Three libertarian poets: Prévert, Vian, Desnos
It was the first time I ever heard poetry in a theatre. An accordionist and a cellist were on stage too, playing after a succession of poems was finished. I didn’t know accordion could be so beautiful and match so perfectly with cello. But I’m really ignorant as far as classical music is concerned.
These poets were all part of or close to the surrealist movement. The selected poems were eclectic, but war was a recurring theme, as they were written in the first half of the 20th century. I can’t talk about the 30 poems Jean-Louis Trintignant has recited for us, it would be too long. I selected a poem from Boris Vian, which touched me particularly. I couldn’t find a translation, so I wrote it. I left the French text for the Francophone readers and for the Anglophones who can read French.
Explaining why a poem reaches something in me is not easy. The words are simple, scarce and yet the images are vivid. He is alive for the love of simple things. There is a lingering sadness behind the words, like in a painting by Edward Hopper.
The following poem from Robert Desnos was written in a concentration camp, before he died. It was written for his wife Youki.
This short poem is poignant because we know he died shortly after. He also tells in veiled terms how he is affected by his detention. He has become a shadow, and the images of his wife he mentally called to resist are worn out. They don’t work any more. His body is a shadow but so is his mind. The concentration camp is a dark country and his wife lives in the sun, where he hopes to go back. Impressive.
Jacques Prévert is impossible to translate. There are too many play-on-words and witty use of the French language to satisfactorily translate him.
The surrealist poets are among my favourite. I wish some poems from Paul Eluard, whom I really like, had been included in the show.
Jean-Louis Trintignant has a soft voice. He is ageing now – he will turn 80 in December – but his voice is that of a young man. His body is a traitor, as he seemed to struggle to stand up, needing the help of his musicians to take a bow. But he gave life to these poems, including rhythm, breathes, pauses and irony when needed.
It was a pleasure and an honour to see him.