“When will we have begun?”Andrew Bennet and Nicholas Royle
Whenever people ‘start from the beginning’, the truth is they usually start somewhere in the middle. There is probable skepticism in your mind as you read this, so let us have an example. Let us agree that a poem, for instance, starts at the title. Witness:
Avons une amitié mauvaise
Je veux encore de toi !
Avons une amitié pittoresque
Alors, sois pour moi !
Nous comportons amicalement
Ce n’est pas comment ça doit être
Allons voler libéralement
Je ne dois pas écrire des lettres
Notre histoire, notre amour
Restera comme un paysage non peint
Je me souviens encore de tes derniers mots
Ils étaient un simple remerciement pour mes efforts inutiles
The title cannot be separated from the main body in order for the poem to work. It must be read at the beginning of the first two stanzas so as to produce meaning. Yet they are indeed apart – as one is on a paratextual level, whereas the other is not.
In this sense, the poem did not exactly start at the beginning. It is sometimes incomplete without the first word, as the work itself is meant to reinforce the idea of incompleteness. However, this is not the case for the final stanza. As such, the title cannot be the definitive start.
I remember having to look up futur simple to write this, and the last sentence was written with the help of a translation engine. The verb form was not correct, as it had to be ‘resteront‘ to apply both to histoire et amour. But I did not like how it sounded. And today, looking back, I think it is pragmatically more fitting, as if the utterance in the first line is a self-correction: ‘Notre histoire – non ! notre amour restera…‘
As a side note, it is rather curious that histoire et amour appear in this early poem. The interaction between the two, I realise, is a key motif in my writing. Perhaps we will explore that another time.
Lastly, I would like to share another piece from the same time:
Nous n’avons pas
Did you like it? Rather short, I know.
I had(?) a habit of writing poem titles to keep them as ideas for later, but about half of the time I would never come back. This was one of those poems – it began with its end and ended with its beginning. Perhaps it was meant to remain a title-only piece after all.