In Their Own Words

A Selection of Marcel Broodthaers's Poetry

The artist and poet Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) is the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 11 – May 15, 2016, the artist's first museum retrospective in New York. Coinciding with this retrospective Siglio press has recently published a stunning volume containing two of Broodthaers's books of poetry translated from the French by Elizabeth Zuba and Maria Gilissen Broodthaers.

Broodthaers's interest and writing of poetry began early in his late teens. He was deeply influenced by French Symbolists Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as the painter René Magritte, who gifted him a copy of Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés in 1945 and which Broodthaers would later transform into an artist's book that replaced the scored typographical text of the poem with black bars, further highlighting the junction of language and image. Over the course of his career, Broodthaers continued to fashion new forms of language through writing, sculpture, painting, printmaking and film.

The poems presented below are reprinted from the Siglio collection. In addition, you can read Elizabeth Zuba's Translator's Notes to the volume here.

Paternal Love

They fall asleep. I plant seven cherry trees in the
loose soil as their souvenirs.
In a dream, they will traverse entire forests.
Their satin nightgowns will be ravishing.
They fall asleep by the enormous drifts of stones
carried in by the undercurrent of the riverbed.
The Universe is the house of their blood.

Behind the wolves' teeth, bonne, the little fairy
grinds her coffee.

The wind allies itself with the fire
the rafts burn in the night.

Seven small girls with reddened breasts descend
the walls of their father's stomach.

Spiced History

The brigands advanced under the cover of the trees' overcoats. The grammarians listened to the crackling of muskets at the edges of their wooden workbench. Air perfumed with powder horns.

Night came with its hail of cartouche. The moon turned its pistol on the passive thieves.

A hedge of policemen bordered the prison pathway that opened before them like the castle of their dreams.

--It's too hot.
--Brother are you here?
--Pass the cold of the chains over your forehead.
--Tomorrow it will be the coolness of the gallows.
--Let us sleep, so that we may be able to muster some renewed courage.

Yet honest men pursued these nightmarish bands into the vice of the night.

The Space

A rain falls from the sun.

Lady Nature with hair of forests
savage dream to his love poem.
A branch outlines the somber wood of
her eyes a flash of lightning.

She dons a star at her finger.
She plays with a shark. From the back
of a tiger, she makes a sack.

Toward the horizon dances the thunderbolt.
Toward the pure surface rumbles a
music of storms.

Organs at the front of the mountains
Violins at the bellies of the birds
waiting mute.
Lady Nature takes off her robe
and dreams of the lights where the wolves pass.

The intense blue.

The Grass

The centuries are lined up in a box of matches.
I'll buy. I have an eight-pence.

The sun is blue
at the star's window

Midnight dances
with the fairy as a tendril

A little green at the ear, I dream of the alphabet.

More In Their Own Words