"Paroles: Selected Poems," by Jacques Prevert, is Number 9 in the Pocket Poets Series from City Lights Books. This volume is translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who also contributes a "Translator's Note." This is a bilingual edition, with the French and English versions of the poems on facing pages. The back cover notes that Prevert's "Paroles" was first published in 1946; Ferlinghetti states that many of these poems "grew out of World War II and the Occupation in France."
I noticed some recurring themes and motifs in this volume. Prevert is very concerned with human pain and suffering; also, there are many references and allusions to war. There is a real iconoclastic streak running through this book. Although many of the poems have a surreal, whimsical quality, much of this poetry is also firmly anchored in tangible realities: an orange, a raincoat, a cigarette, "the faint sound / of a hardboiled egg cracked on a tin counter." Some of the poems have an almost haiku-like quality, saying much with an economy of words.
There were a number of poems that I found particularly striking. "Song" had a joyful, transcendent quality. "Inventory" had an experimental flavor that reminded me somewhat of Gertrude Stein's work. "I've Seen Some of Them" is like a Whitmanesque litany, but with a darker, cryptic, and tragic tone. "Picasso's Magic Lantern" uses words in odd and startling combinations; this poem eptomizes the role of the poet as a sort of prophet who evokes an altered state of consciousness through his creative process. Prevert's voice in "Paroles," although sometimes dark, is overall compassionate and even tender. He seems to be intent on capturing the contradictions, absurdities, beauty, and despair of the early 20th century in his poetry.