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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Frédéric Forte

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To purchase Minute-Operas

Title: Minute-Operas
Author: Frédéric Forte
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Minute-Operas - US
Minute-Operas - UK
Minute-Operas - Canada
Opéras-minute - Canada
Opéras-minute - France
  • French title: Opéras-minute
  • Translated by Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk, Michelle Noteboom, and Jean-Jacques Pouce

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amazing, intriguing visual-literary works

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       As the title of Frédéric Forte's collection (can) suggest, the 'minute-operas' presented here are small and short, the minute applicable both to their (limited) temporal as well as spatial dimensions. They are 'operas' (also) in the traditional-original sense of the word: simply 'works' -- yet even as these texts are not set to music they are more than merely words (though also not libretti, in the familiar form). The stage for these performance-pieces remains the page -- but, through a creative use of typography and presentation, Forte shows how much one can achieve in two dimensions.
       Forte is a member of the Oulipo -- the 'workshop of potential literature' -- so the word- and structure- (and strictures-)play in everything from the title onwards comes as no surprise. This volume is presented in two parts -- 'phases', he calls them -- , the first simply (if one can put it that way ...) 'minute-operas', the second applying a wide variety of (mainly) Oulipian forms to the individual pieces (with a 'detailed index' offering a summary definition of each particular applied form).
       Practically each 'minute-opera' has a three-inch vertical line as a major element, separating elements of the text -- what's on 'stage' and what's in the 'wings', Forte suggests, but the reduction and separation is rarely quite that simple. What's to the left of the line, usually in smaller print, isn't merely marginalia or stage-directions; what's to the right hardly just the action, so to speak. Complicating matters, the line is not always simply a complete barrier: there are pieces where the text runs over it as if it weren't there, while elsewhere the line isn't straight. Among the most visually beautiful is a poem in which there is not just the familiar line on the left side of the page, but four, at ninety-degree angles, forming a box, in the top left outside corner the text: "use / the void"; in the bottom right outside corner: "the void / used". Another presents the 'skeleton' of an onzina (a 'level-11 quenina, an eleven-by-eleven poem represented (except for some words in the wings) entirely graphically/visually.
       It's almost pointless to present an example because, as with so much Oulipo work, a great deal of the point is the variations on the theme, but this (in the French original, and a rare one with hand-drawn elements) is as good an example as any:

Fury - Frédéric Forte

       As to the texts, these do tend to be elusive (and, of course, allusive ...) and often very succinct. Where there is elaboration, it is often in the form of repetition -- including, in several cases, in acrostic form (including a very impressive -- because large-scale -- sexanagrammatina).
       An index defines and explains (more or less) the different 'fixed forms' Forte uses in each of the phase-two pieces, an entry typically reading:
Heterogram, 103. Invented by Georges Perec. The letters chosen by the poet (the ten most frequently used in the French alphabet, plus one) cannot be used again before the whole series is completed.
       Some are much more simple/obvious:
French sonnet, 101. Where to begin ?
       And even this space is used for occasional commentary:
Haiku, 71. Needs no introduction. Unlike the chant royal the minute-opera is a bit baggy for it.
       Forte's remarkable variations -- 55 of them -- range from some of these traditional poetic forms (though even the haiku becomes something quite extraordinary in its visual presentation) through all sorts of Oulipian games. There's even a traditional Algol poem -- following Noël Arnaud's 1968 Poèmes Algol, "using only the limited vocabulary of the computer language Algol".
       Minute-Operas is a beautiful, fascinating, puzzling collection. These are very much visual texts: the words count and matter (and, indeed, there's a lot not so much hidden but tied into them, in Forte's use of Oulipian forms and constraints), but the greater rewards are in the creative interplay between (graphic) form and content. The texts, certainly, aren't for the most part immediately very approachable, but the presentation makes them all at least intriguing -- and draws the reader in, to figure out what's going on here.
       Arguably, Minute-Operas functions much like (musical) opera, in that it can appeal even to the uninitiated on a surface level, even as it frustrates in its less accessible deeper elements. The sheer spectacle, however, impresses enough at least to warrant that first look -- many of the pages are practically wall-ready works of art, and the book can be enjoyed entirely on a visual level, almost ignoring the text -- while there's so much behind it that the effort of second (and further) looks and closer readings is well-rewarded, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 January 2015

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Minute-Operas: Reviews: Frédéric Forte: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Forte was born in 1973. He is a member of the Oulipo.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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