Name: Maël Primet
Current City: Paris
What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry for me has many faces. It is the act of creation, etymologically (“poiein” in Greek “to make”). It is of course the more romantic notion of a beautiful instant (best described by Kundera in his famous quote—“The purpose of the poetry is not to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.”). And it is an excuse to allow ourselves to play with words, as if they were physical matter, to push them against each other, make them fit atop each other, put them in motion together.
I have always loved the work of the OuLiPo, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, which was started in 1960 and is still meeting today at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They were a mix of writers and mathematicians, professors and engineers who devised literary games to use as writing constraints. Those constraints become liberating literary tools as they free the writer from the dreadful “empty page” fear. An example could be, as seen in some of these, “write a poem where each word has one letter more than the previous one.” This one is from Jacques Bens:
An emblematic work of the OuLiPo is “Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes” by Raymond Queneau in 1961. This is a book composed of 10 sonnets, each 14 verses long, written on 10 successive pages, where each verse is cut so as to make it possible to combine all the poems from all the pages together in any way, resulting in 10 to the 14 poems, that is, a hundred thousand billion poems. This will be my choice as a favorite poem, although it is more a way to make poems.
Why do you like this poet/poem?
I always loved constraints as a means of liberating the writer of his own “inner critic”—you write words because they satisfy the constraints, not because you thought they would go well together in the first place. It allows for a kind of meditative state while writing, since you detach from meaning to give importance to constraints. And this allows serendipitous beauty.
In a sense, it reminds me of the description by Joyce Dyer of “seeing like an animal”—forcing yourself to detach of your “human prejudices” and see the world anew (like would children, an animal, or someone who is forced to satisfy constraints).