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Interview of Bernard Perroy by Vatsala Radhakeesoon

Translated from French
Bernard Perroy
French poetry is often characterized by lovely metaphors and vivid imagery. Bernard Perroy is a popular contemporary poet .He has authored 15 poetry books and his works are regularly published in various literary journals and magazines. He is also a religious brother linked to the Catholic Church and is thus involved actively in helping and guiding people of his community. Here goes an enriching conversation with a humble and inspirational poet from one of the most beautiful European countries, that is, France.

Vatsala Radhakeesoon:  Please tell us about your early life, background and actual life?

Bernard Perroy:
I am a child of oceans and rivers. I was born at Nantes in 1960.Nantes is a town located near Atlantic and Loire estuary. The St Anne region where I spent most of my childhood and adolescence can be considered as a “village” within a town overhanging the harbour close to Jules Verne museum.
I come from a close knitted family blessed with love. My father is a doctor and my mother is fond of Literature, Art and Music. So I grew up with all this richness and this permanent quest that they still pursue. After studying philosophy, Medicine and Physiotherapy I worked as a physiotherapist for three years. I also had a very active and busy social life that included playing the piano at bars, poetry writing, making new friends and the usual trends of city life.
Then , in October 1988 everything changed. I was introduced by a friend to the religious Catholic group La Communauté Catholique des Béatitudes. During the Vespers celebration, I underwent a conversion. I felt the strong love of Jesus for me. In 1994 , I took the final  firm  vows to become a devoted spiritual brother. Therefore, since 1988 I devote my life both to spirituality and to poetry.

Vatsala : What has been the driving force compelling you to start writing poems?

Firstly, my family background. Then, at primary school we had a teacher who asked us to listen to music and afterwards, write down our views or artistic appreciation. He loved to read aloud what I wrote and he made me adore poetry
through his guided writing techniques such as starting each stanza with
“If I were… I…” So, in this way I was introduced or initiated to poetry.
I also loved reading and re-reading the prescribed textbooks such as Lagarde et Michard ( Editions Bordas ) that made me discover the poetry of Rimbaud, Apollinaire and Baudelaire. This was followed by three turning points in my life.
Firstly, when I was between 16 to 17 years old, my friend Serge Nouailhat (actually painter and master glass artist) lent me the book
“La Vie Immédiate” by Paul Eluard and I instantly loved it. Secondly, a few years later, another friend called Thierry Duval lent me “Le Cornet à Dés” by Max Jacob. This also enhanced my love for poetry. Furthermore, I went on reading the works of  Schehadé, Michaux, Bonnefoy, Jaccottett and Joe Bosquet.
Thirdly , when in  1983, I joined the Compulsory Army Duties for one year I came across the poetry books by René Char and as soon as I had finished reading them  my inner voice firmly told me that I will be a poet for my whole lifetime.
It is important to note the strong link between reading and writing. Through reading we undergo a poetic experience that leads us to our own poetry-writing.
We never write with an ignorant mind that has no knowledge of poetry.
We carry with us the legacy left by other poets’ works and they act as motivators for our own writings.

Vatsala : Generally, what are your sources of inspiration?

When I read poetry, there is often a driving force element. It can be simply a word, an image or a sound and this compels me to write without really knowing where this will lead me to. Then, words flow, expressions flow, one word seems to call another, creating a theme or a vision in my mind that propels me to write about it genuinely without over-thinking. The final poem has nothing to do with the   initial source of inspiration.  I often let a poem rest for a while and read it again after a long time. Then, I correct, simplify, elaborate or discard it.
Besides reading, inspiration also comes from life experiences such as joys, sorrows, desires, questions asked and acts performed on a daily basis.
Here, I would like to quote my poet friend and Benedictine brother, Gilles Baudry who states “My inspiration comes from the extraordinariness of daily life.”

Vatsala: Is there any particular theme that you like to bring forth in your poems and draw the readers’ attention?

There are many themes that I write about.  My poems deal with the themes of life, death, time, love. I write about the light, the sea, the river, the beating of hearts, the sky, the earth, a face, a smile. Generally, it is an attempt to express the invisible by the visible such as the interior landscape like emotions or views of the human mind or heart explained through the exterior natural landscape.  I always   write about the experiences brought by life with an openness and hopeful attitude. I avoid writing directly about my faith and I’m cautious about all forms or Arts that impose or preach rigid religious or political views at the expense of poetic style and depth. Primarily, it’s all about writing poetry and not about propagating a religious or preachy literature. My poetry mostly intends to speak to people from all walks of life.

Vatsala : Who are your favourite authors/poets and which literary movements have an influence on your writings?

 I like various types of poets coming from different backgrounds and having unique perceptions, styles and poetic aims. Some of them are Gilles Baudry, poets from L’école De Rochefort group such as René Guy , Cadou, Serge Wellens and others. I also like the Christian poets such as Gérard Bocholier ,Gérard Pfister , Jean Pierre Lemaire and Anne Perrier.I also love the works of Mediterranean poets such as  Abdellatif  Laabi, Salah Stétié, Salah Al Hamdani andMahmoud Darwich.

Through all those poets we can clearly notice that the poet is far from being simply the dreamer, lost in thoughts. A poet is, in fact, a very sensible person, fully aware of his/her surroundings and the world. He /she is down to earth.

Vatsala :  In his poem La Fonction du Poète (The Poet’s Function),  the great author  Victor Hugo has brought the message that ‘Le poète est l’élu de Dieu’(‘The poet is the chosen one by God). Please tell us your views regarding this?

Irrespective of religion, poets are basically sensitive and receptive. They have the power to enchant readers and they are eternal seekers. Poets live in the hectic world too but their main role is to take us away from the chaos, noise, mundane temporary pleasures and shallow issues generally highlighted by the media and internet. In stormy situations, poets often find their strong inner voices (and that of God for believers). The poet’s voice is often deep and full of poise. It doesn’t follow the mundane urban trends where everyone is busy, blinded, stressed and unable to enjoy life.
Regarding the implied message “l’élu de Dieu” (“the chosen one by God”), I believe that WE are all children of the same God and he loves us unconditionally.

Poets are considered to be so due to their own artistic ways. Based on the Bible, the idea of being “the chosen one” has a universal connotation.  It means that we are all chosen by God to fulfil positive uplifting missions.

Vatsala : While studying European Literature , we often come across the fact that the church didn’t have a positive attitude towards poets and poetry.
However, now the European countries are more democratic. Please tell us about the perception of the church regarding poets and poetry in the 21st century?

At the beginning of the 21st century, in his letter addressed to artists, Pope John Paul II wrote “ In order to convey the message of Christ the Church needs Art.” This was followed by the council of Vatican II requesting the poet Patrice de La Tour to collaborate in the translations and creation of literary writings. The council also stated “ The world that we live in also needs beauty so that we don’t feel lost in despair.”

The great Theologian, Father Marie Dominique Chenu emphasized that the historians of Theology need to include Arts in their books so as to make them wholesome.  On 21 November 2009, Benoit XVI addressed 260 artists – painters, sculptors, poets, musicians and actors highlighting on their major role to communicate beauty through their Arts and to be the messengers of hope for the entire Human Race. Therefore, in the 21st Century the Church is supportive of Arts and it reminds each Christian and artist about their real duties towards Arts
and through it.

Vatsala: What advice would you give to young poets?

To keep writing and to be themselves. Firstly, they must always listen to their hearts’ own authentic voice without being influenced by shallow trends or fashion. Then, they must keep on reading poetry as both reading and writing walks hand in hand.  They must also keep a balance between socializing in literary groups and being in solitude to create their own works. Young poets must always keep reading their poems again and again, correct them, simplify them, elaborate them and even discard them when needed.

Quoting Henri Meschonnic, I would like to remind young poets
“Never write FOR (for a public, cause…) but write BY (by passion, intuition, listening to their own inner voice).”

Always write about an experience not the idea.
Write about an authentic experience which is initially personal but can also embrace universality. Never be discouraged as ups and downs will always be there. Persevere and keep writing! Always be ready to learn as well.

Vatsala : As an experienced poet and religious brother, what  message would you like to give to the world predominated by terrorism?

Bernard:  First, we must work on ourselves by strengthening our own inner peace, then forgiving those around us instead of spending out time blaming evil forces. We must keep an optimistic perception without being blinded or idealistic.
We must also be open to all races, religions and cultures and reach out to people.
Thus, we will avoid bias notions and live in harmony and tolerance.

Vatsala : We sum up this deep conversation with some of your poems:

J’imagine le bruit

J’imagine le bruit
d’un tendre mot couleur de lune
quand il tombe sur le sable,

un mot comme un cri,
dans le tumulte du monde,

que plus personne n’entend…

I Imagine the Sound

I imagine the sound
of a soft word by the moonlight
falling in the sand,

This word , seemingly a shriek
amidst the chaotic world

is one no one hears anymore…

 –  Bernard Perroy

La mer toujours en été comme en hiver
est belle de sa vie de vagues remuées
comme l’on berce son cœur à l’intérieur de soi
devant l’inconnu qui se présente
à chaque carrefour de l’existence
comme à chaque changement de marée…

The Sea  as Usual

Whether it’s summer or winter ,the sea as usual
is always lovely with its movement of waves
like the soothing heartbeats  within us
that rejoice on meeting the unknown
at each stage of life
similar to the change in level of tides…

 –Bernard Perroy

Vatsala : Thank you Brother Bernard Perroy  for joining us on Setu!

 You are welcome!

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