A Roll of the Dice by Stéphane Mallarmé, translated by Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno


Alley Cat Books (San Francisco)


Stéphane Mallarmé was in the process of correcting proofs of the original edition of Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard when he died in 1898. For this reason, no truly definitive text exists of his most famous and groundbreaking poem, a work that flirts with concrete poetry, free-verse, and even graphic design. Unfortunately, the hypothetical nature of any finished version of Un coup de dés has lead to an erratic publication history usually as limited-run art editions or intensely academic affairs dotted with laborious footnotes and buried in historical context.

Thankfully, Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno's new edition from Wave resuscitate the poem as something living, breathing, and as definitive as possible. It presents itself, plainly and humbly, as itself: a gorgeous, slim version of the famous poem in exclusively black and white. Inside it reads something like a Chris Marker or a Jean-Luc Godard film. There are no notes and no introductions (besides Mallarmé's own beautifully obtuse and confounding preface) and each turn of the page reveals a new elaboration on the slick production and type setting that would have certainly tickled the stylish and fashion conscious Mallarmé. Black and white photos of rolling waves and sea floors break-up the oversized text and illustrate the imagery and energy of the verse.

And what can you say about the actual poem? It is presented here in its original french and a new english translation that is a bit more contemporary in tone than previous editions have managed. How do I read this is? is probably the first and ultimate question of the work. The thing is a roaming take on the how-and-why of the printed page and by extension the mind itself. I'd suggest letting the immense white spaces of the page do whatever they want with you. Let them swallow you up and draw your mind wherever it desires, producing whatever “definitive” version any great poem arrives at in that gorgeous and immediate moment of readership.  


A Roll of the Dice is published Wave Books and distributed by Consortium/Perseus Group.

$25   HB   96 pages   bw illustration throughout   ISBN: 9781940696041   Pub date: April 2015