Clair-Obscur of the Soul

By Jean-Yves Solinga

($19.95, (7” X 10”) Paperback, 180 pages)

This is an impressive book and debut from a poet, Jean-Yves Solinga, who has lived through some of the important social upheavals of the late 20th century and writes from the depth of his soul. A book of poetry with a singularly unique view of life that may redefine the capacity of poetry to be what it should be: the art of expressing pure thought about the existential human condition.

Jean-Yves Solinga, a poet of immense ability and range, has collected in this book many breathtakingly beautiful and sophisticated poems, which reach out to the very limits of the human condition where true art exists. They are a product and symbolically reflect life from birth to adulthood of cultural duality and a search for the cool plains of resolution with the past.  He came from the “solar” heat of Morocco, where he spent an idyllic childhood, to the “Labradorian” cold coastal waters and countryside of New England.

The title Clair-Obscur of the Soul was carefully chosen because it is indicative of this cultural duality, and many of the poems in this book draw you into a world of intellectual contrasts, where one reality is juxtaposed with another that is simultaneously fascinating, unsettling and revelatory. As you read you are immediately aware that before you is a poet, albeit previously unpublished, with an effortless ability to use language, conveying a myriad of emotions and creating an ambience of mellifluous subtlety with immense depth from the very first poem.


Between North Africa and New England exists the landscape of many of these poems. In Arabic, Sidi Moussa is the Moses of the Bible: the patron saint of the wanderer.

The coldness of the Labrador current haunts these lines along with images of Sidi Moussa in the warm setting that surrounded the youth of the narration. It is, more specifically, the name of a minuscule beach north of Salé in Morocco.

Bi-polar would therefore be an appropriate descriptive for this poetic world. It is a world torn between languages and cultures.  It craves absolutes with the conviction of an atheist. And with a Faustian fever, it thirsts for youth with impending decrepitude on the horizon.

The themes sneak their way through two worlds: one, of the thematic universality of Classicism, and the other, that of the very personal individualistic emphasis of Romanticism.

It is when these worlds are in complementary equilibrium—one person versus society, the first person singular versus plural, the lonely artist at his desk versus his audience in a full theatre—that the words, the painting, the artistic expression break out of the solidity of the present and make the future reader or viewer still hold his breath.

The best art is the one that has the feel of authenticity. Of personal immediacy of the writer, as well as the capacity to allow the viewer to take possession of a piece of it.

The way that one walks with glazed eyes through museums and looks nonchalantly at a painting; returns and then stops breathlessly as though he had painted the scene himself in another life. Or the unease caused by a scenario of a movie that seems to put a piece of our life on the screen: that line where classicism, in its eternal applications, meets romanticism, in its intimate and personal projection on the viewer.

Even when the expression is circumstantial and personal, it is especially in the way the reader eventually sees herself or himself in the text that can give relevance and ultimately value to the poem. One, for instance, does not have to know personally the dissolute life of the Paris of Baudelaire to understand the void of his soul.

And so it is that, like Baudelaire or Camus, I use religious artefacts and references to build antithetical contrasts with the fleshy amoral present.

The plasticity of an understandable language is what guided me: both in French and English. Because of this view of language in general and my cultural background in particular, I have used a nontraditional poetic versification and poetic meter. I have a particular affection for free verse and lyrical prose style.  

In defence of my choice of poetic form and lyrical structure, I quote from the last speech of Trepliov in Checkov’s play The Sea Gull: “I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that it’s a matter not of old forms and not of new forms, but that a man writes, not thinking at all of what form to choose, writes because it comes pouring out from his soul.” 

Some poems came to me only in English and many have remained as such: sometimes because of the circumstance of their genesis or the depth of their cultural links.

In an absurd world, I find mankind’s inflated view of itself to be the beautiful driving force behind much of what we would understand as art. And that is all right. And that is good.

For art, in all its forms, is the most generous act of solidarity. And even when hurtful eternal and personal truths must be described, art and the artist can and must find ways to make it beautiful in its expression.

Yes, I still believe in art for art sake.

In the final analysis, poetic beauty is the by-product of the drive on the part of the artist to stabilize the ephemeral.  It is in the pursuit of that certain glance on that particular afternoon—that makes the artist want to stop time in time.

And, as is often said of the surprising regeneration found in Picasso’s art, it is, in my view, the ultimate joy of success to be able to recreate it through the “eyes of a child” as though it were seen or felt for the first time.

Jean-Yves Solinga

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