It was a fascinating literary conversation that took place at Librairie Gallimard between the Franco Lebanese poet Nayla Chidiac and the Franco British Sir Michael Edwards, the first Britannic member of the Académie Française. At 85, he is revered as a translator, a teacher and a poet. She is thirty years younger and a brilliant psychologist, specialized in traumas, who was used by the French army (RAID) for debriefing the terrorists in Arabic (one of the three languages she speaks fluently). She was honored with the Legion of honor for this task. “Tu me réveilleras quand je serai morte” is her 5 th book of poetry but Nayla Chidiac is also the author of medical books published by Odile Jacob. She created the writing workshops at Hôpital Sainte Anne, the leading psychiatry hospital in Paris, and her latest book is “Les bienfaits de l’écriture”.
The conversation between the two poets (two immigrants it should be noted), was brilliantly moderated by Simon Bentolila and the obvious shyness of Nayla Chidiac slowly disappeared thanks to Sir Michael Edwards’ sharp sense of humor. We all felt like being in a “Salon” of the 17 th and 18 th century, as described by Benedetta Craveri in her books. When Chidiac left Lebanon at 8, she moved to London where she learned the language through poetry. Edwards was mesmerized by French poems which transformed his world while he was writing on Racine at Cambridge university. He feels 150% British and a 100% French as he told us with a smile and used teh motto “Agir bien et être joyeux” (act well and be joyful) on his academician’s sword.
“I think poetry from the moment I wake up till night comes” says Chidiac, “Poetry is not only an art it is a way of life” says Edwards, who adds that real life will always be better than poetry. He is a fervent Christian and speaks of transcendance in poetry, she quotes God and Eluard. When he started writing in French he decided he needed to become French. He likes o include English words in his French texts and has studied extensively the influence of English words in our language. He also loves the French words borrowed by the Brits: “Let’s have a tête-à-tête” is an example, “malapropism” another, which is used in English, not in French but comes from “mal à propos”. He loves to invent words (and so do I)and speaks of “La Langue de France, ma matrie” my mother country… He likes to think that translation enriches poetry and he writes songs for composers like Michel Petrossian .
The one hour long conversation was a perfect moment of humor, simplicity and friendship between two very different poets who had in common to have been raised in multiple languages.
Sir Michael Edwards, “Paris Aubaine“. Nayla Chidiac, “Tu me réveilleras quand je serai morte”. Librairie Gallimard is at 15 bd Raspail.
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