Marie de Quatrebarbes

- France -

Marie de Quatrebarbes is a French poet born in 1984. Her first books – Les pères fouettards me hantent toujours (2012) and La vie moins une minute (2014) – have been published by Lanskine Press. Her poetic approach mixes an autobiographical dimension with a reflection on narrative dissociation and language registers. Her first books work as diffracted stories, consisting of fragments that are constantly interrupted by pieces of orality, speech, inaccurate citations that raise doubt about the origin of the relationship to language.
She co-founded the journals series z : and La tête et les cornes (dedicated to poetry and translation) and ran in 2016 the reissue of the poetic work of Michel Couturier. She also participates in the editorial board of journal, in the which she has created a dossier dedicated to contemporary Scandinavian poetry.

In a rich text, multiplying registers of language, La vie moins une minute combines utterances shot through with humor with the explosion of levels of language.


The book comprises three parts whose titles simultaneously refer to common / popular language ("It’s freezing, weasels"), English idioms ("Looping") and syntactic fragmentation ("Otherwise violet").

Evoking childhood and adolescence, and taking up their codes sometimes in order better to transform or twist them, the book layers different levels of language, creating interferences between fragments and composing a web, a dense sonic material, in which tones and modes (light / serious) alternate.


Marie de Quatrebarbes takes up the genres associated with childhood (tale, nursery rhyme, fable). Here, these mix with scraps of narrative that sometimes evoke everyday characters (a neighbor, the baker), among other themes (love, in particular). The world of childhood is conveyed via short transcriptions of significant moments ("drinking chocolate in cups" / "(...) making bubbles with her soap, that she burts"). These enunciations refer to both ritualized childhood constraints (lists of obligation such as "you must cut your nails / you must eat,” etc.) and transgressions ("you lick the couch").


Marked out by familiar and metaphorical expressions ("small endive") and onomatopoeia (creating a close link to orality), breaks in the articulation of a humorous speech bring about the introduction of a more serious tone ("I was this askew child / there are a thousand ways to discuss adult to adult / so shut up" and, in the phrase from which de Quatrebarbes takes her title, "the child tumbles, head forward (...) nothing to say otherwise the fall / life minus one minute"). Thus, if a statement looks like a nursery rhyme at first glance ("I walked up to the sixth floor / I crossed the scooter of the spider"), the introduction of a slang word, a functional statement, and finally a more abstract phrase related to affect and sensation (“Thinking by you exhausts me / I photosynthesize the relation”), create breaks in statements and language levels. At the same time, they set to work the elements of an eminently rich linguistic composition.


As a whole, the book bears a critical veneer which, without being bitter, still manages to convey some cutting perceptions (such as the list of Sunday rituals endlessly repeating: "the park, the church, restaurant and bed etc.”). De Quatrebarbes also uses series, including series of questions ("how to...") that parody the questionnaires of women's magazines, to produce a text that works as a diffraction of registers of reference that span both social issues and the private sphere.


Structurally, the first section is marked by the numbering of fragments ("petit un / petit deux" etc.). The second is characterized by the mention of subparts ("Dingo / Dingo of no one / central Dingo"), while the last section develops in more regular shapes (blocks of poems), introducing characters ("Salopine and Salopette," reminiscent of the characters from Claude Ponti’s children’s literature). Quatrebarbes multiplies familiar and metaphorical expressions ("we to spin our yarns" / "break my beef crust"), often tasty ("it infuriates my noggin preacher" or "she is beautiful as a marrowbone"), probing the sounds of words ("it glutes alo"), and misappropriating common phrases ("crazy maid, raving mad").


Also notable is the rhythmical function of the interrogative sentences that come to punctuate the body of the text, along with the various beginnings of dialogue (address to the reader, reported or interior dialogues). This duality of tone (soft most of the time, but sometimes dark or denoting a sort of bipolarity between humor and solemnity) evokes the world of childhood and teenage years, as the lexical field includes contrary notions that result in ambivalence (notions of sweetness: "nest", and hardness: "shatter", "blade"). If the teenage world is shown in all its difficulty (the looks of others, first love), its emotion—marked by a certain gravity—remains contained by the humor that accompanies it, especially at the ends of the text: "Laugh!,” at the end of the page, could serve as a "curtain," marking the distance of representation, an effect of dramaticization or stepping back.


Thus in Life minus one minute, rhythm performs remarkably, lightly, through these alternating tones, levels of diction, and linguistic registers.

by Emmanuèle Jawad. Translation by Lindsay Turner