Rosmarie Waldrop captured the book's spirit perfectly when she said, "Six voices dialogue across centuries. Their delightful — and delightfully translated — exchanges range through philosophers, poets, and scientists as far apart as Aristotle and Lord Kelvin. As the voices follow each other in sestina-like permutation, they encircle — now by propositions, now by poems — “the total of light [that] is the world.”
The Form of the Poem
Game with Light
Houses along the edge of the road, empty; nothing on the road; no one.
I to 0 light.
A lit window, only one; its rectangle.
Night, and silence; and silence; silence.
Rain stopped, no rain; wind died down, no wind.
Stars out, one after the other; no stars.
A lit window, only one, rectangle; the same rectangle.
Houses and nothing; behind, nothing; above, nothing; nothing.
A lit window, the only one; in the window’s rectangle, a shape begins.
This closely-woven enactment of the history of the philosophic discourse on light—its nature, its potential, its raison d’être—creates an oneiric meditation that traces the connection of beauty to thought. Strongly atmospheric, crystalically distilled, Roubaud’s text takes one of the most charged poetic metaphors and returns it to the material world, no less charged.
Jacques Roubaud is one of France’s leading contemporary writers. Working in poetry, fiction, essay, and theater, his voice ranges from crisp analysis to dashing humor to delicate and anchored emotion. A prominent member of the Oulipo (the Workshop for Potential Literature), he taught mathematics for many years at the Université de Paris X. He has also published critical works on the alexandrine and on the troubadour poets as well as an examination of contemporary poetry, Poésie, etcetera: ménage, which is available in an English translation by Guy Bennett from Green Integer Books. Roubaud is also a prolific translator from Japanese and English, including such classics as Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. His work has been widely translated, and many of his books, including The Great Fire of London, Some Thing Black, and The Form of a City Changes Faster, Alas, Than the Human Heart are available in English through Dalkey Archive Press. A book-length critical analysis of his work, Jacques Roubaud and the Invention of Memory by Jean-Jacques Poucel, is available from the University of North Carolina Press.
Eleni Sikelianos is an American poet with seven books of poetry out; the most recent is The Loving Detail of the Living and the Dead (Coffee House Press 2013). She has also written two memoirs based on some extremely colorful close relatives, The Book of Jon (City Lights, 2004 ) and You Animal Machine (Coffee House Press, 2014). A recipient of the James D. Phelan Award and an NEA Fellowship, she won the National Poetry Series in 2004 for The Monster Lives of Boys and Girls. She has also been a Fulbright Fellow to Greece and the Seeger Fellow at Princeton University. Her work has been translated into a dozen languages, and she routinely participates in poetry festivals all over Europe and elsewhere. A regular teacher at the Naropa University summer poetry program, she is a professor at the University of Denver and lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband, the novelist Laird Hunt and their fabulous daughter, Eva.