King of a Hundred Horsemen is the first of Marie Étienne’s books to be published in English, and it introduces a major voice in world literature to a new audience. For ten years, Étienne worked as assistant to the experimental French theater director Antoine Vitez, who combined a commitment to the classics with a passionate engagement with socially progressive causes in the years of the student uprisings in France and the Algerian independence movement. Étienne’s poetry has been inspired by this same synthesis of the contemporary and the classical, the tragic and the mundane—the quotidian transformed by the tragic prisms of myth and history. Through a profound and complex reinterpretation of the sonnet form, the book reflects, as in a mosaic of shattered mirrors, many of the writer’s ongoing preoccupations: the relationship of East and West; an eroticism at once physical and cerebral; the interaction of poetry and prose; the strange blending of the everyday and the foreign, in which the most “exotic” journeys become ordinary and the most ordinary displacements partake of the strange. King of a Hundred Horsemen—in a brilliant translation by Marilyn Hacker that Robert Hass selected for the National Poetry Series’ first Robert Fagles Translation Prize in 2007—is an elegant, deeply affecting work from a master poet.
Literature-Fiction, Poetry, French,