Monday 18 July 2022

From Claire Watt

18 July - 29 August 2022

My time in the poetry garret was one of inspiration and connection. From the start, I decided I wanted to take this opportunity to throw myself into the Parisian literary scene, and the garret, located in the heart of the city, was the perfect place to do this.

As soon as I put down my bags, opening the window to the sight of the beautiful Haussmann architecture around me, I made a beeline for the little plastic folder on the bookshelf of the garret, containing tips from previous residents. My mind reeled–there was an entire page with suggested contacts and events to help you feel more at home. Everything from regular poetry readings to the email addresses of local writers–it was the best welcome I could have asked for. I was privileged enough to go for a walk with the poet Cole Swensen and grab a drink with the visual artist Sabine Macher, both of whom inspired my writing. Whilst Cole showed me around the tranquil Jardin du Luxembourg, Sabine took me to the bustling neighbourhoods around Riquet. We talked poetry and Paris and both helped me explore new directions in my writing. I also met several times with Alice Notley in relation to my PhD research on the New York School, which again fed into my creative practice.

I equally explored the Paris writing scene in a group setting, going along to the open mic nights at Culture Rapide and the Sunday workshops at Au Chat Noir. I found a community of writers at Au Chat Noir who made me feel incredibly welcome, and a tributary group of us began meeting up in a particularly friendly member’s Parisian apartment for extra writing sessions over beer and wine. Meeting people from such different writing backgrounds, including many expats and French speakers, was formative for my writing process. In particular, one of the writers with whom I connected is also a visual artist, and the way in which she mixes images of art and light into her written work precipitated a shift in my own writing–what if I could go beyond the influences of the page alone? I pushed myself to try ekphrastic poetry, comic poetry and to seize the city streets as a flâneur. I am now shaping these eclectic poems into a chapbook, and two of my poems are forthcoming in the August issue of Tears in the Fence.

My poetry was fed by the buzz of Paris. Looking out of the window of the garret, you feel as though you’re in the centre of it all, and it’s true–the city is quite literally on your doorstep. Locally, I enjoyed grabbing coffee from Loutsa (the lady there is extremely smiley) and a pain au chocolat from Le Café Pierre Hermé. I spent most of my days walking–down Canal St Martin, around République, through La Marais, or sitting in the oasis of quiet which is tucked away behind Pont Neuf. My poetry was fueled by the streets and by tiny galleries like 59 Rue du Rivoli, a set of artist studios which are ever-changing and open to the public. By night, I immersed myself in the jazz scene, exploring Duc du Lombards and La Gare, amongst others, and often grabbed drinks or a crêpe on Rue Mouffetard. I enjoyed walking at night, catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower between the trees or across the Seine, whenever I could. 

I have always found Paris inspiring, but living in the centre for a snatch of time and just being able to write added a new colour to it–a hue of artistic energy I still carry with me now. There is perhaps no greater pleasure than to sit in Jardin du Luxembourg with a pen and a piece of paper in the summer (especially if you can find one of the reclining chairs), watching the tiny model boats circle round and round on the central pond. I am so grateful to Elizabeth for this residency and the space and time to write which it offers; it truly is a unique experience and I look forward to returning in the future.