Simon Collings

Georges Limbour translations

Fortnightly Review has today published translations I made of three short prose pieces by the French writer Georges Limbour. As far as I am aware no other English versions of these stories exist.

Limbour was one of the original members of the Surrealist group associated with André Breton in the 1920s. He later broke with Breton, as did others in the group. Limbour published a number of novels, novellas and short stories, works for the theatre, and poetry. He also wrote books on the painters André Masson and Jean Dubuffet who were among his close friends. Limbour died in 1970 in an accident.

The three tales I have translated are dated 1968, and are markedly less surreal than Limbour’s earlier work. His story L’Enfant Polaire (written 1921-22) is available in English from Atlas Books.

Portrait of Georges Limbour by Jean Dubuffet


Thinking and poetry

‘It should be the poets business to test, continuously, current assumptions, rather than assume them. I find being a poet something that must start again all the time; I’m always reinventing my practice, discovering what I believe is true and how to express it.’

Alice Notely, from her essay ‘Thinking and Poetry’

Coming from nowhere

I have just had a review essay published in Fortnightly Review about the documentary film New Town Utopia. The film is an examination of the gap between the ‘vision’ for Britain’s post-war New Towns and the reality as recounted by residents of Basildon in Essex. The flawed idealism of the original concept, the impact of the policies of the Thatcher governments, and the influence of wider economic and social trends, are all discussed by participants. I grew up on a council estate in Stevenage, another of the New Towns, so the film has lots of personal resonance for me. In the essay I review some of the ideas which helped shape the New Town experiment, and look at ‘plotlands’ as an alternative. There were self-built settlements created in the 1930s by working class people as weekend and holiday retreats. Two such settlements were demolished during the creation of Basildon New Town.

Shopping arcade lgePhoto: Christopher Lee Smith

Reviews of Carol Watts and Harry Gilonis

I have a review of Carol Watt’s latest work, When Blue Light Falls, published on Stride today. I like Watts’ work and this is as good as anything she’s done – definitely worth a look. A review of Harry Gilonis’ Rough Breathing: Selected Poems, published by Carcanet, will be up on Stride tomorrow. This is another book I can recommend. Gilonis will be reading at a launch event on 17 July in London, along with Simon Smith – details here. I hope to be there.

Poem published

I had a poem published yesterday on Ink, Sweat and Tears. ‘Azucar Negra’ mirrors another of my prose poems, ‘La Vida es un Carnival’, published a couple of years ago in Brittle Star.




I’ve just had a review published of Lissa Wolsak’s latest book – Lightsail. She’s an extraordinary poet – lyrical, elusive, hard to place. The new volume is a good place to start if you don’t know here writing. The title comes from the world of space travel and the use of the momentum of light to propel spacecraft. This  becomes a complex metaphor in the book –  you have to read the poem to understand how this works. There is  a video of Wolsak reading from the book on Vimeo here – the text is slightly different from the printed version. There is an intriguing ‘postlude’ in the video which is not included in the book.

A poem of protest

I have just had a poem published on I am not a silent poet, a website of protest poetry run by Reuben Woolley. The poem is for anyone who has had the experience of dealing with cynical officialdom,  political dishonesty, and bureaucratic obstruction.

Modes of resistance

A year ago I had a conversation with a friend – a Green Party activist – keen to enlist poetry in the service of environmentalism. It is a complex topic, and I’m not sure I was much help. How does one best influence people to act in ways which create space for other life and guarantee humans a future? Art, even at times ‘high art’, has in the past played a role in bringing about political change – think for instance of Verdi’s operas. But what can poetry hope to achieve today in the face of climate change?

I’m conflicted. The kind of poetry which most interests me doesn’t lend itself to ‘causes’ in any straightforward way. What I look for in poetry is an experience which opens me to the world, which returns me to a sense of possibility. As Marjorie Perloff puts it:

Truth is not something that can be uncovered; it can only be re-discovered , day after day. The value of breaking through the dead rubble each morning and in viewing each object from as many angles as possible is that one keeps one’s mind open, that conclusions are always tentative, and that the process of discovery is always more important than any particular end result. (See: “But isn’t the same at least the same?”: Translatability in Wittgenstein, Duchamp, and Jacques Roubaud.)

In our era of ‘super-modernity’, rife with information overload, complex political issues become reduced to soundbites and slogans, and campaigns are designed to manipulate. I worked in charity marketing for many years and daily confronted the tensions around the oversimplifying of complex realities in the drive to create effective advertising copy.

Scientists face similar challenges when engaging with social and political debates. Science is speculative, experimental. As evidence builds, the probability of hypothesis A being a good fit with the data increases or decreases. There are no certainties. In the bear pit of politics nuance and qualification are the first casualties – ‘truthfulness’ suffers. This is not a milieu in which poetry or science sit comfortably.

So how might poetry engage while staying free of the bear pit? Perhaps poetry has different kinds of contributions to make to the cause of environmental justice. There are activist poets who speak to an explicit agenda. Take, for example, the work of John Kinsella, whose latest collection, The Wound, I recently reviewed. Kinsella sees poetry as a major mode of resistance. What I experience in Kinsella’s work is his anger, sadness and frustration about the events he writes about, feelings I can identify with. But his poetry doesn’t return me to a sense of openness before the world, to an experience of why all this matters.

A different kind of contribution, one to which I more readily relate, might be something along the lines suggested by the poet Peter Larkin, who says:

I suppose I’m not very optimistic that writing can do much to turn round the appalling environmental degradation that we are already well advanced into, except to help stiffen the opposition that already exists in other domains. Imagination per se is never going to be a form of dominance, not even a corrective one, but as something actively seeking assent and as a different way of being in the world it offers re-orientation in the midst of a damaged planet. (Interview with Matthew Hall, published in Cordite Review.)

Rrose Sélavy

The Fortnightly Review has just published my translation, recently completed, of ‘Rrose Sélavy‘, a series of surreal puns by the French poet Robert Desnos.  The original French is given alongside my English versions. It is nearly impossible to render Desnos’ witty, tightly crafted word games into English, but hopefully these translations will help readers appreciate the original.  This is one of the key texts from the early years of Surrealism. I’m grateful to Stephanie Quairel for her help with the translating.

Stella Unframed

I have a new poetry chapbook published today by The Red Ceilings Press. Stella Unframed is a response to Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence ‘Astrophel and Stella’,  told from the viewpoint of a contemporary young woman. Sidney’s work was built on an elaborate, allegorical number system, reflective of his neo-Platonic beliefs. Stella Unframed consists of twenty poems, each of 14 disconnected lines. Twenty by fourteen inches is the size of a standard clip frame. Copies can be purchased from the publisher, price £6.00.