The politics of poetry. Talking to sociologist, feminist, writer and activist Carine Valette.

Pavel Amilcar Carine Valette

 

Carine Valette is an ambiguous talent whose abilities flow from one magical project to another. Her uncompromisingly artistic approach to life means that she creates and collaborates organically. She vibrates with the authenticity that is unmatched. 

´I like the essence of poetry and going straight to the point to make someone feel something immediately. Some people like long drinks and some people like shots. Poetry works like a shot of life.’

As a representative of the young generation of French poets, Carine Valette has already been noticed by critics and poetry lovers. The projects including her involvement in Muses of Now, Labios de Papel or Collectivo Anonimas from Barcelona are just a few to mention.  

I was able to talk to the poet this summer, during her holidays in Southern France. Together we participated in the discussion about poetry and its need in everyday life.

What encouraged you to write poetry? 

I was 7 years old when I was asked to write a poem for my mum at school. We had to write an acrostic in which the first letter of each line spells out a word. I remember that I came back home and wrote another one with the same form dedicated to my dwarf rabbit. ‘Lapin’ in French. It was the first of a poetry collection, also my first secret diary. Since then, all my personal diaries have come in the form of books of poetry. 

What were your favourite themes when you began to write poetry? 

I grew up in the countryside of France, near Bordeaux. Instinctively, I began to write poems in verse about Nature. When you live surrounded by forests and vineyards, all your senses are awake. Your emotions are inspired by a spectrum of colours, smells, sounds, ordered by the seasons. Living in the countryside for several years is the best manner to learn and remember that we are cyclic as Nature is. Also, my deep-seated desire for freedom comes from this childhood. I was allowed to go alone into the woods, where I could invent all kinds of stories and magic stuff. 

Carine Valette Diambra Mariani

Today, what are the themes that particularly attract you as a poet? 

Nature is still one of my deepest inspirations. Its wisdom, the rhythm of its cycles, its sounds which are the origin of the music human beings create. From observing the natural kingdom on one side and on the other the moving bodies, attitudes and reactions of the human species, I have an infinite material. Also, because I am a sociologist, my poetry often speaks about sociological issues. Migration, feminism, or ecology are some of the themes I treat, to denounce injustices that often come in our system from eurocentric politics and a white supremacy point of view. Lately, I also draw inspiration from the sacred and ancestral women’s power, among which I find so much love, happiness and care as well as strength. If I think about this is a knowledge and a culture far away from the catholic education I received but I certainly kept from it the call for a life driven by spirituality and the sense it gives to our lives. 

The mix of all of those themes allows me to write poetry that raises my soul. Poetry is my way to philosophise the world and to analyse the reality where I live. 


As a poet do you have a keen interest in History? 

When you say to people that you write poetry they look at you like you are writing something impossible. Lots of people there are so scared about poetry because they think it’s a quite sacred art. Women were not legislated to be in that fountain of big writers of poetry. Like all history. One of the arguments is that no women have changed History. Perhaps because of this mainstream nonsense, I prefer to enter History from the individual stories. More than in History with a big H, I am interested in people. This is why I prefer to look at History from particular stories. I will enter through a biography for example. We have to be conscient that general History has been written by white European men. It is urgent to reconsider what we are telling and teaching, from a more subjective appreciation. Whether it is about the place of women in History (or better said, their absence) or the justification of colonialism as so-called progress for humanity, I discovered since I am a feminist and since I travel a lot to Latin America that History can be seen from a more regional and specific approach. 

Carine Valette Fabio Fontecha

Does this have anything to do with your community-based projects?

Perhaps... certainly. One thing is for sure, I have learnt a lot working in theatre and creative writing with a group of migrant women. It was three years ago, after doing a Postgraduate of Scenic Arts and Social Action in the Institut del Teatre of Barcelona. A formation that helped me to focus a part of my scenic works with social goals. The name of the project was ‘Relatos en tránsito’. Stories in transit. With three other students, we invited eight women to work around their personal stories, their narratives, through dance, creative writing and theatre. Six months after this first project, we won the antimachist prize of the City Hall of Barcelona. The 15 000€ we received helped us to create a musical comedy with 160 children on stage! To initiate the creative process, we first organised workshops with children from 4 to 18 years old, to point out the stereotypes that affect them. And so, through their personal experiences, they could improve their perceptions of male chauvinism and more broadly, of inequality. I think the only way to make the world fairer is by listening to the stories of the invisible communities. As human beings, we have to connect with our deep empathy, with our compassion. This is how we can grow as Humanity which, in my opinion, goes through our personal narratives. This is why all my personal or community projects begin with a personal narrative, around which we embroider anaesthetics and a context so the public can recognise itself and empathise. 

 Do your own poems come out of books or own experiences? 

Do you know autofiction? It is like the alter ego of autobiography. The big difference is that in an autobiography, you have to tell the truth to your public. You can't lie. With autofiction, you have to lie to your public from your proper story. Without knowing this specific term invented by Serge Doubrovsky in 1977, I always wrote autofiction. I am now exploring it consciously, opening its borders and exploring the different shapes it can take, especially thanks to the director Sergio Blanco who helped me to strengthen it during a creative workshop in Madrid 3 years ago. Soledad, my new show created with the violinist Pavel Amilcar, is an example of that treatment of autofiction. I use the scene to confess secret parts of my life, coated in a context so inconceivable that everybody focuses on it more than on the true confession. 


What about writers that influenced you or meant a lot to you? 

Marguerite Duras, I feel infinite love for her and her books. She writes as she could walk a tightrope, flirting with mystery and honesty. 

Charles Baudelaire, the Flower of Evil. I received a beautiful old edition from my great-grandma when she died. I began to read it when I was like thirteen years old, nevertheless, it is not a book for children. I took it to school and was reading these poems about death, crime, women to my friends. It had a little taste of prohibition. 

Boris Vian, one of the most surrealists. He had no rules. Everyone should read L’Écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream). It's for sure the most poetic novel you can read. You could say the same about magical realism from Latin America. I love books where you don't know the border between reality and non-reality. The novel I wrote in 2008 had a lot of magic realism mixed to autofiction. 

Antonin Artaud, amazing for its madness. 

Others are Françoise Sagan, Anais Nin, Francis Ponge, René Char, André Breton, Alejandra Pizarnik, Jesus Lizano… But also, painters, musicians and dancers. Frida Kalo and her crude commitment,the diaphanous freedom of Isadora Duncan, Chavela Vargas and Barbara with their irresistible wounds and blood-breaking lyrics.

Carine Valette Hola Poly

Setting aside poetry, are there any other things that you´d like to write or have written? 

A lot! I wrote a novel in 2008, and I am now thinking about a new story, but I still don’t know if I will try as a novel or a script. I also write articles for magazines and blogs, portraits and interviews of artists or designers, press releases. I used to work in advertising… I dream of writing a stage play… Life is long and literature endless... 


Do you find yourself much in a company of other poets or writers? 

I'm a little bit shy. I cannot so easily go and join a poetry group. I am a wild animal who needs loneliness. There are a lot of poetry circles in Paris and Barcelona. I don't really go there. I should... Perhaps… For the moment, my path went to eclectic and multidisciplinary circles. I´m part of three women collectives in Barcelona. One is Labios de Papel, we create poetry shows, with live paintings, dance, theatre… We go deep in our emotions, without masks. From sadness to joy, though mystery and burlesque. This is strong, generally, two or three people in the public cry. Which is excellent. We shouldn’t avoid our tears. I also assume my tears on the scene. The stage is a ritual’s place which connects consciousness with subconsciousness, realism with mysticism. It’s a gate of connection. The second collective is with an actress and a contemporary and swing dancer. We were invited 6 months ago in an artistic residency to create a show about feminism and apocalypse, but the lockdown and Black lives Matter brought us back to our first love, which is to work within the community with women who normally don’t go on stage. The last one is Muses of Now. We organise dinners and events to connect creative women around the globe, inviting one artist, one chef, and a table of women. A simple concept where we find confidence and creativity, without competition. I am proud to be part of it since Maria Baños and Ida Johansson invited me to be their partner last year. 

Carine Valette Pavel Amilcar

Is there anything else that you would rather have done than writing poetry? 

I belong to a territory where the arts converse. I love to mix the arts. As my psychoanalyst helped me to understand, I am a foraging bee! So my poetry feeds on multidisciplinarity. It can be a book, a performance, a piece of music, a painting… I love to play as I get bored easily. Always the game. With the words and with its forms. Always a new way of expression. Two years ago, I discovered the Japanese contemporary dance, Buto. Three years ago, it was bookbinding. Six months ago, metal engraving... All those techniques help me to shape my poetry, to build a world of autofiction. I love to clear the borders, this is also why my poetry was androgynous until I arrived in Barcelona six years ago. Since then, all my creation is about a woman. My woman. I am my proper wife. I live it. I dance it. I write it. This is an act of resistance where a line of the smallest is drawn, where the poet has the crucial role of telling life.

Does the poet have any role? 

Something very sad about our society is that it has put the poet on the fringes of public life. Poetry should be brought back to a central place, as it helps to understand our world. Poetry is the essence of life. Until 50 years ago, newspapers published poetry every time. Now poetry is a niche, quite a forgotten art, while poetry is politics. Because the poet says our way to be in the world. The Greek etymology of politics is our manner of living together. Politics is ‘to live together’. If we understand that a poem is a witness of how we live, we will understand that poetry is about how we live and also that poetry holds the keys of how we should live together. This is why I do public performances. This is also why I created a project during the lockdown from my flat, named CONFINAMIENTO POÉTICO (Poetic lockdown). Among the actions we made, we organised a concert with poetry and violin every Saturday from our balcony. I really believe we should have poetry in our daily life. Because life is poetry, the poet should be inside and not outside society. 

 

Pavel Amlicar Carine Valette

 

Carine Valette interviewed by Marta Marszalek 

Photography by: Fabio Fontecha, Hola Polly, Diambra Marian, Pavel Amilcar