Françoise Hàn, Writer and Literary Critic,

 

Françoise Hàn, 24 rue Beaunier à Paris, 1979

 

 

in conversation with Rodica Draghincescu

 

 

 

 

Flight

 

Coolness

around me

the void

is my impetus

for the beyond

of limits

for the beyond

of vertigo

the universe

is not to be embraced

I am carried

arms outstretched

 

 

In Nous ne dormirons plus jamais au mitan du monde (We will never sleep again at the centre of the world) © éditions Saint-Germain-des-Prés 1987, p.96

 

 

 

 

(…) first we need a seed of insanity to get us out of conformism.

(FH)

 

 

 

 

 

 

RD: – Dear Françoise Hàn, issue 9 of Levure littéraire, of which you are the guest of honour, is dedicated to the destiny of the artist, to the path of the author, to the journey taken by any creator of major works, from their beginnings to when they become established. What does the word « destiny » represent for you?

 

FH: – Dear Rodica Draghincescu, thank you first of all for your invitation. It’s an honour for me.

The word « destiny » implies the idea, based on its primary meaning, of an external power governing the course of human life, an idea that is foreign to me. I am fully aware that current language uses the word to designate nothing more than the development of a life, but I really don’t like to talk about the « destiny » of the artist, or any other person.

 

RD: – So let’s call destiny « development. »

 

FH: – I would prefer to stick to development or journey.

 

RD: – Could destiny be a guide that helps us move forward in life or the very creator of the choices we make?

 

FH: – Neither of those.

 

RD: – Do you think that we have control over the personal avenues that lead us to our creative selves?

 

FH: – Many factors are involved: social circumstances, education, family, health, encounters, events of all kinds, currents of the era, etc., etc. Nothing of this is inevitable, it is up to us to orient ourselves, while leaving room from uncertainty.

 

RD: – Is the journey of an artist an act of courage or of language?

 

FH: – Either one, either one, according to the artist, and for each artist, according to the day.

 

RD: – They say that the evolution of an artist resembles, metaphorically, a little path in limbo that’s waiting somewhere for him or her. The path that goes to or toward always needs to be found… We would like to discuss with you about your journey as a woman of letters. How did you choose the winding path of literary creation?

 

FH: – I hesitate to call myself a woman of letters!

 

RD: – Why is that?

 

FH: – I have done many other things in my life, over 43 years I have performed for employers (private – I’ve never worked in the public service) tasks that have no relation to creation. I wrote in the moments that are customarily called « leisure. » It was after retiring that I was able to devote most of my time and what remained to me of energy to poetry, both to creation and criticism, and also to the social defence of writers. I can do this thanks to the pension which I paid into as long as I was employed, I don’t live from my royalties. If « woman of letters » means a « woman who makes a profession of writing, » as Le Petit Robert (dictionary) says, that is not my case.

 

 

Françoise Hàn in July 1929

 

 

As I was saying, no destiny imposed writing on me. There was no little path in limbo no more than a big wide highway. I think that the need to create exists in every human being and that it requires a certain will, in the prevalent social conditions, to permit it to be fulfilled. I’ve always had a passion for reading.

 

 

Françoise Hàn in July 1942

 

 

Very early, I wanted to learn to read. My grandfather, a retired teacher, had taken the position that it was not useful before I went to school. Around the age of four or five, I forced him to depart from his principle. I had a thirst for knowledge. The move from reading to writing was natural, but as a teenager, I dreamed of everything…

 

 

Françoise Hàn in September 1959

 

 

Françoise Hàn in July 1977

 

 

RD: – Such as, for example?

 

FH: – … in particular drawing, painting. No one around me could teach me anything but the basics. I had books, which I was given at Christmas, or on my birthday; the school had a lending library. At the age of 14, I spent a week in the summer with my grandparents, at the home of a brother of my grandfather, who had kept the books he read in his youth. I borrowed some and devoured them. At the time, I was already writing « poems, » if you could call them that, with which I delighted my family. In those books, I learned among other things the rules of classical versification, the existence of free verse and non-Euclidean geometry, which opened up my mind. A little later, I would have been happy to continue my studies, but it was the family that decided: I had to « earn my living. »

If I had a few other lives, it would take me at least

– one to learn to draw, paint and especially to engrave;

– one, not to make music, I have no talent for that, but to correct my abysmal ignorance on the subject;

– one to study Chinese, Chinese calligraphy and Chinese literature, both classical and contemporary;

– one for prehistory, particularly the Palaeolithic;

– one for astrophysics.

Lacking any likely prospect of having those other lives, I make the poem an instrument of research to attempt to clarify my relationship with the universe.

 

 

Festival franco-anglais de poésie, Vanves, June 12, 1989.

® Bernard Bardinet

 

 

RD: – In your answers, just as in your poems, you are direct, precise, you convey lucidity and strangeness, liberty and vertigo, strength and silence, serenity and emptiness. 

Your first book of poetry was published in 1956: Cité des hommes (Paris: Seghers).

Since then, about twenty collections, more limited editions and mural poetry collages.

 

 

 

 

The main titles in print published by Rougerie: Une fête, même au creux du sombre, 1997. With Cadex: Profondeur du champ de vol, with graphics by Rodolphe Perret, 1994 – L’évolution des paysages, with monotypes by Marie Alloy, 2000. With Jacques Brémond Éditeur: Cherchant à dire l’absence, 1994, 1996 – Lettre avec un fragment de bleu, 1996 – L’unité ou la déchirure, 1999 – Ne pensant à rien, 2002, with ink drawings by Jean-Michel Marchetti – Une feuille rouge, 2004, graphics by Jean-Michel Marchetti, limited edition – Un été sans fin, 2008 – Le double remonté du puits (2011).

 

 

At Étang des Gardes, Forêt de Hez (Oise), August 1993.

 

 

There are from one book to another, secrets, painful passages, which skirt faults and abysses. it is the pain of a world that crosses and divides paths and destinies, a pain that is born of (…) or that gives birth to (…). Your writing is rebelliously wise, genuine and enigmatic, violent in its scholarly gentleness, such as:

« a rope hung

under the moon

for

climbing or

hanging

 

each word

requires

a swallow of air

 

frost-stiffened

it designates

in the middle of the mosses

a sign

a circle of water

perfectly bare’

 

(Tourbière (Peat bog), Une fête, même au creux du sombre (A celebration, even in the depth of darkness) – Rougerie, 1997. – 61 p.)

 

 

Journées internationales de poésie, Rodez 1999.

With Alain Lambert, in Frugières.

 

 

How did you come to this writing that is half-testimony, half-incandescence aesthetic, between philosophical whispering and visionary wound

 

FH: – I leave you to evaluate my writing.

 

 

In Bordeaux, March 24, 2001. Photo Pavie Zygas.

 

 

RD: – How did you come to create it?

 

FH: – I created it and I strive to develop it (I know, I have tics, I’m repeating myself a bit) by reading a lot. A few of the poets I read the most: Henri Michaux, René Char, Laurent Gaspar, Claude Esteban, Marie-Claire Bancquart, Abdellatif Laâbi, Victor Segalen (I discovered him in 1950, with Stèles and Équipées), Blaise Cendrars, Ilarie Voronca, Gérard de Nerval.

 

RD: – And foreign poets?

 

FH: – Foreign poets, yes, in translation: Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan, Roberto Juarroz, Octavio Paz, Tomas Tranströmer (I didn’t wait for the Nobel Prize to read him), Vladimir Holan, Nazim Hikmet, José Carlos Becerra, Mahmoud Darwich, Adonis, the great Chinese poets of the Tang dynasty. I also read a lot of poets who are younger than me (I believe, I didn’t check their birth dates!), including: Michaël Gluck, André Velter, Jean-Baptiste Para, Lionel Bourg, Valérie Rouzeau, Antoine Emaz, Claude Adelen, Gérard Cartier, Zéno Bianu, Jong N. Woo, of Korean origin, Pierre Causse, with an astonishing book written at 16-17 years of age… The list is not exhaustive and could go on forever.

 

 

At Crest-Voland (Savoie) in July 2008. Photo Michel Dunand.

 

 

RD: – What place does the verb « need » have in your life as a poet? 

 

FH: – I’m not equipped to see if that verb appears often in my texts, I don’t think so…

 

RD: – You say in a poetic place: 

 

« You are the other, my different double, my slope beyond the watershed. I know you farther than the crest line I do not cross, than the thread of an expectation that defies erosion. But we are also from the same folding, for the same crystallized rock raised and fractured in the drift of continents. I cover with signs what separates us… »

(Nous ne dormirons plus jamais au mitan du monde), p. 18, © éditions Saint-Germain-des-Prés 1987

Which would be the most important expectations and signs that have marked your life in and with poetry?

 

FH: – I don’t live in the past and I have never kept a journal. I am very embarrassed about answering the question. To find what counted for me in poetry, you just have to read my poems.

 

RD: – « I know all the paths I have to take, » said Racine, while Kafka sowed doubt: « What we call path is our indecisiveness. » In your books, people, landscapes, thoughts and emotions go away and come back! You never follow the beaten paths. Your poetry boldly decides the question of the route without beating around the bush! Françoise Hàn, where do the voices and avenues of your pen intersect?

 

F H: – I very much share Kafka’s opinion. We have to think that in our glorious 17th century, if Racine said he did not know the paths he had to take, it would have been the end of the road for him with no way back. Probably, he didn’t dare say it to himself.

 

RD: – Do yours intersect?

 

FH: Do mine intersect? It seems to me rather that they fork, that they try many directions. I would like – I don’t always manage it – to not retrace my steps. In a passage from Equipée, Segalen refuses to take the same route back as when he went, to put « his feet in the same holes. » For me, that’s a principle of poetic art, and I would like to stick to it.

 

 

At Mont-Revard (Savoie) July 15, 1991. Photo Michel Dunand

 

 

RD: – Have you placed, along with existential parentheses, the need or the pleasure of writing at the centre of your life? There are many authors who say that poetry is their only fulfilled dream!

 

FH: – I would say rather « the unfulfilled dream, always being fulfilled, » if it was a dream. But saying that poetry is a dream would be to fall into one of those clichés I reject. Writing is a need and a pleasure. If, because of the contingencies of material life, I don’t write for a while, I feel the lack.

 

RD: – Why do people associate the poet with poverty and sorrow, with despair and solitude, with loss and abandonment? Are joy and happiness insoluble in poetry?

 

FH: – It has not always been this way, it must come from romanticism. Contemporary poets are not constantly languishing in sadness:

In struggle – happiness, distress –

we sometimes give birth to a true life

in habitable space

Lorand Gaspar (Derrière le dos de Dieu) (Behind God’s back)

 

not to mention that they often use irony, which I also do.

It seems anyway that all « people » are not of this opinion. I know some – I mean people who are not poets – who tell me that my poems to them good. I love having that role.

In fact, why associate despair and solitude?

 

RD: – Yes, exactly, why?

 

FH: – For me, solitude has a positive value.

 

RD: – For me too.

 

FH: – I’m not antisocial, what I told you earlier proves that, but I don’t consider the ant hill to be a model of the ideal life.

 

 

Journées internationales de poésie, Rodez 1999. With Diane Bouloc, in Frugières.

 

 

RD: – Let’s talk about poetry and science. Poetic pursuits and scholarly endeavours both seek to decipher the same thing: reality! What distinguishes them is the language used. Françoise Hàn, how do poetry and science, these two avenues of knowledge, come together in your writings?

 

FH: – There is more than a difference of language, even if we include in that term numbers, mathematical signs and equations. There are also experiments that, as a part of scientific research, prove or disprove theories. Astrophysics obviously cannot conduct experiments; it turns toward quantum mechanics for knowledge of the conditions that prevailed at the beginning of the universe. it should be noted that many astrophysicists are sensitive to poetry, some are even poets themselves. (One thinks immediately of Jean-Pierre Luminet, but he is not the only one).

Scientific discoveries give me a vision of reality, near or distant, and it is my relationship to that reality that emerges in my poems. I am not trying to popularize science in poetic language, which was the case with many writers, usually forgotten, in the 17th to the 19th centuries.

I cross out overly-specialized expressions that sometimes appear in my writings, but I keep non-intuitive concepts, for example, the idea of the void as a reservoir of latent energies.

 

 

In front of the MJC in Rodez, May 19, 2002

 

 

RD: – Do you know the concepts of Novpoèsie begun by George Orwell, who proposed a poetry using all registers and media, claiming to be a literary « happening »? Then, OULIPO with Jacques Roubaud, which apprehends the poetic geometry of the world through mathematics? Let l’qui Holism through transdisciplinarity (Jean Piaget, Edgar Morin, etc.) seeks to unite the individual and knowledge, to show that they are only a single entity and that that unity is expressed at different levels related to one another?

 

FH: – I’m not attached to those movements, but they are quite valid and open up new horizons.

 

RD: – Poetry is a latent science, but the poet is not a scientist! What can a great poet contribute to the world that surrounds her or him? A certain wisdom? A seed of insanity?

 

FH: – Wisdom certainly. In any case, that is what great poets bring me. First we need a seed of insanity to get us out of conformism.

 

RD: – Which poet has for you been your greatest literary love?

 

FH: – Over time, my crazes and my admirations have inevitably evolved. At the age of 13, the only poet that I had close at hand was Alfred de Musset, whom my mother had read in her adolescence. I knew pages and pages by heart. When I was around twenty, I was filled with admiration for Paul Valéry, for his « I can love passionately only one intelligence. » That lasted several years. I no longer admire his writing much, but I still like that phrase. Finally, in the early fifties, I discovered René Char, the Char of Fureur et Mystère (Fury and Mystery), of resistance to the enemy and fraternity. Also a very great love poet, the one who wrote

Each of us can receive

The share of another’s mystery

Without spreading its secret;

[ … ]

You have raised the summit

That must exceed my expectations

When tomorrow disappears.

                                                                  (A***)

 

Today, the greatest poet in French of the 20th century for me is Henri Michaux, although I don’t share his fundamental pessimism.

And then, we have to talk about Gérard de Nerval. One summer day in 1952, I was on vacation, I was reading the little book devoted to him in the collection « Poètes d’Aujourd’hui » (« Poets of Today ») from Éditions Pierre Seghers. I had the revelation of a fraternity. There’s nothing to explain, that’s the way it was.

 

RD: – Which book was and remains the symbol of your most beautiful youth rebellion?

 

FH: – I had many youths, since I went across many worlds: that of my childhood is entwined with the time before the Second World War, but it is apart, a billion light years away. The war and the Occupation weighed heavily on my early adolescence. The most beautiful day of my life will forever remain September 11, 1944, when French troops entered the village in Burgundy where my family had gone to escape the dreaded bombing of the city of Dijon. I had barely slept a wink all night; the wall of the room where I slept was next to the road and I was constantly hearing the trucks of the retreating German army. In the morning, finally, nothing more. At noon, a new noise was approaching. I cautiously opened the grid a crack and I saw advancing slowly tanks covered with flowers, surrounded by the people of the village: the army of Lattre de Tassigny.

I’m not telling you this to evade your question, but to show at the time, youthful rebellion had objectives other than those we think of today.

 

RD: – I can imagine…

 

FH: – Among my classmates at the business school in Dijon, several boys a little older than I was had gone into the Resistance or had joined the army after Liberation, and one of them was killed.

Dijon was a war episode in the life of my family; we returned to Paris, where I have always lived since. In the autumn of 1945, I began working as a typist. It wasn’t pleasant, but I endured it, I took refuge in books. Immediately after the war, there wasn’t the divide between generations that led to May 68.

 

RD: – And in May 68?

 

FH: – And in 1968, I was quite adult. Meanwhile, I had become conscious of many revolting things, but now we are getting away from your question. To get back to it, in one of my youths, I don’t really remember which one, I was impressed by The Human Condition by André Malraux. That’s all I can say about it, if I tried to recollect things, my memory would be making things up.

 

 

Marché de la Poésie, Paris, 1995. At the stand of Éditions Jacques Brémond. Photo ® Ambre Nolen

 

 

RD: – Françoise Hàn, you practise literary criticism, you express your views on other authors. You have also served on several national poetry juries. How does current poetry look to you?

 

FH: – One correction: I was part of the jury (it was the same for the three prizes) for Antonin Artaud, Claude Sernet and Ilarie Voronca, prizes, given at the Journées internationales de poésie in Rodez.

 

RD: – I know Rodez and its literary prizes. I have been invited there many times, etc.; unfortunately my friend Bernard Molinié told me that that’s all gone…

 

FH: – In 2008, the first two were cancelled and the Journées were reduced in size, for economic reasons. The Voronca prize continues, for the discovery of a manuscript. I had turned down being on the jury, because of fatigue due to my age. So I’m not on any juries anymore. The Voronca prize itself has just be declared abolished by the Poésie Rencontres 12 association, which organized it.

 

RD: – And your writings as a columnist?

 

FH: – I continue to do the poetry column in Lettres Françaises and I write a few reading notes for other magazines, in particular Europe.

 

RD: – You express yourself on current poetry… How is it doing?

 

 

Maison de la Poésie, Paris, May 16, 1989.

Patrick Desouches, musician – Cendre Chassane, actor,  Françoise Hàn

 

 

FH: – Contemporary poetry is very alive and varied. I don’t see schools becoming apparent. The French Language is being invigorated by « francophone » poets (an adjective which, in current usage, in spite of its etymology, does not include the French) and also by the French people who have no qualms about shaking up the maternal language, creating neologisms, assaulting the grammar. There are many poets published on paper, and we have to add those published on the Web.

 

RD: – E-books…

 

FH: – We would have to add electronic books, but I don’t know what portion of the stock available contains poems.

There is also electronic poetry, very specific and which requires that the creator have a good mastery of computers.

Of the major poets of the twentiethcentury, a few are still with us. The succession is assured, individually, I would say. There are definitely still teams around publishing projects, journals, but no big movement like the surrealists, where the distinctive personalities of writers and artists were in daily contact.

 

RD: – And poetry by women?

 

FH: – Today, in France, women poets have as many problems, but no more, with getting published as men, there’s no discrimination in that regard. Anthologies of « women’s poetry, » published under the pretext of remedying an injustice, are no longer needed. I have always opposed the practice, since it puts women poets into a ghetto. There is no women’s poetry and men’s poetry, there’s just poetry. And I’ll take the opportunity to say that I refuse to be called a « poetess. » That word for me conjures up images of ladies in the nineteenth century standing up in a salon to recite their verses.

 

 

Journées  internationales de poésie, Rodez, 1989. Françoise Hàn, on her right, Ralou Bécousse.

 

 

RD: – Has poetry become more sellable than in the past (have rapid industrialization, the economic crisis, the publishing market changed/polluted something?)?

 

FH: – I have no personal experience in business, but I would like to echo what the small publishers I know are saying: they are particularly victims of the economic crisis, of the closure of independent bookstores, the choices of public libraries of which some (not all!) don’t care about leading their readership to poetry – in short, they always have problems with distribution, but it’s getting worse. Poetry is sold more at book fairs, festivals and « poetry marketplaces » where they go in person.

I have to say that poetry books are a special case in literature: The vast majority of buyers are poets. From this point of view, they are more like scientific and technical books, but with less commercial potential since there’s no popularization of poetry. A prestigious prize such as the Apollinaire Prize certainly does not have the same effect on sales as the Goncourt Prize has on sales of novels. We can add that a lot of small poetry publishers are themselves poets, so we find ourselves in a closed circuit.

I consider, however, that the situation is much better than it was about sixty years ago, when the « poetry publisher » was the only one publishing beginning poets – and made them come up with subscriptions that the young author could manage only by paying out of his own pocket. When Rougerie started publishing, this can never be said enough, the climate started to change. Today, Éditions Rougerie is still active, and there are more and more small publishers, some have gone under, but others have been created. The same is true of magazines.

 

RD: – And the big publishers?

 

FH: – Some big publishers have quite a large poetry list, at least for names that are already established, which have to be rediscovered with each generation. There are several pocket collections: Poésie/Gallimard is close to its 500th title, Points is maintaining a poetry section, Orphée (éditions de La Différence) was revived in 2012 after being dormant for a few years. These collections (my apologies to those I haven’t mentioned) are not necessarily opened to beginning authors, but they are expanding the readership for poetry in general.

With few exceptions, which I wouldn’t know about, it is impossible to live from your royalties if you only publish poems. You have to have a second job, which is often very tiresome, but it forces the poet to move out of his own sphere, to get to know how other people live.

The association Union des poètes & Cie, created in September 2012, is concerned about the social role of poets. It calls itself the « Union of all those – wordaholics – who write, promote or defend unclassifiable texts. » uniondespoetes@yahoo.fr

 

RD: – Who are the youngest authors who have caught your attention?

 

FH: – I’ve talked to you about Pierre Causse. He had not yet graduated when, in 2009, he sent ne the manuscript of Funambule, mais le fil est barbelé (acrobat, but the wire is barbed), asking me for permission to use it as an epigraph a quotation from my Lettre avec un fragment de bleu. How could someone so young have such good quality of writing? I met him in Rodez, and our conversation confirmed the maturity of his mind. Jacques Brémond published the book in 2012. Pierre Causse since gave me another manuscript to read, very different from Funambule, but also remarkable. He is continuing his studies in theatre.

There have been others, giving sure signs that they have been marked by poetry, including those who have won the Ilarie Voronca prize. I am thinking, for example, of Marie-Céline Siffert, with Monsieur en extase sur la couverture (Gentleman in ecstasy on the cover) (2007), but I’ve had no direct contact with her. And there are certainly many others, but it hard to get to know them when they haven’t been published.

 

RD: – Could I ask you, please, to pose a question that you have never been asked and that you have always expected…

 

FH: – The question would be: Is poetry necessary for the survival of the human species?

And the answer: it is indispensable. It is through the poem that we transmit to future generations what there is that is authentically human in us. As we begin the twenty-first century, it is an imperative.

 

RD: – Thank you, dear Françoise Hàn, for taking part in this discussion!

 

 

 
Translation: Howard Scott (Montréal)
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

Bibliography:

First collection published in 1956: Cité des hommes, Seghers, Paris.

Since then, about twenty collections, more limited editions and mural poetry collages.

 

Main titles in bookstores:

with Rougerie, F 87330 Mortemart: A celebration, even in the //hollow of the dark, 1997.

with Cadex, F 34420 Portiragnes, cadex@cadex-editions.net: Profondeur du champ de vol, 1994 – L’évolution des paysages, 2000.

with Jacques Brémond Éditeur, F 30210 Remoulins, editions-jacques-bremond@wanadoo.fr: Cherchant à dire l’absence, 1994, 1996 – Lettre avec un fragment de bleu, 1996 – L’unité ou la déchirure, 1999 – Ne pensant à rien,2002 – Une feuille rouge, 2004, tirage limité – Un été sans fin, 2008 – Le double remonté du puits (2011).

with Le Silence qui roule, F 45650 St-Jean-le-Blanc, marie.alloy@orange.fr: N’était pas écrit, 2012.

 

See also:

Serge Brindeau La poésie contemporaine de langue française, Paris, 1973 – Poésie I, n° 135, 1987 – Robert Sabatier Histoire de la poésie française, XXe siècle, tome III, Paris 1988 – Fabio Doplicher Antologia Europea, Avezzano (Italie), 1991 – Katharina M. Wilson An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, New York & Londres, 1991 – Jean Orizet La poésie contemporaine de langue française, II, Paris, 1992 – Rüdiger Fischer La Fête de la Vie / Das Fest des Lebens, III,  Rimbach (Allemagne), 1993 – Michael Bishop Contemporary French Women Poets, vol. II, Amsterdam & Atlanta, 1995 et Women’s Poetry in France, 1965-1995, 1998, Winston- Salem, N.C. – Jean-Baptiste Para Anthologie de la poésie française du XXe siècle, tome II, (Poésie Gallimard) Paris 2000. John C. Stout L’énigme-poésie – Entretiens avec 21 poètes françaises, Amsterdam –

http://poezibao.com

http://francoise-han.ral-m.com

 

____________________________________________

 

Journalist : Rodica Draghincescu

http://www.draghincescu.com

 

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