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This Saturday my poem 'My Father's Wardrobe' from Fauverie was featured as The Saturday Poem in the Guardian. This poem grew from my admiration of Peter Redgrove's exuberant poem 'Wardrobe-Lady'. I wanted to write my own version of a person conjured through surreal clothes, to portray my elusive father who I only got to know in the last two years of his life.
My poem draws on scraps of information I managed to elicit from my father and from writings by my mentally ill mother about their brief lives together in Paris in the early 50s. It appears he was quite a playboy. After his death I found that one of the places he'd resided when he was older was the Argonautes Hotel in the rue de la Huchette, frequenting the jazz cellars there, and then in the Hotel Notre-Dame, overlooked by gargoyles. In his youth he'd boarded in a pension in St-Germain-des-Prés, where Django Reinhardt was a neighbour.
"He wears a cathedral cloak with chimera eyes". The uni-horned goat chimera overlooking the quartier latin and Hotel Notre-Dame
"A carousel turns silently between his knees / and in it a boy is singing on a lacquered foal". The century old hand-cranked carousel in the Champ de Mars.
The devil chimera from Notre-Dame's south tower, overlooking his quartier
"One tie is an escalator, another a fountain / with Saint-Michel fighting Satan". My father was called Michel.
Carol Rumens has kindly selected my poem 'Caracal' for her fabulous Poem of the Week series in the Guardian:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/29/poem-of-the-week-caracal-by-pascale-petit The poem is from my new collection Fauverie which is set in Paris. At the core of the book is the Fauverie or big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes Ménagerie. 'Caracal' feaures Black Ears the male caracal or desert lynx who is a resident there. When I wrote the poem he had a mate Anatolia but she wasn't there this summer and I was sad to hear that she'd died of cancer. He was on his own, looking quite lost, as they used to constantly play with each other, leaping into the air and pouncing on each other.
I wrote the poem after a momentous day: I'd finally got up the courage to visit my father's grave in Thiais cemetery on the outskirts of Paris. I remembered the place as an icy city of the dead, as the burial had taken place ealy one morning in late autumn, on a day when fog was thick as embalming fluid, and the cortege to pick me up from the morgue was late because of a fog-caused accident on the périphérique.
So it was a surprise to find that the corner of the cemetery where he lay was ringed by tall chestnut trees and filled with birdsong. A goshawk's cries echoed from tree to tree. I stayed there the whole day. It took ages to actually locate and be sure of his grave because it was unmarked. That in itself was a shock. I couldn't remember that I hadn't organised a headstone. It was fourteen years since I'd arranged his burial. I don't think I'd understood exactly what the documents meant and had somehow imagined that the funeral costs included that, those days and nights that I'd struggled with the business of death in France and in French legalese. I'd never buried someone before.
After the burial I'd gone to the Ménagerie, but that was before they expanded the cages and housed smaller species such as caracals. There was Maurice the lion then, pumas, jaguars, on straw, behind bars. I don't remember writing the poem much, just that I wanted to commemorate my return to Thiais, that it was a sunny magical place in May, not the grey ice-fog memory that had kept me away for so long. I went hunting over the paths around the vast geometrical maze of rented plots for bits and pieces that I could plant in my father's grave, so that next time I would find it. It was obsessive, this collecting of discarded treasures, I felt like a bower bird. I came across the tip of a porcelain white wing and decided it was from an angel at the time, though afterwards I thought it must have been from a dove. I planted some flowers and scratched his initials on wood.
I don't have much idea why the caracal is connected to my father in the poem, except that his fur looks just like the sandy soil of the grave, and that started the poem, also that I'd just seen Black Ears doing a somersault. My father, during his thirty-five years' disappearance, had lived for a few years in Algeria and they have caracals there. Perhaps that was it. I recorded the goshawk cries on my iPhone so I could check that it was a goshawk later.
Fauverie – my sixth collection – is now available to pre-order from Amazon and will be published on 2 September by Seren.
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781721688
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Fauverie-Pascale-Petit/dp/1781721688/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404979933&sr=1-1&keywords=fauverie
Here is the front cover, featuring Aramis the black jaguar, designed and painted by Dragana Nikolic, and a starry sky back cover.
The book is a follow-up to my second collection The Zoo Father.
Here are sample poems http://pascalepetit.blogspot.co.uk/p/fauverie.html
"The Fauverie of this book is the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes
zoo. But the word also evokes the Fauves, 'primitive' painters who used
raw colour straight from the tube. Like The Zoo Father, Petit's
acclaimed second collection, this volume has childhood trauma and a
dying father at its heart, while Paris takes centre stage – a city
savage as the Amazon, haunted by Aramis the black jaguar and a menagerie
of wild animals. Transforming childhood horrors to ultimately mourn a
lost parent, Fauverie redeems the darker forces of human nature while
celebrating the ferocity and grace of endangered species."
For two sessions during my Poetry and Serious Play course at Tate Modern we're working with Bill Viola's video installation Tiny Deaths in the Poetry and Dream wing. This piece is exhibited on the occasion of the opening of his permanent commission Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in St Paul's Cathedral. Here he's interviewed about that commission.
Tiny Deaths is scary. You go into a dark room, you can't see where you're walking, then gradually shadows emerge from three vast screens around you, then one suddenly approaches in a flash of light and explodes back into the dark. I worried that the group might have found this too uncomfortable, but it left them thoughtful and inspired. I brought in poems by Tomas Transtromer, such as 'Prelude', 'Secrets on the Way' and 'Allegro', also about crossing from one threshold to another, as the people seem to do in Tiny Deaths, and I think it helped.
Everyone picked three random lines from Transtromer's poems (from a hat) to incorporate in a poem responding to Viola's art. They could use these as quotes or change them to make them their own, or write a poem after Transtromer.
Next Monday I have asked them to bring the resulting poems to use in a secret exercise – I won't disclose what that will be until then, but all the senses will be used, as they are in the Tiny Deaths room, with its smell of burning charcoal. Then I'm going to share one of my own poems about crossing a threshold – 'What the Water Gave Me (VI)' which has Frida Kahlo in her bath but also at the moment of her death and cremation, and discuss how I wrote it avoiding a literal interpretation of the painting it's based on. We'll finish our Bill Viola fortnight with readings from the two sessions.
It was strange to move to Bill Viola after two weeks in the happy Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition. We had fun with those, played games and made the most of Matisse's summer colours and jazzy titles, which are poems in themselves. If you've visited the exhibition you'll know how crowded it is so imagine us having it to ourselves – for three weeks! We'll end the course there as well, so will return to the astounding creativity and jouissance from a disabled eighty-year-old artist!
This is the painting Water Spirit by the celebrated indigenous Canadian painter Norval Morrisseau. On my course at Ty Newydd this 14-19th July, my co-tutor Armand Ruffo, an Ojibway
Nation Canadian poet, will give a slide talk about him. I've long loved this painting of water as feral force.
Ty Newydd is a hideaway writing centre that has sloping gardens with vistas onto the sea, sky and Black Mountains. I'm scared of the sea. Last week I taught a course at Chateau Ventenac in the Languedoc, and on our day off we went walking along the deserted Narbonne Plage. It was a windy day and the normally calm Med looked more like the Atlantic. It was just like this monster!
For our course, Developing Personal Myths
we'll draw on a rich store of traditional Canadian and Amazonian indigenous
myths, to write poems or prose pieces that
transform the raw material of our lives into personal mythology. I've researched Amazonian myths for a few decades now, after I twice travelled in the Venezuelan Amazon in the early 90's.
I'm reading The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman at the moment and it is very enlightening to read how Davi Kopenawa perceives his environment and the spiritual powers of all living beings in the forest, as well as his impressions on visiting Paris and New York.
Here are more Morrisseau paintings, can't wait to hear Armand's slide talk!
Merman, Ruler of Water
Fox and Fish
Sacred Caribou with Spirit Man
This is the cover for Fauverie my sixth collection, due out from Seren in September 2014. The design is by Dragana Nikolic, who painted the cover and illustrations for my Serbian edition of The Zoo Father. Here is a draft of the jacket description:
The Fauverie of this book is the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo. But the word also evokes the Fauves, 'primitive' painters who used raw colour straight from the tube. Like The Zoo Father, Petit's acclaimed second collection, this volume has childhood trauma and a dying father at its heart, while Paris takes centre stage – a city savage as the Amazon, haunted by Aramis the black jaguar and a menagerie of wild animals. Transforming childhood horrors to ultimately mourn a lost parent, Fauverie redeems the darker forces of human nature while celebrating the ferocity and grace of endangered species.
"Our winner was chosen because of the un-reproducible bite of the images, her brilliant understanding of human psycho-drama, the sustained accomplishment of her metaphorical imagination." Adam O'Riordan, Chair of judges, Manchester Poetry Prize
Launch readings so far include:
Wymondham Words Festival, Norfolk, Friday evening 19 September 2014
Kings Lynn Poetry Festival, 26 - 28 September 2014
Cheltenham Literature Festival, 4pm Tuesday 7 October 2014
Manchester Literature Festival, Living Worlds Gallery at Museum, Wednesday evening 8 October 2014
Resurgence Festival of Wellbeing Bishopsgate, London, Saturday 11 October 2014
London launch at Yorkshire Grey pub, Chancery Lane, Thursday 16 October 2014
First Thursdays at Chapter Arts, Cardiff, Thursday 6 November, 2014
Dromineer Literary Festival, Tipperary, Ireland, Saturday 3 October, 2015
(More to follow)