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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

     

The Form of a City
Changes Faster, alas,
than the Human Heart


by
Jacques Roubaud


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas, than the Human Heart



Title: The Form of a City Changes Faster (...)
Author: Jacques Roubaud
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 240 pages
Original in:
Availability: The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas (...) - US
The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas (...) - UK
The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas (...) - Canada
La forme d'une ville change plus vite, hélas (...) - Canada
La forme d'une ville change plus vite, hélas (...) - France
The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas, (...) - India
  • French title: La forme d'une ville change plus vite, hélas, que le coeur des humains
  • One hundred fifty poems (1991-1998)
  • Translated by Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop

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Our Assessment:

A- : varied, clever, appealing

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 15/12/2006 Stephen Romer
Publishers Weekly . 26/6/2006 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "The best thing about the book may be its title (.....) Is it just me, or am I missing something ? For I have to confess that I read through this, and pages like it, stony-faced. And as a reader I am to some extent an "initiate", having some familiarity with the texts that Roubaud is sending up. To non-initiates, much of the book will seem bewildering at best." - Stephen Romer, The Guardian

  • "The best of these poems breathe new life into this storied city. (...) A thoughtful appendix of notes clarifies references and connections to French literature throughout." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       The title of this collection mourns that The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas, than the Human Heart, and in these 150 poems Jacques Roubaud does his part both to try to capture the city (Paris) and to capture its changes. It is a collection full of shifts and variations, and while much of it is about what has been lost it also serves to preserve -- at least in brief verse -- that which has been (and will be) lost. Adding another layer to the game, the collection is also part an answer to (or riff on) works by similarly Paris-obsessed (and fellow Oulipo member) Raymond Queneau.
       Translators' Notes help explain some of the references and inside jokes, as in the brief poem 'Boulevard de Clichy':

Hell or Heaven, big deal !
But Nothing --
For Nothing itself to be gone !
       (It plays off Queneau's 1967 poem of the same name, in which he lamented the disappearance of two café -- Le Ciel and l'Enfer -- but took comfort "in the fact that there was still Nothing" (a third café, Le Néant).)
       Roubaud covers all of Paris, sometimes comprehensively in single poems such as 'Arrondissements' (a brief guide, as it were) as well as in sections on 'Reading the Streets' or an 'Inventory' with their variations on the more specific.
       Roubaud writes: "Today was a good day / Three times I was asked for directions", which conveys many of the joys present in the collection: the thrill of familiarity that allows him to show others the way, the pleasure of discovery he anticipates for them, as well as simply the pleasure of place and name, each one with its own connotations and memories.
       Throughout, Roubaud revels in place and language, as he enthuses about Paris in its parts and whole. He plays with form a great deal, offering many variations, from sonnets to prose poems to a variety of Oulipo-games. From lists of the places one can visit by Métro, "with a simple Orange Card 2 zones" ("Lutèce, Lyon, Mâon, Madagascar, Marocco, Martinique, Médoc, Meaux, Metz, Milano" etc. etc.) to very specific locales, Roubaud constantly surprises with his variations on his theme. And by offering so much variety the collection never dulls (indeed, it's a very lively one).
       Some of the wordplay does not translate readily (puns, specific references), but the translators have done a very good job of matching the feel of Roubaud's poems in English (and the endnotes help too)
       Very enjoyable, very appealing.

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Links:

The Form of a City Changes Faster, alas, than the Human Heart: Reviews: Jacques Roubaud: OuLiPo: Other books by Jacques Roubaud under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jacques Roubaud was born in 1932. He has been a member of Oulipo since 1966. He is a professor of mathematics, and has published both poetry and fiction.

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© 2006-2012 the complete review

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