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Louise Labe wrote in the early C16th in Lyon, France. Associated with the French Pleiade school (du Bellay, Ronsard, Marot) she may or may not have been the lover of Oliver Magny. Whatever the relationship between her private life and her writing, she is one of the most emotional, raw and honest poets - or at least has the skill to make her writing appear emotionally authentic and sincere.

Blending the Petrarchan tradition with Latin erotics, she reminds me very much of Catullus: mainly short poems which almost shock with their intensity. Of course, like Catullus, she is also a supreme poet, and her metrics are immaculate, an argument against 'sincerity'.

However you may want to read these - as slices of 'real life' or as sophisticated and literarily self-conscious imitations of classical models - Labe is addictive, assured and engaging.
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on 24 May 2015
The good news is that it is the complete works. The bad news is that it is preceded by long interminable overwrought politically correct musings on feminism and the poet as feminist icon. The good news is that there are translations on the facing pages, when we finally get to the poems. The bad news is that they are not always accurate. They do give a sense of the original but the choice of words is sometimes decidedly odd. Readers who can't manage the original unaided would do better with a plain completely literal prose translation which this often is not.

Are the claims made for the importance of Labe as a poet justified? No, not really. The sonnets are striking, passionate, expressive, fluent. But the praise goes completely overboard and you can't help concluding that if the argument from feminism was not available, the poetry would be regarded as interesting and striking but minor.

If you are interested in a rather expensive classic example of political correctnesss masquerading as literary criticism, get it. If what you want is to read the poems on which the reputation rests, which remains the sonnets, look elsewhere.

If you find this second hand and remaindered in a charity shop, as this reviewer did, your main reaction will be gratitude that you were not tempted to buy it new!

The penguin selected french poetry series, the volume covering the 16c, has a decent selection of the sonnets with a plain prose translation. You sometimes find that in the better class of charity book shop, also very cheaply.
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