Night of Loveless Nights by Robert Desnos, translated by Lewis Warsh / Afterword by David Rosenberg / ISBN 9781959708032 / 70-page paperback published in 2023 by Winter Editions
The fiftieth-anniversary edition of New York School poet Lewis Warsh’s long out-of-print translation of a major poem by Robert Desnos, pillar of French Surrealism, presented alongside the original text.
Desnos’s Night of Loveless Nights—written in tribute to legendary French chanteuse Yvonne George in 1926—is a maelstrom of romantic despair, political upswell, and psychedelic irony. John Ashbery’s claim that Frank O’Hara 1971 collected poems was “the founding of a new tradition” should be made for both Desnos’s poem and Warsh’s translation. Long unavailable, Warsh’s Desnos stands beside Ron Padgett’s Cendrars and John Ashbery’s Rimbaud, a sublime translation experiment of letting the language speak for itself—as had the poem’s author. Originally published in 1973 by poet and translator David Rosenberg in The Ant’s Forefoot chapbook series, Warsh’s translation is reproduced in this fiftieth anniversary edition alongside the French original, and with an afterword by Rosenberg.
'Desnos’s poem, in Lewis’s translation, must have influenced us all with its structural changes—stanzas, then none to speak of, prose interlude, line lists, then lovely curt goodbye. Its sense of a corrupt teeming world in which the only pure image exists in the lover’s (poet’s), heart though each member of the corrupt world is also that lover. I love this poem, and I salute the fiftieth anniversary of the translation’s publication, remembering when Lewis was working on it in ’71, deeply bemused by the fact of the undertaking. So he changed “métamorphoses” to “changes,” because we all spoke of our “changes,” the “change” in our pockets, “all my changes” (Neil Young). And sometimes I know the translator’s simply talking about himself. Is the poet doing that too? Is the reader?'—Alice Notley
French poet Robert Desnos (1900-1945) was introduced to Paris Dada in 1919, and became an active member of the Surrealist group until 1929. Besides his numerous collections of poems, he wrote reviews of jazz and cinema, published three novels, worked in radio, and wrote the script for a film by Man Ray. During World War II, Desnos was an active member of the French Resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo in late February 1944, and died of typhoid in the camps.
Lewis Warsh (1944-2020) was a writer, editor, visual artist, publisher, educator and the author of over thirty volumes of poetry, fiction, and autobiography. His posthumous collection of poetry, Elixir, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2022.