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Rendezvous

Poets in France herald in the spring

Audio 21:09
Wing Tat Shek

For the 13th year, the nationwide Printemps des poètes (Springtime of the poets) festival is a daily reminder that while you can live without poetry, life is a whole lot finer with it.

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Founded in 1999, the two-week long festival remains true to its spirit: get poetry back on the public scene and make it accessible to everyone via public readings and events in the most unexpected of places, from metro stations to schools. Some 12,000 events are scheduled across the country.

The theme of this year’s festival is infinite landscapes and Rendezvous heard from three very different poets taking part.

Scottish-born poet and writer Kenneth White pioneered the “geopoetics” movement, building a contact between the human mind and the universe. It all began when, aged 14, he had a shamanic-type experience on the moors of the west coast of Scotland.

Among his many published works including travel books and essays is the tellingly titled Open World: collected poems from the last forty years. It’s about having a mind “open to other cultures, to other civilisations, and also to the non-human world”, he says. When you open up this new space of life he adds “it enables you to breath more and expand your existence”.

Poetry may not directly change the world, but White shows us it can and should change the way we see it.

Syrian born Maram Al-Masri explores more personal themes in her work, inspired by her own experience as an Arab woman living in France. “Democracy begins in the bedroom,” she says.

Her award-winning collection A red cherry on a white-tiled floor has been translated from the original Arabic into 10 languages. The lyrical but direct way it expresses women’s pain and pleasure created a storm in the Arab world. For Al-Masri, poetry is about making an imperfect, sometimes unjust and violent world more beautiful and bearable.

And if we needed reminding that poetry’s roots are above all oral, train driver Pascal Mancel, alias Foksapass, gives us an insight into slam, as he gathers material and rehearses his verse driving line 10 of the Paris Metro.

Strongly urban, and often seen along with rap as the voice of lost youth in troubled suburbs, slammers now come from every walk of life, he says. Teenagers, students, lawyers, blue-collar workers: anyone can have a go, you just have to love words.

Printemps des poètes runs through to 21 March 2011

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