Refiguring Baudelaire’s ‘Poète-Chiffonnier’ in Contemporary French Poetry

‘Refiguring Baudelaire’s ‘Poète-Chiffonnier’ in Contemporary French Poetry’. French Cultural Studies (2017) 28 (3): 303-13. 

In Les Fleurs du mal (1857), Baudelaire developed the image of the poet as a ‘chiffonnier’: a ragpicker who collects the rubbish scraps of modern existence and then re-appropriates them in the poem. This article examines how Baudelaire’s ‘chiffonnier’ is reconfigured in contemporary poetry. Rather than offering an inventory of poetic imagery, as it did for Baudelaire, for many contemporary poets, trash provides productive conceptual models for poetic form. Trash language (slang, anglicisms, marketing slogans and so on) generates rich material for the heterogeneous linguistic texture of the poem, subsequently revising the monologic mode of discourse of traditional lyric poetry. Although the forms and functions of trash have changed, the underlying purpose of a ‘ragpicking poetics’ remains the same; like Baudelaire embarking on his quest for the ‘nouveau’, contemporary poets are in continuous pursuit of innovation, and it is the ragpicker’s rubbish that provides a sustained source of renewal.

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