Rue du Regard

by Todd Swift
ISBN: 091968811X

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A Review of: Rue du Regard
by Andrew Steinmetz

Following Budavox (1999) and Caf Alibi (2002), Todd Swift's Rue du Regard completes the final part of a trilogy. Written while the poet stayed in Paris and London, Rue du Regard "has something to do with looking: in, out, back and ahead."
The collection is named after a street opposite where Swift lived for two years "in the 6th, near le Nemrod caf, which is the best in Paris". Rue du Regard is tale of two cities. Paris is a place "made for, and from Cinema". It is "agelessly sad, sexual and sadistic". London is the Unreal City (all this, and more, you can learn from Swift's Notes "On The Book You Have Just Read").
Swift is a poet who makes much of place, and of his vocation. "Whiplash in Paris" begins, "I live in the street where Huysmans died./I should like to make something of that." His self-consciously constructed persona is worldly, assured, fashionable, unrelenting, and unapologetic romantic. His poems are often as lavish as the persona, and beg the question: which came first? They are, I suppose, one and the same. Central to both is Swift's hunger for experience. In this pursuit, he fancies high and low culture alike, society and street life, as if there were no difference (as if only the inexperienced, or inhibited, would think otherwise).
In "After the Orient Express", at Swift's old address in Budapest, we enter "the long green hallway with its retrograde air". Everywhere he wanders, Swift collects ineffable sentiments. In "Fitness", Swift is working out in a gym. His time on the treadmill leads to a meditation on physical and metaphysical fitness:

To say the world is built on limited abilities -
and liabilities - now seems true, like saying:

there is light between the bars of the zoo.
But light does not make the cage matter.

In "Marylebone", Swift captures English scepticism: "Still, truth/ is the sort of thing that needs verification." and "Utopia" begins, "What's best can never be./Him touching her, her touching me." This sing-song rhyming couplet, confessional and contrived, is answered by the surprisingly flippant:

It isn't good to have everything you see.
The laws of love require some scarcity
To keep the balance of the Exchequer.
Imagine if we all spent like Boris Becker?

One of Swift's endearing qualities is that he pays as much attention to the small people in his life, as he does to his mentors and great artists. In "Leaving Paris", Swift bids farewell to his barber, Hugues Renaut. He arrives to the spot, and finds that Hugues sits':

In his own chair, the one I was always in,
As his brother works his thinning skull.
He gazes into the mirror like a king
Whose crown has come off his head.

Swift's best poems are restrained, tight-lipped and tempered, yet full of sombre and subtle allusion. The two most powerful poems here, in my opinion, are the last in the collection. "O Magnum Mysterium" begins:

Here at Cripplegate, Peter Warlock's Bethlehem
Down gets sung. The roof wasn't here in 1940
When bombardment opened up the altar to
the sky.
Inside the church, Swift observes that "candles/Light the pale faced members of the choir", and "stiff-necked listeners crouch forward/In low pews, Anglican or just off-the-street". Swift captures Cripplegate wonderfully. He remarks how Palestrina's medieval Matins Responsary captures "the post-war mood". And then: "How venal, then, to notice all the time-worn suits,/The dresses past their fashion. Decrepitude cradles us". It is that last phrase-"Decrepitude cradles us."-that makes Swift worth listening to.

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