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Introduction to James A. Emanuel

by Jean Migrenne
May 2002

Whoever wishes to meet with the man must climb the 99 steps (no lift) that lead to his 6th floor den in the Montparnasse district of Paris, France. But James A. Emanuel is not one of your latter-day expatriates aping those Lost Generation geniuses who drank themselves into literature and other ecstasies before WWII. Emanuel's is a deliberate exile. He has no plans, he says, to return to the U.S.A. .

Whoever wishes to know more about his life and the reason why he chose to live his second life in France must read The Force and the Reckoning, published by Lotus Press, Detroit, in 2001. But there is more behind it than he is willing to write about. Emanuel will not readily open those pages again. If I, his translator and friend, were to summarize it all, I'd say that the story of the first, longer, part of his life reads very much like the conventional and exemplary biography of the young American of humble origin, jack of all trades by necessity, who finally made himself and reached the top. The all-American cliché? Yes, and no. There was one parameter in the equation that killed the process, not in the bud, but in its prime and offshoot, right to the bone and marrow of the man: color. Emanuel took his share, and bore the brunt of the unrest and struggle of the 60's, as can be read in the poems he wrote at the time, and in the aftermath of his great divide.

The divide itself gradually turned into an unbridgeable gap after Emanuel, by then a university professor, went East, to France and Poland, first with his family, and then on his own. The air he breathed on this side of the Atlantic was different. New roots began to set, and they turned vital when his decision to quit the U.S.A. was made.

Whoever wishes to know Emanuel as a poet can read his Whole Grain: Collected Poems, 1958-1989, Lotus Press, Detroit, 1991. His JAZZ from The Haiku King, Broadside Press, Detroit, 1999, adds an entirely new facet to the diamond he had been cutting so far.

Yes, in a way, James A. Emanuel cuts, "chisels" his poetry. "In the dark," as he once wrote, but with incomparable skill.

To give you the briefest version of the man/poet's achievements, let me quote and translate the title of a bilingual anthology (out of print) of his poems that we published in France in 1992. We called it De la rage au cœur. A fine double-entendre, involving the two poles of his interest as man and poet: the rage and the heart; but also the change he underwent, passing from heart to rage within the heart and then to heart without rage. (Beware of puns!)

I, personally, never worked shoulder to shoulder with the man/poet in the days of his rage. I first met him a few years after he had crossed the Atlantic for good, and from that time onward I have been working heart to heart with him and for him. I am proud to call him my friend and to be considered one of his true friends.

Jean Migrenne is James A. Emanuel's French translator. This introduction to Emanuel's work appears courtesy of the author, and is copyright ©2002 Jean Migrenne.

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