Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Marché de la Poésie Saint Sulpice, Paris, June 2012

It’s the 30th Marché de la Poésie and it takes place in the tree shaded square by the newly renovated church of Saint Sulpice, Paris. There are hundreds of publishing houses represented here, some well known, some small, all selling volumes of poetry - though there are also a few works of prose to be found. The canvas covered stalls often have more than one publisher sharing a marquee. They flank the elegant stone fountain in the middle of the square, and are bordered by trees on three sides. This gives a sheltered and intimate feeling to the space, drawing booksellers and the wandering public into a complicity with the rustling leaves and warm summer sunshine. 

After the official opening, where speeches were made on the small stage, a crowd of people were milling around, drinking wine, talking to stall holders and each other. People who have made purchases dangle clearly marked Marché de la Poésie bags from their wrists. I sat on a bench for a while, watching the superbly elegant women, colourful and striking, and well dressed or bohemian chic gentlemen, several of the older ones sporting grey or white pony tails. I then headed off to the stall of LaTraductière,the literary magazine that publishes and translates poetry and essays into English and French. 

Jacques Rancourt is the editor of the magazine and has set up Festrad,Festival de la Poésiefranco-anglaise, part of the Marché de la Poésie. He has been dedicated to this for over two decades, and has also brought in artists and musicians, working around the varied themes which are presented each year. This year’s theme was ‘The Poetic Attention.' Fifty poems and 20 essays are included in the latest issue of La Traductiere, by writers from several different countries.  Several poets from Singapore were among the invitedguests and read from their work in the evenings, on the central stage close to the carved lions of the stone fountain. 
These readings were in an exciting and exotic mixture of languages. Singapore has four official languages, English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay and poets writing in all of these languages were represented. When I listened to Zou Lu, for example, whose native language is Chinese, I didn’t understand one word, but her presentation was arresting and dramatic. Her translator then read her work in French.

One of the poems she read, unfortunately not printed in the magazine, began as a poem about getting lost out in the country where there were several roads to take but not knowing which one was the right one. But, she says, addressing the reader, do not be concerned for us, for se perdre c’est notre terre natale (to be lost, that is home territory for us) 

Zou Lu and her translators

Included in this year’s edition of la Traductière, the 30th, as well as the poems and essays, there are illustrations of some of the poems, by different artists. The original art works are exhibited in the gallery and theatre Nesle, in the tiny rue de Nesle. It is tucked away between an arched alleyway leading away from the busy Boulevard flanking the river, and that part of the left bank around rue de Seine that’s stuffed with art galleries. 

Galerie Nesle seen through the door onto the courtyard
InStefaan van den Bremt’s essay – The Poetic Attention – he begins:
Poetry is everywhere but it comes from elsewhere. Its kingdom is not this world with its so familiar horizons....Poetry disturbs. It demands from us a particular attention, one which consists of seeing in our daily life something other than the familiar, in capturing a unique experience from the everyday. Poetry is another way of reading reality.

He quotes Paul Claudel and Martinus Nijhoff who both, at different times, and in different languages, link poetry with the act of breathing air into the lungs.

Martinus Nijhoff - Poetry wants you to breathe in places that are alive and
...[one] feels, when reading or listening to prose, in the human world...but poetry does not give you that sensation of closeness to the human world. It hurtles you out into the universe.

In the small tree lined square by Saint Sulpice, the air is certainly alive – with the evening scents of trees and plants, as well as with the animated sounds of human exchange. After being ‘hurtled out into the universe’ from listening to poetry from different parts of the world, it is a pleasure to circulate among lovers of words, languages and books, to talk to people, to return to a sensation of closeness to the human world.

Morelle Smith

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