteric network of signs that give shape and reach to the mysteries of existence and rnake of earthly things a prison of blood and sand for the soul :  » Et tout le sable et le sable du sable « .

Hervé Allet. Vanderbilt University