Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The Wicked Flowers of Charles Baudelaire,
Jan OwenA6 cover has a kind of peachy grey background. The text is centred and in black. The pamphlet title is precisely positioned, in two lines, above a rectangular box, inside which are some peachy orangey flowers with leaves and possibly thorns. Below this box in much smaller print it reads "A selection limericked by Jan Owen'. Centred at the foot of the jacket is the name of the press in black with its shoestring logo.

Shoestring Press, 2016    £8.00

The antidote to Les Fleurs du Mal

Jan Owen has also published Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal, a whole volume of translations respecting the original intentions of their French originator. But here the flowers are ‘wicked’, and they are ‘limericked’.

This is something one can understand. When undertaking any serious work, not least one as dark as the Fleurs du Mal of Baudelaire, the necessary counterbalance is sometimes found in silliness. So here, in this A6 (pocket-sized) booklet is the ideal piss-take to Baudelaire. The Révolte section becomes ‘Revolting’. ‘La Mort’ is ‘Closing Time’; ‘Le Vin’ is ‘Winos’, and so forth.

Anyone (well, most people) can manage to write a limerick. Few people write good ones. Jan Owen is one of those who certainly can. So the reader who both enjoys limericks and Baudelaire (and relishes the idea of an affectionate send-up) is onto a winner here.

The titles of Baudelaire’s original poems are preserved (albeit in translation) but the limerick takes them to completely different places. The four quatrains of ‘Harmonie du Soir’ (which in the original pantoum form commences: ‘Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige / Chaque fleur s’ évapore ainsi qu’ un encensoir’ ) are transformed, in 'Evening Harmony’ into:

Pink perfume and blossom and skin
      And the sob of a pink violin:
           I feel in the pink,
     It’s the sunset, I think,
And this very pink glass of pink gin.

I find I can enjoy this pink limerick even without the Baudelaire, though preferably with the gin.

But in general if this little publication isn’t the antidote to ‘Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir’, I don’t know what is.

Helena Nelson