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Shanna Compton Celebrates Joyce Mansour

By Harriet Staff

We’re thrilled to see Shanna Compton spreading the good word about Joyce Mansour, surrealist poet, feminist icon, and apartment neighbor to Edmond Jabès. In case you haven’t come across Mansour’s work, Compton succinctly lays out who she was over at The Best American Poetry blog:

Joyce Mansour was born in England, Joyce Patricia Adès, to Jewish-Egyptian parents who raised her in Cairo. She married at 19, but her husband died of cancer only six months later. Two years later, in 1929, she married Samir Mansour, an Egyptian Jew, with whom she had two sons, Phillipe (1952) and Cyrille (1955). Fluent in both English and French, she switched from writing in English at some point, perhaps influenced by her husband and her attraction to work coming out of France at the time. Her first two books, Cris (Screams) and Déchirures (Torn Apart), were both released in Paris before she and her family moved there in September 1956, into the same apartment building as Edmond Jabès. Mansour had already met Andre Breton on a prior visit to France, and the two were close friends. (“Your gift is that of a genius,” he told her.) Everybody agreed and her work was welcomed with as much enthusiasm as Mansour herself was. Once on the scene, she became a well known Surrealist, author of sixteen books of poetry, prose, and plays. Pierre Molinier drew her portrait for a 1958 issue of Breton’s Le surréalisme, même, and several other artists dedicated works to her or illustrated her poems… Serge Gavronsky’s introduction to Essential Poems & Writings vividly describes her relationships in the group, of which she seemed a prominent figure. (Joris & Rothenberg note, however, that she “exceeds the strictures of that movement, especially in relation to the latter’s phallocentric eroticism.”) Gavronsky places her in historical context, discusses her stylistic tics, themes, politics, eschewing of the typographic experimentation of her contemporaries, and more. (I’m still exploring it all.) Mansour died of cancer in Paris in 1986.

If you’re intrigued and want to find out more, read the post in its entirety here (including sample poems, photos, anecdotes, and too much goodness to summarize). Then, if you’re in Brooklyn this weekend, be sure to check out this reading celebrating Mansour’s poetry and life. This is how it’ll go down:

Each poet will read from Mansour’s work as well as their from something of their own that speaks to her influence in some way. Some will read in French. We may show a short film of Mansour’s “Pandemonium” by French lectrice Frédérique Bruyas. Black Widow is sending us a limited number of copies to sell on their behalf, because for some reason you didn’t order it instantly when I gave you the link above.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.