TABLE TALK

“Sweat and Patience Always Constitute the Writer’s Best Weapons” – Interview with Brigitte Poirson

Brigitte Poirson is a multiple award-winning poet, a former teacher, university lecturer and editor that inspires the literary world out of France. She has authored seven books ranging from poetry to theatre and fiction, both in English and French languages. She has contributed to several magazines and anthologies. 
 
Poirson is popular in literary circles as a staunch promoter of African literature and offers her selfless support in grooming the next generation of writers and poets by creating spaces for them at the pinnacle of excellence. WordsRhymes&Rhythm, one of Nigeria’s largest poetry platforms organizes an eponymous monthly poetry contest in honour of Brigitte Poirson. She is an editor for Expound Magazine and the WRR – Caprecon Green Author Prize. 
 
In this inspiring conversation with Poirson, she sheds light on her writing process, her love for poetry and the sacred list of her literary mentors. 
 
Enjoy! 

 

KD: Tell us a bit about your early days. Did you encounter any challenges at the beginning of your career?
 
Poirson: Thank you for offering me the honour to answer your questions. A few days ago, when interviewed about his career, a film maker answered that your next film is always the first. In that sense indeed, each book you produce proves a new challenge too. Each book is always the start of a new beginning, just as every child you give birth to is singular and launches a new adventure. Every time, the process has to be reinitiated, especially with poetry. The challenges of testing a new, specific theme, treating it under a new angle and possibly reaching another kind of readership are constant. I believe writers must be prepared to stand up to the many tests of steering their books to creation, distribution and promotion for all their lives…
 
That is why we, in France, create various associations of writers – authors from the same publishing house or from others – and organise literary “salons” together. We contact mayors liable to be interested in arranging a meeting in their townhalls and inviting people to browse about and get hand-written dedications if they buy the books. I am a member of such a group called “Les Plumes Comtoises”. We have a president and a banner, but mostly we are birds of a quill and real friends. The Paris book “salon”, for instance, is a well-known and crowded event where you can meet new and famous authors. Meeting your readership proves a fruitful experience on both sides of the book.
In any case, sweat and patience always constitute the writer’s best weapons.

Brigitte Poirson

Multiple award-winning poet and writer.

KD: You seem to be very interested and involved in African (particularly Nigerian) poetry. Where does this interest stem from?

 
Poirson: Actually, I was born to Africa practically from birth. Customs, languages, landscapes, issues, tales and first-hand stories were waved at me from family living in Benin. There has always been an African me completing my European self. I later visited some African countries, in particular, South Africa. These were emotional encounters. In 2014, it so happened I came into contact with Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, a contributor to a poetry anthology, via Grapevine, that I compiled and published in Bloemfontein. Ensued a long-lasting friendship that enabled me to better discover the scope of the Nigerian poetic genius. That was when we decided to create an online college of Poetry, then a contest to encourage young poets and reward them.

KD: Are there any literary figures/poets that inspire you?

Poirson: Who has inspired and keeps inspiring me? Every ‘person of the word’, if you allow me that expression. All writers have a specific outlook on life and /or a whole universe to share. They do it more or less artistically and deftly, but what high-brow critics sometimes label pedestrian poetry, just as much as what some revere as crazily innovative lines, only manifest each creator’s vision of poetry. Despising people is not my trade. Promoting them is my concern.
 
Obviously, famous poets and novelists have steered me along my journey into literature. I have admired and studied mentors such as Victor Hugo, Louis Aragon, Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Auden, and so many more!  African literature has always attracted me for its imagination and wisdom. I read African stories from my early childhood, so later on Mandela, Achebe and a range of others have taught me to follow the difficult tracks of African challenges and the spirit behind its brilliance. Lots of novelists have inspired me, but of all of them, the one whose way to absorb human experiences and translate them into words has best spurred me into action remains Virginia Wolf. In this world more dedicated to science-fiction, suspense and violent actions, the stream of consciousness has lost some of its lustre, but not so to me.
 
Ultimately, the deep interest of meeting all these writers lies in the delectation of ingesting their creations, and by so doing, in learning to develop one’s own style under their protective eyes.

KD: What do you think about the state of poetry in Nigeria and Africa as a whole? Are there enough opportunities and recognition for aspiring poets in Nigeria/Africa?

Poirson: With the development of social networks in recent years, we have all become aware that the possibilities of reading, writing, and publishing books have increased exponentially. In that sense, Zuckerworld offers authors new opportunities to leverage their chances to be acknowledged and get a sense of belonging. The dreadful problem of location and isolation thus seems solved. This accounts for the innumerable blogs and sites devoted to literature. The oral traditions of spinning tales and poetic stories in Africa have also found a channel to expand the realm of the word. Nigeria and Africa, in general, are blooming into creativity, to my experience. But in the new, connected world, many aspiring streams may get lost and suffer from drought along their rush to the sea. Traditional publishers, more than ever, remain reluctant to invest in new talents. It is imperative to offer more opportunities for the poets and prose writers to shine. That is why I offer my services to WordsRhymes&Rhythm Publishers today and sponsor my eponymous contest with them, and many others too, plus editing. Naturally, initiatives such as Kreative Diadem must be encouraged.  Talents do not necessarily need to be acknowledged in the UK or elsewhere. Recognition at home is worth any other award…                                                    

 

“In consistence with what I mentioned before, allow me to state that we reinvent ourselves with every word we write.” – Brigitte Poirson 

Brigitte Poirson (center) 

In a recent gathering of a literary salon, Les Plumes Comtoises, held in France

KD: What is your writing routine like? Do your poems have a unifying theme or do you write based on matters of the moment?

Poirson: I have no specific writing routine. I write…when I find the time for it. I used to sit and scribble pages all day long when I was able to because a lot of concentration and documentation is needed to create collections of poems and novels.
But I am more involved in counseling, editing, scoring and rewarding a younger generation these days.
 
When I do compose pieces, I try to unite originality and depth, freedom of inspiration and respect for the language. The spirit of a poem or a longer form of literature is what matters most to me, coupled with a clear style.

 

KD: You host or promote many different poetry contests for Nigerian/African poets regularly. What is the overall vision with that?

Poirson: Hundreds of budding authors have been chatting me in the wake of the contests (and originally from posting my poems). As I have already hinted at, there comes a time when legacy becomes an obvious priority. And lending a friendly shoulder to young talents falls into line with my commitment to the various teaching activities I have been involved in. Lots of deserving, but isolated people feel lost when confronted with the harsh realities a writer must face in his activities. And they need counseling and editing. And encouragements. And recognition. They also need to test their capacities in a welcoming environment. Hence the contests. Mostly the BPPC, aimed at lifting their spirits.

 

KD: Any forthcoming books at this time?

Poirson: I have a forthcoming novel in store. It has been longing to be published for ages. It just needs a bit of editing after all this time. I just hope to be able to find a few moments to do it! I have a publisher for it. So, I look forward to adding that nice gloss it is lacking today. It is a French novel, by the way. I also have a few English short stories waiting to be published.

KD: Any advice for aspiring poets in Nigeria?

Poirson: Aspiring poets know they must strive to find their own style. They know they are expected to stand out among the writing crowd, if they are to be noticed. But it is my belief that finding one’s style cannot be a forced process. It must come from reading others and sweating over one’s own work, and naturally from delving into one’s deepest experience. Aspiring authors, during this quest to the Graal, sometimes tend to align big, learned words. Fine. But accuracy in the choice of words and economy of words and simplicity also work very well when your point is forceful. They also tend to have recourse to tricks supposed to be inventive, like making endless sentences in which they and we may get lost, deleting punctuation, which may be very misleading for the reader, or creating jarring images, all in the name of poetic licence. Poetic licence cannot be invoked to justify [your work if] you don’t master the language. It is my conviction that authors must know where they lead their readers, even in poetry. Letting the readers find a meaning to your texts sounds to me like a justification for not really knowing what you mean. Forgetting to systematically self-edit texts is also a common weakness. But these are only beginners’ issues. Most of the poets I happen to read master the language with incredible creativity and pleasant inventiveness.

KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?

Poirson: Online platforms like Kreative Diadem, that create communities of poets, are obviously initiatives to be admired, encouraged and celebrated. The aim consisting in providing an audience with opportunities to share their creations and be published…and read! must be lauded indeed. “To inform, educate, entertain and inspire” young minds through literature is what fights ignorance and violence best in this crazy world. Just never stop!!!!

 

KD: Any Final words?

Poirson: In consistence with what I mentioned before, allow me to state that we reinvent ourselves with every word we write. We keep experimenting literature and the world inside and outside ourselves, and the next word is always the first. So, I’ll let you mull over this line that concluded a French poem I wrote years ago as an epitaph and which could translate into this:
      “My very last word was: it is only my first.”                                                                               
Keep shining, and thanks for the opportunity!           

 

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