Five fatrasies from the city of Arras

Anonymous is the unknown author of the fifty four stanzas of the Fatrasies d’Arras. Along with the eleven stanzas written by Philippe de Rémi, these comprise the total corpus of the poetic form known as the “fatrasie,” written sometime between the years 1250 and 1300. Philippe de Rémi, a knight at the court of the Countess Mahaut, in Arras, is believed to have invented the form alone. But the form immediately lent itself to the kinds of collaborative writing practices— collaborative poems, game poems, competition poems—that were a sensation in Arras of the period. The consensus today is that the Fatrasies d’Arras were written by an unidentified coterie of virtuosic poets, who interpreted Rémi’s invention as a generative structure, one which could permit an infinite number of combinations from a finite set of rules. The exact mechanics of the writing procedure are not known. One poet may have provided some aspect of the finished poem—the rhyme words, for example, or the first six lines, or the pattern of paradoxes—and a second poet may have filled in the rest. Or perhaps they were written by circles of 11 poets, with one poet responsible for each line, in a procedure not-too-distantly analogous to the Surrealists’ cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse).

31

Half a ton of oats
cut open its veins
to win accolades
Behind its back
a forty-day fast
was having a feast
If not for a cock’s chuckle
between Pentecost & Braine
whose flesh chewed on his bones
he’d have hanged before Friday
Te rogamus audi nos

We beseech Thee, hear us

37

A dog who’d been flayed
hiked up his britches
to father a church
at which an old comb
flew into a rage
and leapt in the sea
Some four-footed chickens
got so caught up in gossip
they brought down a razorback
and from a pitcher of mead
made a donkey take flight

46

A keg round with child
fenced-in on all sides
pissed on a hare
A snuffed blubber-lamp
laid charges against
a pot full of flu
A skylark brooding her eggs
brandished a curry-comb
over the tail of a goat
then slapped its ass so hard
the walls of Paris came down

50

A sage without brains
with no mouth or teeth
devoured the world
A pickled herring
marshalled the Flemish
who would avenge them
But all of this wasn’t worth
one feather from two rockfish
who capsized four galleys
Yet I don’t know that I think
it should be called murder

54

A feathered bear
sowed a field of wheat
from Dover to Calais
A peeled onion
was getting warmed up
to lead with a song
when atop a red elephant
came a heavily-armed snail
who ran around shouting
Son of a bitch, bring it on
I write poems in my sleep

31

Demi mui d’avaine
Ce sainoit de vaine
Por aqueillir los
Une quarantaine
Grant joie demaine
Par derier son dos
Se ne fust li ris d’un coç
Qu’entre Pentecouste & Braine
Dont la char ronga les os
Pendus fust en la semaine
Te rogamus audi nos

37

Uns chiens escorchiez

Estoit escourciez
Por mostiers semer
& uns pygnes viez
S’en est courouciez
C’est saillis en mer
Tant empristrent a parler
Gelines a .iiii. piez
Qu’elles pristrent .i. cengler
Firent de plain pot de miés
Illueques l’asne voler

46

Une truie enceinte
Parmi une aceinte
Compissoit .i. lievre
Une lamppe estainte
Faisoit sa complainte
Sor plain pot de fievre
Une aloete coviere
Avoit une estille atainte
Sor la keue d’une chievre
Si l’a si dou cul empainte
Que li murs de Paris crieve

50

Uns saiges sans sens
Sans bouche sans dens
Le siecle menga
& .i. sors herens
Manda les Flamens
Qui les vengera
Mais tout ce ne lor vaura
La plume de .ii. mellens
Qui .iiii. nés affondra
Mais je ne sai que je pens
De murdre les apela

54

Uns ours emplumés
Fist semer uns blés
De Douvre a Wissent
Uns oingnons pelez
Estoit aprestés
De chanter devant
Qant sor .i. rouge olifant
Vint uns limeçons armés
Qui lor aloit escriant
Fil a putain sa venez
Je versefie en dormant


About the translators:

Ted Byrne was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and moved to Vancouver in the late 1960s. His earlier writing appeared in publications like Canadian Forum and the Fiddlehead, and he is the author of Aporia (1989) and Beautiful Lies (1995) and the co-editor of The Recovery of the Public World: Essays on Poetics in Honour of Robin Blaser (1999). He was also a member of the Kootenay School of Writing collective for ten years. Byrne’s most recent book, Duets (2018), is a collection of translations of Louise Labé and Guido Cavalcanti.

Donato Mancini makes visual and procedural poetry, bookworks, and visual art. His books and chapbooks include Snowline (2015), Loitersack (2014), Buffet World (2011), Fact ‘N’ Value (2011), Hell Passport no. 22 (2008), Æthel (2007), 58 Free Coffees (2006), and Ligatures (2005). His books have twice been nominated for the ReLit award in Canada. Same Diff (2017) was a finalist for the Griffin Prize. Having spent much of his life in Vancouver, Mancini is currently a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of English at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.


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