Yucef Merhi
Poetic Dialogues
March 2002

By Patrick Lafond

 Three faces occupy the space of the page and deliver a fractured, randomly organized speech. One presses the button, the left-hand screen comes alive and the sequence begins. Caught on video, a person looks at and addresses us while reciting a verse; for the moment, one could take it as an autonomous statement. But once it is finished, the centre screen becomes active and another person utters what is manifestly the continuation of the first verse. The video snapshot continues on the third screen. The action remains the same: a character speaks, directing his or her speech to us with a steady gaze. When the page is still, we press the button again to set off a new sequence, also comprising three video snapshots for a poem. 

Each poem is the result of an aleatory process. Indeed, all sequences of one screen can be combined - the choice being made by a computer program - with all those of other screens. There are three series, each circumscribed to one of the three possible screen positions. Obviously, the author can't put words together haphazardly and say: this is a phrase, poetic or not. Also, the succession of sequences adheres to an unvarying order; the poems begin with a protasis and end with an apodosis, and the relay of recitations always follows from left to right on the page. The aleatory mode of the production constitutes one of the main tensions in the work. Other tensions reside in the poetry itself and in the fragmentation of space and speech. 

No work was done on Poetic Dialogues' visual components. Filming of the characters is straightforward, their acting undirected; staging, as such, is nonexistent. Page presentation, with its spareness of style and the strictures on means that serve only to transmit the verse, lends no additional meaning to the poems. The work's visual aspect is therefore partially subordinated to the telling. 

Partially, because Poetic Dialogues is also a series of quick, sober, naturalist portraits. A gallery, an observation post on strangers, taken as they are in everyday life. No hierarchy governs their appearance and their subjectivity fades behind the telling. 

If there is music in this work, it is in the timbre of the voices, in the rhythm of the declamations and, from the outset, in the prosody of the verse, perceived as "musicality." To be receptive to the acoustic element of a work that comprises neither music nor attention to sound we must accede to a vision of the world in which everything is brought to the same level. In an introductory note, the artist explains: "I believe that poetry transforms objects into art, in the same way that it converts noise into music." What we have, then, is the "noise" of the recitations, which, by the inherent poetry of recitations, is given (and should be taken) as music. 

Finally, while this Oulipian work may be called playful - the chance combinations, the author's affirmation that poetry makes a good tableau of any object - one must hear these poems to see how this work comprises above all images of a general dissolution. 

french version