Four Cut-Ups
Four Cut-Ups, or, the Case of the Restored Volume
David Lespiau
translated from the French by Keith Waldrop
Burning Deck Press, 2011
The Rind of Thought
Barbara Duffey

I could tell you Burroughs’s definition of the cut-up.  I could tell you how Lespiau’s meet and/or defy and/or deepen that definition.  I could tell you what we learn about the characters these are ostensibly about—Billy (Budd/the Kid), Gertrude Stein, Burroughs himself, Anne Morrow Lindbergh—through Lespiau’s revelatory “series of boxes,” to quote from that Burroughs definition I mentioned.  But I don’t want to.  Why not?  Because this book is just so god-damn beautiful.  I stopped caring whence the lines might come—from these writers’ works, from a newspaper, from Lespiau’s head, from Lespiau’s muse.  Who cares?  Who cares when the first poem begins,
                        the skin is an obstacle
                        surrounding taste, mother of
                        pearl counterfield the other
                        side of the tongue, surface
                        world of thought a veil (lines 1-6)
I just wanted to French kiss, if not the poem itself, then the nearest innocent bystander, even when the poem ends,
                        of orange pulp near                
                        contorted convolutions
                        of the cortex as of
                        unrolled gut—
                        tracing the circuits
                        of nutrients, of ingestion (lines 7-12)
The orange/brain/gut unity might be disgusting as it “contort[s]” and “convolut[es],” or just mentions the word “gut” with its horrible short u, but the combination of these hard ts with soft ss and cs, the x itself performing this combination, renders the image sonically beautiful, especially when the hard t becomes the tr blend in “tracing” and “nutrients.”  You might argue the prosody is also the work of Lespiau’s translator, Keith Waldrop, and you would be right.  But I’m still in love with the metaphor of thinking as eating, as ingesting nutrients.  Lespiau reveals that this metaphor inheres in the language—“cortex” is Latin for “rind.”  I start thinking that if I could just feel an orange section on my tongue, right now, I’d be the smartest girl in the world.

Barbara Duffey

Barbara Duffey is a Tanner Humanities Center Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Utah.  Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Best New Poets 2009, American Letters & Commentary, Indiana Review, and elsewhere.  She lives in Salt Lake City.