The poetry book, Killing Plato by Chantal Maillard and translated by Yvette Siegert, entails two poem sequences. The first poem, “Killing Plato” centers around a pedestrian who has been hit by a truck and is dying in the middle of the road. The narrator is retelling the scene and the people surrounding the street. Yet, at the bottom of the poem, there is another tale unfolding: a woman bumps into an old friend who is working on some poems for a book called Killing Plato. The second sequence, “Writing”, unfolds as a lyrical meditation on mortality and literary production.
In “Killing Plato”, the poem centers around the narrator recalling her memory about the accident that just took place. The whole premise of the poem is how people define moments and tries to recall every detail of the event later. Maillard’s writing style is straightforward, but it’s also lyrical and spine-chilling. Her writing especially comes into light by her use of imagery. This is first seen by the grim details of the man’s dead body; the narrator describes the body as, “I do not know if he is aware of/ the wetness of his blood/ or the smell of his viscera/ or the toffee sound of his own bones”. Maillard’s use of imagery doesn’t stop there. The narrator goes on to describe the trucker who caused the accident, “The driver/ got out of the truck./ Now he is gripping the windowpane./ The door protects him. Because his body cannot”. The narrator then goes on to describe the people standing near the accident scene. This is seen as, “A shaken woman is giving/ her companion’s arm a squeeze./ He turns to her with a face/ as long as a serial number”.
Maillard not only creates fictional characters, but she also scatters real historical figures, writers, and real-world past events in the poem. At the back of the book, there are some notes that go through some of the stanzas in the poem and explain who these people and past occurrences are. These notes allow the reader to piece together the significance of this person or event in the context of the stanza. Another interesting aspect of the poem is how the narrator breaks the fourth wall. This is executed by how the narrator addresses the reader and asks them rhetorical questions. An example of this is seen as, “You could have avoided it, but you didn’t./ And you didn’t want to. You could have/ closed the pages of the book/ but you didn’t. What is it that held you back?”. These questions make the story feel more personal and let the reader stop and think for a second whilst they read.
Underneath “Killing Plato” a poem there is another storyline that’s being unraveled. This mini poem is about a woman who bumps into an old friend that’s working on a poetry book called Killing Plato. While this poem is small, it still has a powerful impact and is full of foreshadowing moments that support the main poem on top.
In the second poem, “Writing” this sequence captures the different thoughts and emotions the narrator has while they are writing. One emotion that is explored is happiness and healing where the narrator says, “writing to heal/ writing to protect yourself/ writing as if closing your eyes/ so as not to close them/ to move your hand and see where it goes/ to feel alive”. Another emotion is how writing can help you remember events like, “writing/ autumn/ to remember how/ we stuck chestnuts on our toothpicks/ and got princesses and dogs and dragons/ and my mother was so beautiful”. A final big emotion is how the narrator thinks of writing as a form of rebellion, “writing/ like deference or like rebellion/ without choice/ without pause/ because the light fades, and strength/ is depleted”. If you are a writer yourself, there are stanzas where you can relate to the narrator’s process and feelings. However, there are some parts in the poem where it feels dragged out during the middle section. Yet, that doesn’t take away from enjoying the poem as a whole.
Killing Plato provides wonderful and impactful poems. It’s able to play on the reader’s emotions and supply’s thought-provoking themes and ideas. If you are a fan of poetry, then definitely pick up Killing Plato by Chantal Maillard.
Chantal Maillard, a poet and philosopher, has published numerous works and won awards for her works. You can visit Maillard website. And follow her on Twitter (@ChantalMaillard) or Facebook (@chantalmaillardpoesia).
Yvette Siegert is a poet and translator that lives in New York. She has edited for The New Yorker and her writing has appeared in many publications. She has also taught at Columbia University, Baruch College and the 92nd Street Y. You can follow her on Twitter (@TheChronotope).
Killing Plato was originally published in Spanish in 2004. The translated version by Yvette Siegert was published in November 26, 2019. The translated version doesn’t include the poems in Spanish. To purchase a copy of, Killing Plato, you can click the link https://www.ndbooks.com/book/killing-plato/
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Jasmine Jeries is an Editorial Assistant for Calypso Editions. She recently graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s in English.