December 17, 2010

Jean-Pierre Rosnay

Jean-Pierre Rosnay [France]

Jean-Pierre Rosnay was born in a Protestant family in Lyon, France on April 8, 1926. His father, was a factory worker, and his mother Violet, died when was only five, and went to live with his aunt until his father remarried. A fragile child, Rosnay learned to fight the neighborhood bullies, something that would remain important throughout his life.

Although his home held few cultural possibilities, his uncle Justin introduced him to poetry, and made him read the classics aloud, since he himself could not read. At the early age of 12, Rosnay left his family, taking refuge on a farm in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.

At 15½ Rosnay joined the Resistance Movement. When asked for a pseudonym, he suggested Tom Mix, but fellow fighters chose the name "Baby" for his nom de guerre. Part of the first French group of the Secret Army commanded by General Jean Vallette, Baby first fought in Haute-Loire and Lozère. He also wrote poems and song to boost morale, and was surprised to hear some of their performed over radio.

In 1944 Rosnay was charged with murdering Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo army captain, known as the Butcher of Lyon. Betrayed by friends, he was tortured for four months by the Gestapo before he escaped and joined rejoined another Resistance group. He was seriously injured in one of the attacks and saw numerous friends fall.

After the war Rosnay and friends founded a group dedicated to war poetry, JAR, the Jarvistes, "Young Authors Meeting." Among the members were George Moustaki, Guy Bedos, and George Brassens. Eventually, Rosnay turned to reading poetry on radio and television, and establishing the famed Poets' Club, which he emceed, beginning each broadcast with "Good evening friends, good evening!" Eclectic in poetry selection and without poetic hierarchies, its programs offered everything from humorous poems, fables for children, music and spoken word combinations, established poets and unknown figures.

Rosnay published eight collections of poetry, including Rafales, La Foire aux ludions, Comme un bateau prend la mer, poèmes, Les Diagonales, Fragment et relief, and Danger falaises instables. The poet also wrote three novels, essays, and pamphlets.

Rosnay died in 2009.


Rafales (Paris: Éditions IPO, 1950); La Foire aux ludions (Paris: J.A.R., 1951); Comme un beateau prend la mer, poèmes (Paris: Gallimard, 1956); Les Diagonales (Paris: Gallimard, 1960); Fragment et relief (Paris: Club des Poètes, 1994); Femmes [with illustrations by Robert Petit-Lorraine] (Paris: Club des Poètes, 1994); Ab imo pectore: choix de poèmes et 7 inéits (Paris: Alberto Tallone, 1995); Danger falaises instables [illustrations by Sacha Putov] (Paris: Club des Poètes, 2002)


When a Poetry Sees a Chestnut Tree, trans. by J. Kates (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2009)


The all said My France
or France Forever
And each one plucked another feather
When the enemy attacked
He found the picket-lines intact
And sentries

They all said My France
or France Forever
I was in love with nothing to say
not yet sixteen to love with you
France remember

They all said My France
or France Forever
What could I say I was too young
I took up the sentry's gun
And now it's over

excuse me for reminding you
At times I feel very much alone

They all said My France
or France Forever

Translated from the French by J. Kates


An inquisitive monarch, wanting to know what his court was thinking, disguised himself as a beggar one day and knocked at the door of his own castle.

They hanged him so efficiently that he never learned if he died for having pestered himself or for having pestered other people.

This occurred when history was written from mouth to ear. Men fought to have something to tell their children on winter nights, women spun wool, and on tavern mantels huge pipes spoke to whoever looked at them of the style of innkeeper.

—Translated from the French by J. Kates

The Canoes

I lift up my eyes
and I see sky on the rooftops
Then I notice I haven't lifted my eyes
and I have seen the sky
I would swear it on my life
I write out loud
what I think under my breath
I write that an Irishman is smiling in the fog
and that he seems like an angel
freshly barbered
I remember quite exactly
my first address
spilt milk
far sighted
Madame Barquet
and the flaxen morning
my mother disappeared
I talk with soldiers
who died in battles
everyone's forgotten
I swim in rivers I have
never seen
Fifteen-year-old girls cross the sun
in red canoes
I lift up my eyes and see the sky in the trees
Then I notice I haven't lifted my eyes
and I have seen the sky
I would swear it on my life

—Translated from the French by J. Kates

English language poems copyright (c) 2009 by J. Kates. Reprinted from When a Poet Sees a Chestnut Tree (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2009). Reprinted by permission.

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