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‘tattered sails’ a reimagining of a reimagining

tattered sails (after un coup de des)
Chapbook, Derek Beaulieu, 16 pgs, above/ground press, abovegroundpress.blogspot.com, $5

1969: Belgian poet Marcel Broodthaers reimagines French poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1897), replacing all of its text with solid black bars. The homage is an attempt to amplify Mallarmé’s inventive utilization of space.

2018: Derek Beaulieu takes Broodthaers’ work and folds it, shifting the horizontal bars, he says, into “the hang and fold of sails on the mast… heaving beams and broken masts of a ship-wreck of meaning.” Beaulieu’s nautical approach is evidently inspired by Mallarmé’s original, which was heavy on upheaval, shipwrecks, and the movement of water.

This far removed from its original state, the altered Mallarmé material is more about associations, evolution, and performance than it is about poetry. If you’re not willing to dive into the history of tattered sails, you’re not getting much more than slanted black lines. As a standalone work, meaning is obscured — the value is in the voyage.

In circling back to the initial text thematically, Beaulieu has provided us a closing chapter — that we didn’t know we needed — for a process that was launched 120 years ago.

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