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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

King of a Hundred Horsemen

Marie Étienne

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To purchase King of a Hundred Horsemen

Title: King of a Hundred Horsemen
Author: Marie Étienne
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: French
Availability: King of a Hundred Horsemen - US
King of a Hundred Horsemen - UK
King of a Hundred Horsemen - Canada
Roi des cent cavaliers - Canada
Roi des cent cavaliers - France
  • French title: Roi des cent cavaliers
  • Translated and with a Preface by Marilyn Hacker
  • This is a bilingual edition

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Our Assessment:

B- : has some appeal, but does not cohere

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Brooklyn Rail . 11/2008 Clinton Krute
The Harvard Crimson . 13/11/2008 Samuel E. Chalsen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Étienne expresses a vast range of experiences and personae, weaving multiple narratives into a whole. Unlike Perse, she is less interested in seeking and mapping herself than in locating idiosyncrasies among the multiplicity of contemporary life. With this approach, Étienne pricks the conscience of her time. (...) The sonnets themselves are written in a half prose, half verse, just as the book as a whole seems half fiction, half long poem. This modulation is handled well, emphasizing the interpenetration of fiction and life, of interior and exterior." - Clinton Krute, The Brooklyn Rail

  • "Themes and characters exit as quickly as they’re introduced, poetry transforms into prose, and reality becomes theater. But once Étienne’s words are untangled, a thoughtful attempt to embrace all of human experience is revealed. (...) The warped style of the narrative can be frustrating. Even when Étienne’s narrative voice arrives to offer its personal thematic thoughts, it often transforms into a different voice by sonnet’s end. Themes are dealt with and quickly discarded, including culture clashes, the horrors of battle, eroticism, and the war between the sexes." - Samuel E. Chalsen, The Harvard Crimson

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       King of a Hundred Horsemen is a sequence of nine sets of ten poems each, each section-title and poem numbered sequentially (from one to ninety-nine), and nicely rounded off at a hundred with a 'poem' of acknowledgements (noting where the quotations and 'incitements' in the poems come from). The poems are sonnet-like, each fourteen lines long, each line consisting of at least one complete sentence, of very varying lengths. As the final piece of acknowledgements suggests, Étienne also liberally works others' words into her own work.
       From the autobiographical first section, with its strong first-person voice, to the far more abstract and distanced, the collection moves along rather uneasily, never seeming to find a center. Aside from the first-person voice several characters do reappear -- Lam, Ang -- and sequences of poems focus on them, but there is little obvious connexion among many of the poems and sections. "There is only one voice, although it is multiple", Étienne suggests at one point, but more uniformity would have been welcome.
       The first section, in particular, is appealing, describing the experience (which Étienne had) of growing up abroad and of being away from France. "So I insist: to write is to take a running start on untangling the blanks", she writes, and she gets off to a good one. In the splendid closing poem of that first section she describes living: "In those countries become my own" -- and admits lastly that:

    But at present I live at ease between the sea and the mountains, I read books to understand the meaning of each thing.
       Some sections are essentially narrative, but these are not always entirely successful. 'The End and the Beginning' begins with a sort of stage-performance, with questions and comments from an audience, but too much of the dialogue turns crypto-mystic, as already in the first poem of the sequence:
    -- Excuse me, sir, but I'd like to say something.
    Lam interrupts him:
    -- Get started, please !
    The young man hazards:
    -- It's the end that precedes the beginning and the beginning which follows.
       The variety has some appeal, but often seems to arbitrary, as in the poem that begins:
You note.
Strong wind.
Strong wind.
Strong wind.
You think you've said everything.
       There is quite a bit here that is intriguing and well done, but Étienne sums it up best (and then tries to explain what she has done):
    Writing is ridiculous. Whoever writes keeps accounts, of the market, of the month.
    But not of life.
    One continues nonetheless to line up figures, that is to say letters.
    One seems less alive, one digs in far from them, who are outside, on the surface, who hold the key to this set of acts.
    One extracts fragments of a sequence, by chance.
    In fact. Not by chance.
    One arranges them, tries them out, ties them down.
    Until in turn one holds the key.
    Until in turn they hold up well together.
       Étienne does well enough in arranging her words and there's fine poetry here; it's the larger picture that fails to come together: they simply do not hold up well together -- to such an extent that the sum detracts mightily from the parts.
       Of interest, but not entirely successful.
       Note that this is, admirably, a bilingual edition. Marilyn Hacker does a fine job with Étienne's relatively straightforward and simple French, though she perhaps overthinks some of the translations: "In fact. Not by chance." seems to be trying to do too much with "En vérité pas au hasard", for example. A preface introducing the author is modestly but not particularly helpful, at least with regards to this particular collection.

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King of a Hundred Horsemen: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Marie Étienne is a French poet.

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© 2008-2009 the complete review

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