‘machine gun’ by Jean-Christophe Belleveaux

-Reviewed by Claire Trevien

On one of my last days in Paris, I stumbled across what I’d been looking for for some time: pamphlets by a French independent publisher. Jean-Christophe Belleveaux’s machine gun stood out from the other pamphlets on sale with its lack of sentimentality and the terseness of his language. Editions Potentille, the publisher of these 13×18 chapbooks, was created in 2007 by Belleveaux’s wife, Anne. Refreshingly, this independent publisher escapes the monopoly of Paris by being both funded and located in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, in the North of France.

The pamphlet can be read as a collection of twenty poems or as an extended monologue. There are no titles, capital letters and practically no punctuation to fragment the whole. Yet, the short selections on each page suggest that this dual method of reading is intentional and indeed, most poems stand alone well. It is best, however, to read Belleveaux’s pamphlet in one sitting in order to fully get the effect of these otherwise fugitive pieces.

Throughout the collection is the taste of dusty travelling and war mixed with ultra-domesticity and Houellebecqian moroseness. From speaking of the afternoon that persists (along with the dirty dishes), Belleveaux switches to musing on poetry mixed with war:

j’aimai l’alexandrin
le staccato particulier de l’AK47

(I liked the alexandrine / the peculiar staccato of the AK47)

It becomes gradually evident through the extended monologue that war is being conjured not as a trauma but as a beacon of hope. Indeed, he wishes that war could have wiped out all of his memories, most particularly the recent death of his mother:

j’aurais voulu un vacarme de bombardiers
un excès de réel
insupportable dangereux

qui efface tout : enfance, le lundi 4 juin 2007, le platane
de la place, etc.

au lieu de quoi : la suie des mots

(I’d rather have had the racket of the bombers / an excess of reality / unbearable dangerous // that would erase everything: childhood, Monday 4 June 2007, the sycamores / on the square, etc // instead of which: the soot of words.)

He writes that these burned words speak of his sadness but not of his anger. Belleveaux mixes image difficult to decipher alongside straightforward narratives. These impressionistically build the complex portrait of a man of words struggling to control them. The end comes swiftly and devastatingly with ‘la page est un nid dévasté’ (the page is a ransacked nest).

Overall, this is a moving collection that employs such tired subjects as war and writing-about-writing in a way that feels fresh. While the personal details can at times be at risk of shutting out the reader, Belleveaux is always careful to throw out a helpful hook. This is an inward-facing pamphlet, but the self-deprecation and wit are generous indeed.