“Midnight Poems. Unpublished 1936-1040”, by Robert Desnos, preface by Thierry Clermont, Seghers, “Poésie”, 172 p., €15, digital €10.
Good news: Robert Desnos is alive. More than seven decades after dying of exhaustion on June 8, 1945, in the Theresienstadt concentration camp just deserted by the Nazis, the great poet and resistance fighter finds himself again in full light. No less than eighty-six unpublished texts have just emerged from the shadows, published under the title Midnight Poems. Suddenly Desnos is back, funny, inventive, committed, exalted, amazed. “And although tomorrow morning / Death is closer than today / I will be tomorrow morning / More alive more alive than today”he writes in one of these poems, dated March 27, 1936. As if he himself had foreseen this improbable resurrection.
These texts, Robert Desnos had written them for the most part in 1936 and 1937. At the time, the poet, born in 1900, spent most of his days creating programs and advertisements for Radio Luxembourg and the Parisian Post. . When the night came, he made himself a rule: not to sleep until he had written a poem. Between midnight and 1 a.m., here he is, in his cluttered apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, opening a school notebook and lining up a few verses, a sketch of a song, sometimes adding a drawing. “With or without subject, tired or not, I faithfully observed this discipline”he will report later. “An Oulipian exercise before its time”emphasizes in his preface Thierry Clermont, journalist at Figaro and member of the Association of Friends of Robert Desnos.
In 1940, Desnos reread the fruit of these nocturnal exercises and copied into four new notebooks one hundred and twenty-three of these “forced poems”, according to its own formula. He selects nineteen and integrates them into the collections Fortunes (Gallimard, 1942) and sleep state (1943), sometimes after extensively rewriting them. Thanks to another manuscript, eighteen additional poems reappear in the thick volume of works, published by Gallimard in 1999. The eighty-six others remained completely unknown until the auction, at Drouot, in October 2020, of the library of Geneviève and Jean-Paul Kahn, a couple of collectors. Among many rarities signed Apollinaire, Aragon, Breton, Dali, Eluard or Picabia, the four precious notebooks of Desnos are offered for sale. How did they become property of the Kahns? Nobody knows. For 13,000 euros, they pass in any case into the hands of another great bibliophile, Jacques Letertre.
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Source: Le Monde