Interview with Nicole Gdalia, Poet and Director of Éditions Caractères

 

 

(Tunisia-France)

 

 

 

 

Rodica Draghincescu: – Jorge Luis Borges said: « Time, which despoils castles, enriches verses. » A paradox of time, poetry is a phoenix of words and emotions, of winged void and philosophical vertigo. Nicole Gdalia, in the very beautiful poetry anthology Alphabet de l’éclat [alphabet of the fragment] (2005), you wrote:

 

Poetry

sings

crystal of our undivided inner knowledge

oracle

revelation against occultation to the broken words you are speech

in the spaces

you grant duration

to immemorial memory to the invisible

you attribute fullness

an anti multiple song

mountain and lake air and fire

all united

poetry

transmutation of silence.

 

Tell us, please, what is poetry for you? A place-space? A pass-word time? A surplus of memory?  A boundary between the three?

 

Nicole Gdalia: – For me, the poetry is first of all withdrawal from space and time, inner gaze. It is a meditative posture that disengages from the world to enter the essentiality of being. « She would prefer sparseness / sowing of herself »

After that, we perceive an expansion of the variable, indeed the cosmic, dimension, the source of the musicality of the world, of the expansion of the self accompanied by a feeling of truth, of essentiality. This is the inner eye, its space, its tempo.

« Poetry / sings / crystal of our undivided inner knowledge »

 

If we turn our gaze outwards, it is poetic, that is, creative: it perceives convergences, correspondences, echoes that go beyond the eye that sees. Seeing the infinite of the world expands us, lets us grasp its beauty.

 

That is what it means to be a poet, to see beyond, between, above, underneath… establish correlations, resonances, synesthesias, echoes…

 

 

RD: – In a materialist, militaristic and media-driven century, which advocates the primacy of armies and wars of all kinds, « Will poetry save the world? » – wondered Jean-Pierre Siméon. Does the world seem to be going down the drain? In spite of the conflicts and the racist, murderous acts of these recent years, why does poetry (the most ancient literary genre of humanity) still remain alive, young, upright and still useful?

 

       Nicole Gdalia, writing in her home.

 

NG: – Yes, the world is « full of sound and fury » as Shakespeare wrote, and nothing has changed. Perhaps, yes, the clear will of evil, the destruction of certain humans considered to be a path of good is the specific sign of our present.

 

In the hardest, most barbaric times of the 20th century, I am thinking of the Nazi camps, humans, to find their souls again, to escape, wrote or recited poetry in the most difficult conditions.

 

Poetry as the expression of the « soul, » an out-dated word, but one that expresses being as opposed to having, poetry becomes the song of man, of the human, to bring light to the darkness.

I wrote:

 

« Because the voice of the poet

takes his body in the cry

when are gathered mixed

overlapped and amplified

the stench of a world

in madness (…)

Alone in the exile of the night

rises

to infinity

the irreplaceable cry of the

poet »

 

(Monodie, 1997)

 

Therefore the poet says no. He denounces but also announces.

What he announces is another side, an alternative in human relationships, the poet conveys fraternity, harmony.

 

RD: – When do your first strokes in poetry date from? Who supported you on this initiatory course?

 

NG: – I wrote very young. I don’t know if it was poetry, but it was expressions of my being in the world; a visible world, an inner world that I was trying to put into words.

 

I loved to read a lot and I read aloud very well. My teachers encouraged me in my expression, the visibility of my sensibility and my imagination. I tried various literary forms: poetry, narration, theatre, and even journalism. I was 17 years old when one of my articles was published in the newspaper. It was about Truffaut’s film « Les Tricheurs » [Young Sinners].

 

RD: – Do the titles of your works reflect that: (Racines, [roots] Les chemins du nom [the paths of the name] etc.)?

 

NG: – The titles of my works are the expression of an « initiatory path » that I have followed. We are always « on the way. »

 

RD: – I would venture to observe that your writing is done with the « creative needle, » sinuously tracing little scratches on the bare heart, as if to test it for future struggles… A hollow-painful style, sometimes starry, serene and calm, sometimes stormy and tumultuous. Words as high as waves of water, words as biting as storms of stone and sand…, words as short as sigh-memories. Words quite simply to live/survive. It all reveals the sensory, emotional, reflexive aspect, as well as the refined, fantastic rage of your person. From poem to poem, a rational perspective, like freedom torn from a cerebral cosmos. Your poetry is not just literature but rather life, identity or ubiquity of things.  And lyrical power. I would like to know, for the readers of Levure littéraire, what were be your first formative readings and experiences, your major influences, your intimately poetic experiences, in which you were able to recognize yourself, at the time of your authorial beginnings?

 

NG: – My writing is a personal quest. I am certainly not trying to place myself in « the school of… » I am no one’s disciple. I have always fiercely listen to my own voice, tracing my own path, without concern for any kind of celebrity… words are an initiatory tool, a path of life, an act of life.

 

RD: – In 2005, with the Éditions Caractères publishing house, you published that beautiful personal anthology, Alphabet de l’Éclat (1975-2005), which we already talked about at the beginning. That volume contained eight collections, from Racines in 1975 to the last one in 2005, which gives its title to the whole volume. This anthology is illustrated in black and white by several contemporary artists. Your whole life as a poet is in there, starting with your Tunisian roots to your great love and French life with the Polish poet Bruno Durocher. Why Alphabet de l’éclat? It’s a mysterious title… What fragment are you talking about? And how can we obtain it in poetry? From a bit of life? From a piece of material? From a noise? The quality of a bright colour?

 

NG: – Yes, it is a course of life that is existential, but also essential. What I mean by is that is a spiritual course.

The title is, in fact, a little esoteric.

 

RD: – Please explain it to us, if that’s possible.…

 

NG: – I’ll try to explain: words take their power from their meanings, but also from their sonorities, from the combination of certain letters. In ancient languages, and particularly Hebrew, which unfortunately I don’t know well, the letters of the alphabet have a performative power, through their pronunciation they can change the material world. My alphabet is the one that carries or at least that would like to carry the highest Fragment. The Fragment of the Supreme.

 

RD: – And the colours in and of your books…

 

NG: – The artists have always been with me. And they are there too like the echo of a visual, plastic resonance.

Beyond that anthology, I have published other books like « thirteen beats of uncertain breath, » which is accompanied by an original musical score by Irakly Avaliani and original ink drawings by Masha Schmidt.

 

Another book Conversation avec les oiseaux [conversation with birds] is accompanied by Claude Raimbourg.

 

RD: – Is the poet a separate individual or a particularly necessary individual?

 

NG: – The poet is separate because solitude is necessary for him or her to perceive, to say.

The poet is a kind of transmitter of a higher reality, another reality, and in that the poet is exceptionally necessary. The poet is a bringer of tidings through the most acute perception.

 

RD: – Pablo Neruda defined poetry as rebellion. Victor Hugo called the poet « The mouth that says no! » How do you define the poet of our time?

 

NG: – Yes, the poet says « No. » The poet has to continue to say « No! » to the waste of human skills, No to the deterioration of nature… No to the insolence of men in this present that is our world.

 

RD: – Do you combine your poetry writing and your citizenship?

 

NG: – Yes, of course, as a « creature in the world, » I am involved in society, committed to the party of the Human in all its richness and its potential artistic productions, I am for a holistic vision of the world.

 

RD: – In your poetry, more than elsewhere, the philosopher no longer has to educate the poet, he recognizes his territory, his sphere of distinction, he identifies with his affective thought. Dear Nicole Gdalia, would you to reveal to us something about your relationship with the act of writing, with the time of writing and its practice? Can we speak of a creator’s laboratory in your case?

 

NG: – Yes, the philosopher as « friend of wisdom, » according to the etymology of the word, is naturally present in my poetry. Because what is the life of a man, that is, of a creative creature if it is not accompanied by wisdom, friendship for it, the quest for closeness with fellow humans. Yes, I love your expression creator’s laboratory.

 

RD: – Nicole Gdalia, which are the linguistic and semantic recipients you use most often? 

 

NG: – You speak of « linguistic and semantic recipients. »

 

RD: – I am a linguist by profession.

 

NG: – You know, I also taught linguistics in university. It’s a tool that can help us understand the functioning of language; but poetry precisely, breaks with the discourse of objective, utilitarian communication, transcends it, that is, cuts through it upwardly to go toward the irrational spheres of image, sounds, correspondences, Rimbaldien synesthesias.

 

I am always searching for the right word to express a feeling, a profound and often fleeting perception.

 

« Gather flights of fancy/ model them into words / arise them in words /

echo memories »

 

(Les chemins du nom, 1977)

 

       Nicole Gdalia in Paris (éditions Caractères)

 

RD: – Your husband, the poet and publisher Bruno Durocher lived for six years in the Nazi death camps. He adopted the French language to continue to write, and he founded the journal Caractères, then in 1950 the publishing house Éditions Caractères. Two lives for the immortal life of poetry. Love as a couple, combined in poetry. You write somewhere in the anthology:

 

They took you at the beautiful age / hunted/ imprisoned in their nets / the black knights (« Shoah 1, » p.95)

 

I was born with you /born from you /without adornment /nor make-up /emerging whole / I lived true /for the first time /without patched rags /beautiful brand-new dress / colour of flamboyant (p.119)

 

       Bruno Durocher in front of Caractères (Paris)

 

NG: – Yes, our meeting really belonged to what André Breton called in L’Amour fou [Mad Love] « objective chance. » I recount in a film by Polish director Jerzy Tuschewski all the coincidences, the intersecting of coincidences that presided over our meeting. Loss of an earring found and picked up by him in the street; heedless search for the owner… A little like Cinderella’s shoe…

 

Yes, Bruno Durocher recognized me in all my dimensions, intellectual, poetic, spiritual, artistic, and permitted me to be myself, to grow in the soil that suited me.

Caractères has always been a calling in the service of the poetry and art has been the fruit of our collaboration.

 

                              Bruno Durocher in Caractères (Paris)

 

RD: – How can one revive poetic words and make them react, after knowing the horrors of the death camps? What did poetry represent for Bruno Durocher? How did he see it in the world after Auschwitz? It’s almost something unthinkable, forbidden by philosophy…

 

NG: – You borrow Adorno’s expression, however… Yes, Bruno Durocher was « taken at the beautiful age. » He had just turned twenty. Often he said to me: « at the age when people are learning to live, I was in the death camps…. »

 

       Nicole Gdalia and Bruno Durocher in Caractères (Paris)

 

RD: – There aren’t many words to describe the worst kind of hell!

 

NG: – But poetic activity saved him. Against inhumanity, degradation, the prisoners recited poems, wrote poems as best they could on paper they found or stole. That’s most certainly what saved him. That was their resistance. The man they called « the Rimbaud of Polish poetry, » because by the age of 17 he had already published two flashy books and had written a third one that would be lost and rewritten later, was already a poet in his speech and his existential choices. His novel Le Livre de l’homme [the book of the man] talks about that.

 

RD: – Nicole Gdalia, you have taken on, with conviction and with hope, Éditions Caractères and you have given the publishing house the look of an international family. While other French publishers are afraid to open up to foreigners, you have focused on the poetry of humanity and the melodies of languages and cultures. You are a true ambassador of universal poets. I congratulate you! Your publishing program permits you to travel the world. How does the publisher Nicole Gdalia see the world of poetry today? In disarray? In decline? Rapidly changing?

 

 

       Nicole Gdalia with Gao Xingjian, Marie Cellier, president of the Société des Gens de Lettres [writers society] and Anny Romand, actress

 

NG: – Yes, in the whole world there are poets and it has always seemed indispensable for us to hear them, to make them known. There is a global fraternity of poets. Current poetry is changing form a little because it is being externalized with Slam, with performances. As such, it is consistent with the trend of everything « objective » everything visual in our society. I think that will peter out in favour of a more profound authenticity, a return to prolegomena.

 

RD: – Can a poetry publisher still have something important to say in the book world? How is a publishing house such as yours, which is shaking up routines, able to operate and develop… and without allowing itself to be bought up by the big publishers?

 

                              Nicole Gdalia and Bruno Durocher in Caractères (Paris)

 

NG: – Publishing poetry is almost a calling. It is resistance to the world of the market. I work as an unpaid volunteer and the commercial return unfortunately is very low because books of poetry sell very poorly, even at readings and events.

Poetry is outside the commercial channels. People say that I am an elitist publisher because I only care about the quality of the text; indeed, without being elitist, I strive for quality as a good for everyone, that belongs to everyone.

 

RD: – As a poet and publisher, you work with words, and for words. What are the key words of your life? And how do you bring them to life?

 

NG: – The key words of a life, of my life are: love, clarity, intelligence of the heart, fraternity, truth, betterment of the world in which we live. Éditions Caractères creates dialogue between cultures in order to make things better for everyone.

 

RD: – Of all the collections of your publishing house, which are often bilingual, which one is most representative of your editorial line? And for what reason, please?

 

NG: – They are all representative. They’re like the branches of a tree.

The « Caractères » collection concerns the French language. The « Planètes » collection, foreign languages. That collection is bilingual and has grown substantially in terms of titles and languages. And I am particularly happy when I can expand the range of languages. That catalogue depends on the translators we can find for less common languages such as Pashto, Malayalam and various African languages. I’ve had an African poet rewrite his poetry in Wolof.

 

RD: – Nicole Gdalia, you also work with visual artists for the life of ideas in poetry. To think about poetry, feel it, represent it. To illustrate the sounds of emotions. To create a relationship between the text and the image of the shared imaginary… Does an illustrated book sell better than a « plain » book? Does colour arouse extra curiosity and pleasure in the reader?

 

NG: – It’s not a commercial pursuit. The work with the artists is related to a deep conviction that poetry (words) and art (visual art), but also music… go hand in hand.

Our books are in many voices.

 

I created an « Arts en résonance » collection that combines a poet, a painter, a musician working together for a single book in which we include a musical score and sometimes a CD. We bring together various artistic forms.

 

We also organize exhibitions in our Librairie-Galerie (gallery bookstore) that are often accompanied by poetry readings and musical recitals.

 

RD: – Male authors/female authors in current poetry. Éditions Caractères gives equal space to all poets and writers. Is it correct to say that the programs of other publishers forget women a bit? I recently read an article in Libération on the subject: (the machismo of certain publishers and of the people who write academic programs).

 

NG: – Personally I receive a text by a man or a woman with the same interest. Quality is the most important thing in all cases.

 

I will soon be publishing a dramatic poem that is the monologue of a woman with her alter ego, the man, with music and scenography… There will be 3 printed versions because it inspired three different artists.

 

RD: – Since you are the special guest of Levure littéraire no. 13, the theme of which is: To Be or to Form an integral part of the WHOLE, a theme that fits you like a glove. How would you answer that question?

 

NG: – Yes, that theme fits me very well. Indeed we are part of a Whole. I wrote this poem already a long time ago:

 

« Animal of the earth / I join my families / rock plant bird / for the initiatory journey / of the unequivocal finding » (Les chemins du Nom).

 

The purpose of a life is to give the maximum expansion, positive influence, integration with a whole universe of which we are only a speck, as a justification for that gift that has been given to us to « live. »

 

RD: – Would you like to conclude this conversation with an obvious poem by an author you’ve published?

 

NG:Rays

 

Everything is fan

Brother: open your arms

God is the point

 

       Federico Garcia Lorca, Suite des miroirs [Mirror Suite]  (Éditions Caractères, 1951)

 

       Nicole Gdalia and Gao Xingijan, Editions Caractères, Paris 2016
 

And recently, by Gao Xingjian, 2000 Nobel Prize winner, whose complete poetry I’ve recently published, a brief poem:

 

Thought

 

The thought

flames in the fire

dies down in the water

floats in the clouds

is listened to in the heart

 

(Esprit errant pensée méditative [wandering spirit meditative thought], 2016)

 

                                                                             Painting by Gao Xingjian

 

 

 
Translation: Howard Scott (Montréal, Canada)

 

Journaliste: Rodica Draghincescu (France)

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

BIOBLIOGRAPHY:

 

Born in Tunisia, Nicole Gdalia, after studies at the Sorbonne, became a journalist, poet and sculptor. A graduate in literature, with a doctorate in the sciences of art  and religions, a researcher at the CNRS, she has taught at the New Sorbonne and at the École pratique des hautes études [school of higher learning] (5th section). She holds the first UNESCO/CNRS chair for intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

 

The widow of Bruno Durocher, she has run since his death (1996) Éditions Caractères.

Nicole Gdalia has taken over and directed marvellously well the cultural engagement of this publishing house. In 2017, Éditions Caractères will celebrate its 67th anniversary. Long life!

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