Body Was

By Isabelle Garron

Translated by Eléna Rivera


Litmus Press
Original Language(s)
Additional Credits
Cover Art by Alison Rossiter
Density 1947, 2020 © Alison Rossiter
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York
Design by Mark Addison Smith
Poetry, Translation
Edition, Year
First English Edition, 2021
Trade paperback
In Print

Body Was: Suites & their variations (2006-2009) is a book-length poem that begins with the death of a father and ends with the birth of a child. It is a bold and innovative poem that works on principles of improvisation, like those of Keith Jarrett and other jazz greats, where the reader is drawn into a series of movements that rise and fall like waves. The poem is divided into six “Suites,” each with its own “Variation,” each with its notations, echoes and silences, all the while maintaining the poem’s forward movement. Isabelle Garron is able to capture the mind’s motions, its fleeting thoughts, its fragmentations, shedding light on past and future, while at the same time showing the clarity of a present breaking in.

Eléna Rivera
Eléna Rivera is a poet and translator who was born in Mexico City and spent her formative years in Paris. She won the 2010 Robert Fagles prize for her translation of Bernard Noël's The Rest of the Voyage (Graywolf Press, ... Read More
Isabelle Garron
Isabelle Garron (b. 1968) is an associate professor in information and communication sciences at Telecom Paris - IpParis. Following a PhD in text and document sciences, she reissued Pierre Reverdy's Lucarne Ovale (ThTy, 2001). She is the author ... Read More

BODY WAS is a book-length sequence of small moments, gestures and expressions stretched to incredible lengths; stretched not as a way of thinning, but as a way to articulate and pause, each moment fragmented into portions, and where lightning strikes in such slow-motion that every spark appears, if in the briefest sense, self-contained: brilliant, held and heard.

— Rob McLennan


Praise for Body Was

We know Isabelle Garron’s angles of luminescence through blockages, the dangling foot, the dense constructions of unexpectedly punctuated brilliance, her borrowings and growth across the margins and spacings of other French women poets, Danielle Collobert and Anne-Marie Albiach. Body Was approaches the pages who have no ears, we readers held by our tongues. It’s as if we find our bodies—we who are haunted by magical screens—in this stunning translation by fellow poet Eléna Rivera who captures every lilt and nuance. This is a night sky in which the stars are actual places, and we are invited to recognize with awe our little locations: “we arrive .it is night .you will be born this morning”
— Sarah Riggs

In this massive work of tantalizing minimalism, precise specifics work in counterpoint to fluid abstractions, always keeping the body of the title centered, a real anchor in a real world full of finite objects that get expanded by Garron’s acute attention into iconic principles. Shore, fire, you—they all return us to the body, to the lived experience that the body is. Rivera’s translation gorgeously captures the intricacies that play out across multiple registers, as well as the architecture of sound that holds the whole work aloft.
— Cole Swensen

Isabelle Garron’s luminous and expansive book-length poem Body Was traces the myriad appearances and disappearances of the unstable present occurring here between the death of a father on the first page and the long-awaited birth on the last. Composed as a series of suites and variations, there’s an exquisite doubling of form and content where sound is inseparable from the motions of pure experience, and the body, as porous as the text, is decentered “in the mesh of / stories…” This is language as close to music as it can get and Eléna Rivera has rendered it with richly textured and sensuous sounds in her masterful English translation.
— Denise Newman

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