Poetry and Photographs by Suzanne Doppelt
Translated from French by Cole Swensen
Suzanne Doppelt, a well-known French photographer, has collaborated with various artists and writers, including Georges Aperghis, Ryoko Sekiguchi, and Anne Portugal. Director of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” series for the Parisian publisher Bayard and poetry editor for the cultural review Vacarme, she has held residencies with Inventaire-Invention, and the Fondation Royaumont. Her photography has been in solo and group shows at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, L’Institut Français of Naples, New York University, and the Cabinet d’Art Graphique of the Louvre. The author of 14 titles in French, her books The Field is Lethal (Counterpath, 2011) and Ring Rang Wrong (Burning Deck, 2004) were also translated by Cole Swensen.
Cole Swensen is the author of thirteen volumes of poetry, most recently Greensward (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010) and Ours (U. of California Press, 2008), and a volume of essays, Noise That Stays Noise (U. of Michigan Press, 2011). She is the co-editor of the 2009 Norton anthology American Hybrid, the founding editor of La Presse Books, and a translator of contemporary French poetry, prose, and art criticism. Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN USA Award for Literary Translation, the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, among others. She teaches in Brown University’s Literary Arts Program, where she is currently Department Chair.
A meditation on the senses, and in particular the enchanted lazy susan of the eye, these transporting poems conjure the camera obscuras we live within. They slip between reality and observation, between what we make in the world, what the world makes, and what we make of it. Each room of these poems is furnished in the exact, dreamy verisimilitude of the mind’s eye. Reading them, I cast myself as a figure in an etching where someone has just discovered how to do perspective (the secret to making the globe spin), and we are both the spinning lines coming to life as image and the observers witnessing the creation of all landscape and limb.
Lazy Suzie (beautifully translated by Cole Swensen) celebrates the eye, that ‘super-rotary lazy susan,’ as well as optical devices from camera obscura to the telescope. It celebrates seeing as active rather than just receptive as it gathers in the thousand things of earth and cosmos. Moreover, sight changes matter, probes below the surface. It ‘presumes a slight fissure,’ and ‘starting to paint [or photograph] means piercing a hole’ through which to watch. Fittingly, Doppelt’s text is punctuated—punctured?—by her paired photographs. Some are of words, switching roles with this text about seeing. None are illustrative, all, like the text, intriguing and beautiful.
the ponds, the boat, a forest, and the animals, the tower and the rest, map after map, you can see them very close and far in the outside landscape, to each its vanishing point, there are black screens by the dozen and at least a 1000 images, the variable squares in the form of an escalator, a ghost story for adults that makes up a gorgeous giant atlas. A maniacal collage of large and small pieces, a pretty sonata and sounds both repeated and primitive, dashes and trickles, rondo and lorgo, suï-léï–suléï-zou–léï-séï-lou–zéï-lu–sou-éï-sel–suï-suï-louz—lué suéï-oz-léï–loz–loï-soï-louï–luéï-zouï–léï-sou–zué-sous-lu–es-luz etc. a linked series fused together, but they’ve cheated with the matches, the order is astonishing, forces expanding and contracting, the voids and overflows, distractions and attractions. Everything works out, passes and returns, each in its time, and dances along the magnetic band, a jeté, two chasses, a pirouette, a round, the field is a whirlpool and the montage everywhere, a frame plus another frame and another again, it’s a universe in a glance through the window of a speeding train. Speedy like the rays that travel and enter wherever they can, the eye, the ear, the door, any hole, to make a new painting or perhaps a huge sculpture from top to bottom with found objects, fragments of the world enlarged, from metal and paper, a wheel and some string, from plastic bags. A network of lines that snake and dream, but sometimes also draw in 3-D—cubes, spheres, cones, and between them the vibrating spirits , white on white, come back to life, to each its measure, it’s a strange and private enchantment for a chateau that overflows from its windows. And what do you see? A large circle, at least 180 degrees in the sun, a radiant backdrop, in front, water, the boat, a forest, and the animals, countries and cities, houses, all of it put end to end and in each one the same very dark room