Monday, 30 March 2020

From Fahima Ife

4 Feb - 12 March 2020

Aw, my stay in Paris! It was so easy to write in the 6ême. I came here to revise my first book, a blended work of three long poems and an essay. In the first week, I was so continuously called by the night, that I wrote an entire new stream of poems! In the second week I received the entire form of what will become my second book and feverishly followed its call. At the beginning of my third week I finished manipulating, reworking, listening to, and compiling everything in my first book. I cried for having made my way through. 

My daily ritual—I woke to a cool morning gray or blue, had a cup of jasmine green tea (or cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger tea), looked out the window, listened to “Suiren,” from Pauline Oliveros’ album Deep Listening, read an essay by Mary Ruefle from Madness, Rack, and Honey (or an essay written by Fred Moten, Susan Sontag, Édouard Glissant, or Jacques Derrida), read poems from Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas or Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries, wrote in my journal, wrote poems (and non-poems), made meals for myself, talked with people I love in the States. In the time in between writing and sleeping, I went on many walks: back-and-forth to Les Nouveaux Robinson on Cherche-Midi for groceries, to Marché Raspail on Sundays for organic produce (and to talk with new friends), to The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore, to Jardin du Luxembourg (to hear the trees), and on and on. 

Even though I had to leave two weeks early due to the coronavirus pandemic, I am more grateful than gratitude for this experience.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

From Montse Gallego

16 Dec 2019 - 4 Feb 2020

I arrived in Paris on the 16th of December 2019, in the middle of the longest transport strike of its revolutionary history. I had the pleasure of having my first fraternal experience right there in the Gare du Nord, when after waiting among dozens of people for a never coming bus and dragging my huge suitcase, I stepped on the road and stopped a taxi. A young parisienne woman immediately came along greeting the driver and asking him if she could also jump into the vehicle with me. I don’t speak french but it wasn’t difficult to understand what she meant. The driver was telling her that it was up to me, and of course, I was very happy with helping and supporting in my modest way the french resistance cause, after all it is still a remarkable example in the global struggle of our societies. 

I was really excited at having ahead seven weeks of freedom in, for me, an unknown but mythical city, sheltered in a cozy sixth floor garret from where I could fly along its lighter sky and legendary roofs with the magic carpet of my writing.

I couldn’t offer a generous enough feedback about my experience there, but perhaps I should start by saying that for a fifty seven years old woman, mother of three, grandmother of two, who for the first time in her life has seven weeks just to focus in her writing, gratitude is too small a word for what I feel. I came with a long year's project that has been slowly developed among many other tasks, always lacking enough solitude to be able to finish it, so my time in Paris has been so precious that I am pretty sure I made the best of it.

I was welcomed by John Pluecker, a sweet friendly poet from Texas who had been cooking me lunch while waiting for my arrival and handing me the keys of the castle. He showed me the secrets of the lodge and the main sites of the surroundings before he parted back home.

I am not a very good friend of maps and plans for touring, and I don’t posses a smartphone as a modern compass to guide the directions of my endeavours, so, apart from a few looks at the google map overview of the city to visualize the positions of some of those places where I really wanted to go, I spent most of my daily walks wandering the back streets where the traffic was less brutal, looking up and down the magnificent very well preserved architecture of Paris. By way of the synchronicity in which I believe, I was encountered by a series of treasures left by the rubbish skips, obviously awaiting me to collect them: Books. This happened to me five times, and the most remarkable was that one that contained also three notebooks and a collection of loose sheets of paper, dating 1968, filled with the enigmatic formulas of a mathematician teaching then in La Sorbonne. Until then I had been working on a series of endlessly corrected poems that seemed to be stuck all over the desktop, but that night, fascinated by the mystery of the treasure and the old quality of the paper, I decided to watercolor them over the labyrinth of the formulas to which calligraphic riddles I added those of my words. And that broke the spell of my paralisis.


Once the Christmas madness was gone (also very happy of being completely out of its compromises), my intention had been to reach some of the poets and artists proposed by the residency and get more or less engaged in their network. But I was by then so fully immersed in the good rhythm of my writing that all of the sudden I chose to preserve this retreat and keep going rather than getting involved in more arrangements. I have been at the front of Hundred Years Gallery in London since 2011, a place where the weekly program of events, parallel to the exhibitions, keeps us extremely busy socializing with artists from all disciplines, including poetry. So this time, for a change, I needed solitude more than anything in order to make the best of my time there.

Contrary to the idea of writing in the very bohemian cafes (and due to my own humble budget), I spent most of my writing hours sitting in front of the garret’s window. I took many breaks for lunch in Les Jardins de Luxembourg, mostly when it was sunny, and many of those days wrapping myself in a blanket, holding my flask of tea, and writing my notes and new poems in my notebook while contemplating the people playing petanque, children riding ponies, the white statues, the elders doing TaiChi, the joggers, the tree tops getting their early spring aura.

The street market in Boulevard Edgar Quinet and the Montparnasse Cemetery were my regular visit each Saturday, where I did my weekly shopping (and eventually a bit of gleaning as in Agnes Varda’s film The Gleaners and I). Then I ate my moroccan wrap lunch among the stones and graves of the many great writers, artists and bohemians of Paris, Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Man Ray, Brancussi, Julio Cortazar, Tristan Tzara...

The Dubuffet Foundation, which is at ten minutes walk, was also one of those little gems I very much enjoyed visiting. I spent three hours there, contemplating his works and the corners of its beautiful run down patio and roofs, writing in complete silence (just one visitor apart from me came along) by the huge window of the main galleries.

Le Jardin des Plantes was another place really worth visiting. Remembering that Julio Cortazar was inspired by one of the creatures living in a tank of its reptile house, a gecko, to create one of his unforgettable short stories, I went there twice. I walked into the greenhouses, I sat on its benches and recorded the interesting sounds coming from the zoo, something like a faked symphony of the jungle behind the green walls that I used later for one of my sound & voice poems.

Another recommended place for peace and silence is the little romanesque chapel within the Saint- Germain-des-Prés Church. The main church is an astonishing recently renovated Gothic treasure, but the stone chapel (go through a very old door on the right side of the hall, before the glass door of the main church) was my favourite. Very warm and isolated from the noise and echoes of the busy street, in this almost bare space I sat several times to reflect on those ideas hovering my mind and eventually compose a few lines of verses.

I had many more discoverings just by way of chance during my long walks but the two that took me to the actual of the contemporary parisiennes were the regular protests that marched all over Paris. Twice I was caught by this fantastic river of people demanding to keep their rights in a very celebratory manner, singing, dancing, shouting, whistling, arms in arms one with another, not just in a pacific way, but in a truly egalitarian one. Worker unions and many other groups with different social claims of gender, race, queerness, culture, immigration, ecology, climate change...all raising the voice of the people to defend the people. The great barricades of the police, robocop type, making sure that the liberte wasn’t taken for granted.

Very sadly I left Paris the 4th of February 2020, after welcoming Fahima Ife, the poet arriving from Lousianna. We had a very nice chat and a quick exchange of common ideas and places, and again, that strong and clear sense of experiencing yet another synchronicity. Very much the same I felt the day before when I met Elizabeth Hansen, our generous host, with whom during also a brief conversation, very soon I discovered that we were talking about the same life purpose, swimming the same overwhelming current. Both passed me a little torch, and perhaps and hopefully I did the same, with which to keep lighting the shadowy path of my own journey and the words I am intending to leave behind.

Thank you Elizabeth, Johnn, Fahima and all the amazing Trelex Team.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

From Eléna Rivera

1 March - 31 May 2019

At the exact half-way point in my residency (I had just been looking at the Caravaggio’s in a very crowded Louvre—irritated by all the people rushing to see the Mona Lisa) I heard that Notre Dame was on fire. Notre Dame?! I walked and walked and walked, trying to wear out anxious emotions which this terrible event had arisen in me. It became a way to think of my residency, before the fire and after the fire; it became a marker. 

Before the fire there was watching spring flowers and new leaves arrive first slowly then in profusion; there was a pink tree in the Jardin du Luxembourg (an acajou de Chine ‘Flamingo’); there were days spent at the American Library writing and reading; there was swimming at the foot of the Tour Montparnasse and Qi Gong in the park; there was Agnès Varda’s death; and there was a deep sense of solitude that I hadn’t experienced in years that stimulated my imagination as I faced the blank page. 

After the fire, I became more focused in my writing; I started missing Russell; the Gilets Jaunes kept marching on Saturdays. There were solitary days and days of meetings with poet and artist friends; Wim Wenders on the ceiling and walls of the Grand Palais at midnight; more readings (including one of my own for the Ivy Series at Berkeley books); Franz Marc and Auguste Macke at the Orangerie; Hammershøi at the Musée Jacquemart; the stained glass at the Sainte-Chapelle; and always there was writing at the Jardin du Luxembourg, at a café, on my couch, and at the kitchen table. 

The Trelex Poetry Residency made it possible for me to focus on poetry and the imaginative, without concern to the results of my endeavors. It also provided solitude such as I hadn’t experience in a long time in a way that made understanding certain things about myself possible. Kindness and generosity were shown to me time and time again. Walking home after a reading, the sheer joy of being in those Parisian streets at dusk. 

Friendships, solitude, the importance of the arts, the balance between community and solitude; what gifts! Many thanks to Nina Rodin and Elizabeth Hansen and to everyone at Trelex who made my residency possible, the reverberations of which I will be experiencing for a long time to come.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

From Kristin Sanders

17 Feb - 1 May 2018

“One must love during an instant… as one loves the crimson hues of the sun at the moment when it disappears below the horizon.” -Valtesse de la Bigne  

I arrived on February 17th, in the year of our godforsaken ‘Tit-Rump, from sunny and warm San Luis Obispo, California, to catch the tail end of a Paris winter. It was cold and snowy, and an even colder front was coming soon from Russia. And then the internet went out. I spent time in the neighboring cafes, using what wifi I could find for WhatsApp plans, feeling a little lost and disconnected.  

Within a short time, I’d managed to get a French SIM card and phone number, and the apartment had new fiber optic cable wifi installed, with the help of the fabulously generous and patient Elizabeth Hansen over the phone and friendly wifi technicians in person. I met some neighbors in the elevator, a lovely couple who invited me in to see the architecture of their apartment (a number of garrets combined into one) and offered their assistance, should I ever need it.  

And then it was spring, and I was reading at the Luxembourg Gardens or picnicking in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with friends. And— these friends! What began as a few American poet acquaintances in the city ended as a community of supportive, engaged friends, always going to readings, inviting me along, hosting literary events, inviting me to their art studios or out for wine or dinner. I felt instantly welcomed into a remarkable group of women poets: Jennifer Dick, who invited me to read at the Ivy Writers Series; Lisa Pasold, a friend I knew from New Orleans; Carrie Chapelle, another New Orleans connection who became a close friend; and Christine Herzer, artist-poet who I met at the Ivy reading and former Trelex resident. And everyone knows Laura Mullen, of course, and everyone knows Cole Swenson, too, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others.  

What a brilliant, loving community I was lucky enough to be welcomed into, with the help of the Trelex residency!  And in the meantime, between the readings and literary events; the hours spent at the desk in front of that dazzling view; the books bought and read from Berkeley Books and The Abbey and Shakespeare and Company; the nights wandering the streets, feeling alone and safe— in the meantime, I lived and wrote in Paris.  

Never again will I have the chance to live in a beautiful apartment on the Left Bank with such a generous, luxurious stretch of time and no responsibilities to get in the way of writing, reading, and thinking. I thought about what it means to be an expat, what it means to migrate, what it means to be privileged in this particular way. I read Sylvia Beach’s memoir and took note of the addresses for the original and second locations of her bookstore, Hemingway and Joyce’s hangouts, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ apartment— all within walking distance of the Trelex residency. I realized that every time I walked down Rue de Fleurus to the Jardin du Luxembourg, I had passed the Stein and Toklas home, and the plaque on the wall commemorating it. And another American expat, Natalie Clifford Barney, who, for sixty years, held weekly literary salons at her "Temple of Friendship" on Rue Jacob, also just down Rue de Rennes.  

I worked on a chapbook of poems I like to call “Je déteste mon président,” because I do, and I tried to say this to everyone I met, in my stilted French: “Je m'appelle Kristin, je suis Californien, je suis un écrivain féministe, je déteste mon président.” The response was either, “Yes, how could this be?!” or “Ours is just as bad.” Or, as one American poet reminded me, “Honey, a country is not its president.”  

And in the darkness of this political moment, I loved. I loved in an instant. I loved because it was easy to love what I could hardly comprehend. I loved because of the female statues throughout the city, the very feminine quality of it, a city imbued with intellect and art. That I couldn’t comprehend the conversations around me, that I didn’t always know exactly where I was, that a map on my phone told me which Metro line to take to arrive at the exact right spot and on time, that I found and lost a French lover, that I found others still, that I fell in friendship-love with my girlfriends, that I wrote in the midst of it all— only served to remind me of what it means to be a poet: someone in love with the world.  

A reminder I needed, we all need, and for which I am eternally grateful— especially to Elizabeth Hansen, Nina Rodin, and Abi Box

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

From Keri Smith

08 Nov - 13 Dec 2017

“Parisian itineraries. Leisurely strolls quite obviously (and fortunately) unknown to the tourist trade, for there is nothing to see on these routes except for poetry in the rough, which paying travelers would never appreciate: the poetry of masonry, cobbles, boundary stones, carriage entrances, dormer windows, tiled roofs, patches of grass, odd trees, dead ends, byways, blind alleys, inner courtyards, storage sheds for coal or building materials, wreckers’ yards; the poetry of workshops, still vacant lots, bowling alleys, bistros-cum-refreshment stands; the poetry of colors but also of smells, a different smell for every doorway. Serpentine itineraries winding on endlessly, interminable itineraries open to anyone who knows how to wander and how to look.” - Jean-Paul Clébert, Paris Vagabond

     The last time I took a long trip out of the country I was in Buenos Aires by myself in 2013. Since then I’ve mostly traveled with friends, or alone to places where there would certainly be a lot of my friends, and for that I’m very thankful. But these were the same friends who when I got back from Argentina asked me, what did you do? And then they didn’t believe me when I told them, well I really just walked around. I wrote. I read five or six books.   
     I understand why they don’t believe me because these are the same friends that see me at three A.M. ready to go on to the next spot, or back to my house. When I’m around people I’m lively. I like chatting. I like drinking. I like being upright for as long as possible. But when I’m alone I revert back to my early childhood years of solitary observance. I always have a book with me, and I can walk for hours on just one cup of coffee. I pass up long dinners for a loaf of bread at home or in the park maybe. I take my book to bed with me shortly after 10P.M. and I’m up with the sunrise at 7. No one ever believes me. But because I love people I love travelling to places where I can be alone, sitting in a cafe surrounded by couples having their intimate conversations. To walk past doorways where someone is cooking dinner. To smile graciously at strangers. It’s one of the reasons I love New York, it’s easy to feel alone, but comfortable. Alone but like you belong in the busy world around you.   
     The apartment in Paris is perfect. Things seldom look just like their pictures but this place does. As soon as I got here I flung open the double glass panes of the window. Light lit up the hardwood floors. I did something I haven’t done in a very long time- I unpacked. Every single piece of clothing. I lined my books up. I plugged everything in. Then I went out to my favorite tea store (Kusmi teas are in my cupboard at home too) and the market where I filled the kitchen with the things I needed (bread, good olive oil, goat cheese, yellow tomatoes, Bordeaux) and I went to sleep. I woke up at 3A.M, jetlagged and happy. I opened my computer, and I started writing. My friend sent me a roll of film he took when he was in Paris with his band over the summer. I studied his pictures and I wrote accompanying poems. In the real, after breakfast, morning I set off to find those places. 
     It’s hard not to think of oneself as being monk-like, with all the Catholic imagery carved into almost every stone on almost every corner. But for someone that doesn’t usually have a routine, it seems appropriate. Normally in my week I work late hours at a bar, usually have a drink or two with my coworkers after and if I’m lucky make the smart decision to go home and answer emails or read. Sometimes there’s just too much to do. In New York there’s always a show, or a friend in town. Then in the mornings I either have to run straight to work, either to the bar job or to edit poetry submissions for Hanging Loose Press, or I want to go to a museum or get lunch with a friend or just sleep in and order Chinese food with my boyfriend...sometimes it’s hard to find the time to do laundry, let alone write, or answer emails from friends, or send letters, etc. When you’re working and also in love suddenly there’s just less hours in the day. Here it’s the whole opposite. I wake up 7, I stretch out on the floor like an overweight, old cat (I will turn 32 here alone next week). I attempt to do some kind of derelict yoga. Then I make my Russian black Kusmi tea, answer emails and listen to NPR, and then drink more tea. I try to study French for the next hour either listening, writing, or talking to myself. Then the next two hours I write. I write two poems for myself, then three or four for Andy’s photos (I suspect we will have a zine put together by the end of the month!) then I try to work on an essay (like this one). After that the sun should be OUT, so I go out with it. I walk around buildings, sometimes going into museums, but nothing serious yet. I only sit down in restaurants for coffee, I haven’t given into a full meal yet since I’m still in love with the markets and my kitchen. Then when the sun is going down around 5, I come back and clean up. I do the dishes. I sweep. I wipe the counters. It feels good to have the time to be responsible for a space, and to my body and my inner self. Then in the late evening I read, drink more tea, and finally write until I think it’s at least a decent hour to go to bed. I don’t think anyone will believe me, but I will have the poems to prove it. 

Keri Smith 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

From Laura Mullen

01 Oct - 01 Nov 2017

This photo, taken from my worktable in Paris (during my residency at Trelex Foundation) makes vivid the solitude and peace (as well as the easy access to nurturing stimulation!) which are so vitally necessary. The notebook I was asked contribute to an archive at the University of Auckland is seen here, open to the blank page--that terrible and wonderful invitation, that great challenge. The opportunity to confront that space of possibility unites writers and scholars at every level, and I will keep this image in my heart as I return to my teaching and mentoring. We all start from and return to this (alone): nothing. This image reminds me to honor that space—and I post it here as a souvenir, to say that I am grateful to have had this tremendously productive and nourishing sabbatical.