1 December 2023

“Ryrkaïpii”, by Philippe Beck, Flammarion, “Poetry”, 296 p., €20, digital €15.

“Ideas of the night, followed by L’Homme-broom”, by Philippe Beck, Le Bruit du temps, 190 p., €18.

“Another clarity. Interviews 1997-2022”, by Philippe Beck, Le Bruit du temps, 480 p., €22.


Ryrkaïpii is the name of a Russian village located in the Chukotka district of northern Siberia, near the Bering Strait. The circumstance that gives birth to the poem is a newspaper article telling a story that has become all too common in the age of climate catastrophe: starving polar bears are prevented from reaching the ice floe by too fragile ice. Several dozen of them approach Ryrkaïpii and the inhabitants, nomadic reindeer herders, feed them with walruses.

Philippe Beck makes this episode the starting point of a tragicomedy – or “hilarothragedy”as the introductory poem puts it –, on the future of the community. “Who is the man who saw the bear who saw the man? » The animal becomes guide and mythographer, and it summons a gallery of characters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, mythological animals, fictitious or real figures, sung or painted. The bear draws signs, he has hallucinated visions and the aged, made-up civilization faces the climate bomb and all the catastrophes that preceded it.

Without the collection literally explaining it, Ryrkaïpii also evokes the nearby territory of Kolyma, one of the most terrible concentration camp complexes during the Soviet era, that of Varlam Shalamov (Stories from Kolyma, Verdier, 1980). The poems depict these destructions. This poetry is neither political nor environmental. Rather, like Schiller’s, it is naive and sentimental, committed to tirelessly formulating all the questions that humans ask themselves, to testifying to their perplexity in the face of history, to deploring war and division. “I compare the poem/ to the bulldog ant/ with the big eyes. Cut in two,/ she continues the war:/ her head struggles with her tail,/ which replies for half an hour./ The parts want to live and divide life./ They still shelter the eggs./ If the hatred was not in the world,/ things would be One./ Alive is two. »

The white bear is not the black bear. Its relationship to hunger, hibernation and vigilance is not the same. Likewise, poetry is not prose: its relationship to thought, image and waking is different. In Ideas of the night, followed by The Broomman (a diary of non-confinement), Beck also says that one can receive a flickering light from the animal world, from the night of dreams, from the misfortune of the world, from all that one has symbolically associated with the night. Without these paradoxical lights being necessarily recoverable by reason, they nevertheless need a language, a rhythm and a composition. The short proses of this volume are like those little lamps we call night lights: dense, folded up, but illuminating to shake up the thought, to emerge from an unimaginative survival, even in a reversed and unstable world.

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