New Impressions of Africa is made up of four cantos, each of which begins by establishing the setting in Egypt and then interrupting itself with a parenthetical thought. This thought is in turn interrupted by another, until we are faced with layer upon layer of parentheses. Mark Ford explains in his introduction:
If, from one angle, the brackets and footnotes of Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique insistently disrupt and disjoin, frustrating, with their seemingly endless digressions and lists of examples, the reader’s urge for completion, from another they serve as forms of connection, like railway points, that enable the poem to cross over into whole new regions of proliferating analogy and illustration.
The poem, in its original French, is written in rhyming alexandrine (twelve-syllable) couplets alternating between masculine and feminine rhymes. Ford does not keep the original rhyme or the meter in his translation — to do so would probably be impossible — but the non-francophone reader must trust that these are done magnificently well. An excerpt from one of Roussel’s elaborate lists . . .