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Tent Posts

Henri Michaux

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To purchase Tent Posts

Title: Tent Posts
Author: Henri Michaux
Genre: Literature
Written: 1972 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 169 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Tent Posts - US
Tent Posts - UK
Tent Posts - Canada
Poteaux d'angle - Canada
Poteaux d'angle - France
Eckpfosten - Deutschland
  • The Green Integer edition (US and UK) is bilingual
  • Translated, and with an introduction by Lynn Hoggard
  • French title: Poteaux d'angle

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Our Assessment:

B+ : striking, vigorous little pieces, unusual perspectives

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Tent Posts is an unusual little volume (commendably presented bilingually in the handy, truly pocket-size Green Integer edition). Translator Lynn Hoggard calls the contents "poetic prose musings", which is as good a description as any. They are also: aphorisms, notes, instructions, stories.
       The book is divided into five sections. The pieces themselves are generally only a few lines long, though they vary in length, up to a page or so.
       Written by a man who was already over seventy Michaux seeks to impart his wisdom -- or at least the lessons he has learnt. He admonishes the reader, suggesting how life can and should be lived and how much that is taken for granted should -- or must -- be approached. A typical entry states, in its entirety:

No, no, not gain. Travel to lose. That's what you need.
       The "wisdom" he offers often sounds Eastern in its approach to life, the influence of Michaux's wide and varied travels making itself heard:
Some are dumb for having been too smart. Don't rush into adaptability.
Always hold inadaptability in reserve.
       Some of the thoughts clearly are those of old age, of a man who has lived through a great deal:
    If you manage to sleep, it's because you've had enough of the show, the presence of the real; you can't take it any more.
    Sleeping away the most steadfast of your disillusionments.
       Throughout the book there is also a sense of frustration with the many missteps one takes, the misunderstandings that arise, the wrong way that people have of examining their own -- and others' -- lives. It extends to the literary, with Michaux exasperatedly writing:
    Critics examine the most recurrent words in a book and count them !
    Look instead for the words the author avoided, those he was close to or unmistakably far from, alien to, or fastidious about, whereas others are not.
       The poet, writer, and artist also reflects on the path he himself has taken. Writing in the second person (the familiar tu) many of the pieces are clearly also addressed at that man he sees in the mirror:
    The more you succeed at writing (if you write), the further you'll be from fulfilling the pure, strong, original desire -- the fundamental thing -- to leave no sign.
    What satisfaction would be worth that ? Writer, you do just the opposite, laboriously opposite.
       A poem closes the book, a short summing up that also speaks, as both description and warning, of:
Perpetual unending changing
steady path to extinction
       Tent Posts is an odd collection, dense despite its small size. Michaux's vigorous prose and compact presentation -- familiar from his other works -- is well-suited for these brief pieces. It is a book to linger over, and peruse piecemeal -- to dip into, contemplating the varied thoughts. Readers who like E.M. Cioran (a friend and admirer of Michaux) should enjoy this volume too, though Michaux's outlook and approach differ markedly from Cioran's.
       Lynn Hoggard's translation is solid -- and the French original is printed comfortingly facing her English versions, allowing one to easily check up on Michaux's true meaning. Hoggard writes that her goal in this translation was "to preserve a sense of Michaux's archness and intimacy", and she has succeeded fairly well. It is difficult writing to translate, and we don't agree with a fair amount of what she's done, but having the French original right there at hand goes a long way towards assuaging our distress.
       The book may not be to everyone's taste, but it is well worth a try. It lends itself to intermittent perusal, and offers a refreshingly different tone from most self-help type books. Of course, whether these are the pieces of advice and the admonitions most people will want to hear is a different question .....

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Tent Posts: Reviews: Henri Michaux: Other books by Henri Michaux under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See index of French literature at the complete review
  • Other books from Green Integer under review

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About the Author:

       French poet and painter Henri Michaux lived from 1899 to 1984.

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