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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Some Thing Black

Jacques Roubaud

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To purchase Some Thing Black

Title: Some Thing Black
Author: Jacques Roubaud
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1986 (Eng. 1990)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Some Thing Black - US
Some Thing Black - UK
Some Thing Black - Canada
Quelque chose noir - Canada
Some Thing Black - India
Quelque chose noir - France
Etwas Schwarzes - Deutschland
  • French title: Quelque chose noir
  • Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop
  • Includes photographs by Alix Cleo Roubaud

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective, often touching collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 26/9/1986 Michael Edwards

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The complete review's Review:

       Some Thing Black is a collection of poems in which Jacques Roubaud writes about coming to terms with the death of his wife, Alix Cleo Roubaud.
       Death is loss: the loved being no longer exists, her corporeal presence is gone. But memory lingers, and much remains. For Roubaud the loss is in many ways a loss of part of himself, Alix Cleo haunting him like a phantom limb.
       There are hardly terms or terminology to express the loss, but poet-writer Roubaud can't but try to express ... whatever it is he is feeling (something that itself is shifting with the passing of time). He acknowledges the contradiction of feelings -- and of words, and of what it is possible for him to write. "Write, write yourself alive" is one of his pleas in one of the later poems, but he knows writing isn't powerful enough to do that: the entreaty is more a reminder, to himself, of what he must do.
       Roubaud is also a mathematician, analytical and cerebral. The poems here are a trial-and-error advancement, nine sections, the last of which offers four variations on the ultimate negation, titled "Non-Life", I through IV. The collection culminates in one last stand alone poem titled: "Nothing".
       The poems, throughout, employ a variety of approaches. Much is halting: fragments and pieces of sentences and thoughts. Roubaud allows his thoughts and feelings to lead him where they may, but this is still a very carefully constructed collection, moving from the initial facts of physical death to the lingering consequences.
       Roubaud doesn't wallow in his grief, though it clearly exerts a fascination on him: (over-)indulgence is always a temptation, though he treads this line carefully. The poems are heartfelt, with Roubaud's emotion coming across forthrightly, making the poems all the more effective. They are also not limited to a single note or lament: Roubaud offers a collection of surprising range (in both form and content), and the cycle advances with a true narrative flow.
       The title-words appear several times in the collection, perhaps most poignantly midway through:

     Some thing black which closes in. locks shut. pure, unaccomplished deposition.
       In the penultimate section one of Roubaud's poems suggests in its title that his undertaking is an impossible one: "I Cannot Write About You". But, in fact, he means only -- as he writes in the first line:
     I cannot write about you with more truth than you have done.
       "I'll write about you only on my level", he goes on to say, recognizing that that is the only feasible approach. And it is, eventually, one that works very well.

       Appended to the end of the collection is also a series of photographs by Alix Cleo Roubaud, If Something Black. Smoky, shadowy, black and white variations in one setting, they nicely complement the collection. Her photographs -- the images she created -- also clearly influenced much of what Roubaud wrote.

       Roubaud also addressed the death of his wife in his prose-work, The Great Fire of London (see our review). Some Thing Black is a much more focussed meditation, and it is also well worthwhile. A fine, moving achievement.

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Some Thing Black: 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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