August 5, 2011

Pierre Martory

Pierre Martory [France]

Pierre Martory was born in Bayonne, France, on December 1, 1920, of a Basque mother and French father who was an army officer. He spent much of his childhood in Morocco, where his father was posted, and returned there often as an adult. After passing his baccalauréat he enrolled at the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris in the fall of 1939, but was forced to flee the Nazi army in June 1940. He joined the French army and was shipped to North Africa, where he ended up fighting alongside the Allied forces in what had become the Free French Army. After the war he held a number of jobs, first at the unlikely-sounding Biarritz American University, then as an airlines clerk in Bordeaux and Paris, as assistant to the anthropologist Marcel Griaule, reporter at Le Monde Diplomatique, and finally as arts editor of Paris Match, where he remained for twenty-five years. He died in October 1998.

His novel Phébus ou le beau Mariage was published by Denoël in 1953 to respectable reviews (a second competed novel, Un jeune Homme attachant, remains unpublished). Meanwhile he wrote poetry almost constantly throughout his life, publishing only a few poems in little magazines when he was briefly part of a group of poets (including Hubert Juin and Pierre-Jean Oswald) who met regularly at a café on the Ile St. Louis to read their work aloud to each other.

As his executor, I have been classifying his papers, beginning with a school copybook containing more than one thousand lines of poetry written in Tunisia during the war. Of the poems translated here [that selection does not appear], "Music" is dated 1948. The others are from a typed manuscript titled "La Lyre d'Aloès," which appears to date from the early 1950s. It is dedicated to a friend, Simone Bitterly, with the line "en attendant une édition sérieuse"—until there is a real edition. A handwritten note from the publisher Seghers is inserted in the manuscript. Dated simply "Tuesday," it announced the acceptance of six of the poems for publication, but adds, "Unfortunately we can't give you a date—perhaps in a month, two months, or six months." This seems to have been typical of his dealings with French publishers.

He has had better luck in America. Poems of his have appeared in Poetry, New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and a number of smaller publications. A collection, Every Question but One, was published in 1989 by Ground Water Press. Sheep Meadow Press has published two collections: The Landscape Is Behind the Door, translated by me, and Veilleur de Jours, in French.

—John Ashbery

Copyright ©2002 by John Ashbery
photograph copyright by John Ashbery


Veilleur de Jours (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1997)


Every Question but One (Hudson, New York: Groudwater Press, 1990); The Landscape Is Behind the Door, trans. by John Ashbery (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1994); The Landscapist: Selected Poems, trans. by John Ashbery (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 2008)

For a selection of five poems in English, press here:

For another selection of poems in English, click below:

For an audio interview between Ashbery and Michael Silverblatt on Ashbery's early days in
Paris and his friendship with Martory, click here:

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