Paris: A Poem

Clair Wills reflects on Hope Mirrlees

Clair Wills reflects on Hope Mirrlees' 1919 Paris: A Poem and its historical importance in the London Review of Books. This poem has been recently republished by Faber books, with a foreword by Deborah Levy.

Paris was Mirrlees’s attempt to prove that poetry could articulate people’s ‘membership’ of one another. The past is rolled up in the city’s unconscious, there to be accessed in the poet’s dreams. But the poem itself doesn’t seem to care much about Paris – its past or its future. It’s an admirably democratic tourist trail, in which advertisements and street signs share equal billing with the paintings in the Louvre, but they are all equally flattened, like the ‘two-dimensional’ Eiffel Tower, ‘etched on thick white paper’. The endless present tense lends the poem a peculiarly static feel, as though something is always on the cusp of being said.”

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