Feb 10, 2021

Our Lady of the Flowers --- Variations on a Genet classic

Jan van Rijn, the celebrate bibliophile publisher, has a new book out, and it's about "Notre Dame des Fleurs", the mind-boggling first oeuvre of Jean Genet. Genet wrote it in a Paris prison in 1942, on brown-bag paper, whence his "manuscript" got confiscated by prurient prison guards. Undaunted, he asked for more brown-bag paper and rewrote it from scratch. Eventually it got published, so that Jean-Paul Sartre could discover it---Sartre, the inventor of Existentialism---and promptly declare the author a "saint". Genet's career was made---such was the way of French cultural life at the time. 

We read the "Lady" four times and it got better with each pass. Four times? Yes, because we had promised to contribute to Jan's publication and didn't know for quite some time what to do.

But then, in late 2019 we hit on an idea during a chance meeting with...

...the mysterious founding fathers of the Verse Reconstruction Movement. 

We had always dreamed of writing prose that could pass as poetry (and vice versa), and---having already isolated the "hottest" passages of the Fleurs---we undertook to turn them into poetic language. Six poems resulted, and they are in the book. Here's the first one:


(by Michael Ampersant)

I’m like those prisons,
Open to all the winds,
Empty and pure,
Swarming with dangerous,
Promiscuous males,
Sprawled out on their beds.

Prisons of dreams, I’d say, for a race of murderers,
Each cell a hissing nest of snakes,
And a confessional.

Their eyes,
Without mystery,
Like empty theaters,
Machinery at rest,

I approach, my heart racing,
And see nothing,
Nothing but looming emptiness,
Sensitive and proud,
A foxglove possessed by terrible souls.

There are 16 contributors to this volume (if we don't count Genet himself), and one of them is John Coulthart, gay life's most prolific high-culture blogger. Have a look at his post about the book here.

You can order the volume here. It is also for sale in a few bookstores throughout Europe, ie,

buchhandlung löwenherz

liberia antigone

prinz eisenherz 

and if things work well in Paris very soon at

les mots à la bouche 

PS: There are only 150 copies printed; it's a bit like bitcoins, and if we manage to convince Jan to rechristen his book "GenetCoins", or "CoinGenet" or anything else alluding to blockchains, the price will certainly skyrocket into the millions, especially if and when Elon Musk chips in a brief tweet. So, please, hurry.

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