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Julien Vocance (1878-1954)

One Hundred Visions of War by Julien Vocance can be purchased by clicking the book's hyperlinked title. Julien Vocance (1878-1954) authored some of the first notable haiku written in the West. These haiku were written during the First World War and have been translated into English by Alfred Nichol. Reviews of the book follow the excerpts below.

from One Hundred Visions of War

            Written in 1916, in the mud of the trenches, where the poet lost his left eye.

At ground level
fifteen days, I recognize
every clump and weed.
.

Crushed by exhaustion,
they take the collapsed postures
of fallen corpses.
.

A brown swirl
of shells rolling in the dirt
like schoolboys.
.

The stain keeps growing;
he’s turning into one of
Garibaldi’s redshirts.
.

Cla cla cla cla cla…
—like a skeleton counting
fingers on its teeth.
.

Bloody machine gun.
Before it died, it spread out
its fan of corpses.
.

Bombs, bombs and more bombs—
but we don’t take up much space:
our chances are good.
.

To their frugal meal
a black sausage is added,
smashing three chests.
.

Beneath the wrinkles
of fallen, washed-out khakis,
piles of ash gather.
.

Men full of shrapnel
tied to their beds and collared—
like they might run off!
.

      —translated from the French by Alfred Nicol


Contributor’s Note: This selection is taken from Julien Vocance’s Cent visions de guerre, a series of haiku, or hai-kai, as he called them, written in the trenches in 1916. Wiseblood Books published One Hundred Visions of War, Alfred Nicol’s translation of the complete work, in October, 2022.

REVIEWS

“Holy shit.” —Joshua Mehigan, Author of Accepting the Disaster, a New York Times Book Review best book of the year

“When I learned that the French poet Julien Vocance chose to write his One Hundred Visions of War in—of all things!—haiku, I wondered why: how could that most fleeting, elusive, and subtle of forms deal with a theme as dense, brutal, and unsubtle as the horror that is war? Well, I’ve just read—and reread, nonstop—Alfred Nicol’s brilliant translation of the French original, and the only thing I’m wondering now is how I managed to undervalue so completely what imagination, speed, daring imagery, black humor and an uncanny gift for language can do to convey the unspeakable perfectly.” —Rhina P. Espaillat, 2021 Recipient of the NEPC Golden Rose Award; author of And After All

“Don’t miss reading Julien Vocance’s One Hundred Visions of War, marvelously translated by Alfred Nicol. Drawing from the brevity of traditional Japanese haiku, Vocance’s fascinating French ha´-ka´ bear witness to the horrors of war in bursts of image and sensation. The trenches of WWI materialize on the page by way of language both fresh and timeless.” —Kirun Kapur, Editor of Beloit Poetry Journal; author of Women in the Waiting Room

“Like Ungaretti and Apollinaire, Julien Vocance faced the instant karma of the First World War with outcries of visionary perception. Each flash of the battlefield, each haiku, is a compelling ode to what can go away in a second, and to what remains, even amid annihilation. One Hundred Visions of War is an essential addition to the history of modernist poetry. More importantly, it is an urgent and deeply moving read, each vision guided into English by the poet Alfred Nicol, who brings a keen eye, an exacting ear, and a consummate poetic intelligence to these pages.” —Joseph Donahue, Professor of the Practice at Duke University; author of the ongoing poem Terra Lucida

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