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Translator's Note: A Pedal-Pusher Said to Me


Gabriel and Marcel Piqueray were twins, born in Brussels in 1920. Lovers of modern music and surrealism, they associated with figures from both scenes, including André Breton, René Magritte, Chet Baker, and Francis Poulenc. In 1957 they became editors of the avant-garde journal Phantomas, whose contributors included Magritte, Samuel Beckett, Kurt Schwitters, Jorge Luis Borges, and Roland Barthes. It's appropriate that Barthes figured in the Piqueray milieu. His famous essay "The Death of the Author" proclaimed the demise of the idea of the solitary genius, and all of the Piquerays' books appeared under their joint signature. As Marcel once put it, their names were inseparable, and there could be only "one signature, one station signal, as they say on radio; one overall station signal for the Piquerist state of mind."

The ideal of collective authorship represents only one aspect of the Piqueray brothers' critique of the idea of the author: they rivaled Fernando Pessoa in the creation of personae, publishing poems under many false names and concocting absurd biographies for their alter-egos. While Pessoa worked hard to create coherent identities for his personae, the Piquerays presented readers with poems that seemed to undermine the information in the biographies they invented. For example, they originally presented "A Pedal-Pusher Said to Me" as their translation of a poem by Furth-Jean Mirt, a fictitious German writer of Romantic landscape poems. A critical note appended to the poem tells us "the poem evokes the anguish of the poet as he remembers the great rural solitudes" where he wandered with his late beloved aunt. The poem, of course, evokes no such thing. Indeed, it takes poetry far from the misty, nostalgic landscapes of late Romanticism, instead presenting a polyglot, neologistic, absurdist incantation. The gesture of the poem is a dismissive one, shunting aside old conventions and returning poetry to its origins in chant and noise. Here we find the serious agenda behind the Piqueray brothers' thick-fingered, deliberately clumsy, strangely comic style: they're out to strip art of its sacred aura.—RA


This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2009

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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