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11.3.04

Springtime Is for Poets: A Modest Proposal

I have mentioned this quintessentially French event before, in relation to the celebrations for the Year of George Sand (see post on February 6): the Printemps des Poètes (Springtime of Poets). A little unsigned article (Aujourd'hui, le Printemps des poètes, March 8) in Le Figaro relates some details on this whimsical literary festival. The sixth installment of the Springtime of Poets runs from March 8 to 14 and offers more than 12,000 events. Here is the selection presented by Le Figaro:

  • The Night of Poets, in Paris, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, at the François-Mitterand site, between 8 and 11 pm. About 50 contemporary poets will recite, sing, murmur, and read texts.
  • Poetic walks in the Louvre. From March 10 to 14, the Louvre invites visitors to look at works from the Departments of Sculpture and Eastern Antiquities, illustrated by poetic texts of the 20th and 21st centuries. Actors from the Compagnie des Hommes will accompany the public in its visits combining poetry and works of art. [The Louvre's Web site lists some of the poets to be recited as Blaise Cendrars, René Char, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, and Michel Butor. This .pdf file from Louvre Magazine has a complete list of the poems that will be recited and in front of which sculptures.]
  • At the Institut du monde arabe [also in Paris], on March 14, authors who have written about hope (Andrée Chedid, Adonis, etc.) will have their unknown texts read. The public will play at being a "poetry pioneer" by taking these texts and distributing them at will, in the form of pamphlets.
  • Poetry celebration in Lyons. Through March 14, the city will celebrate poetry in all its forms (reading, shows, performance, poetic concerts) around this year's chosen them: hope. Each district has its own schedule of events and each is thus invited to come hear, discover, explore poetry in all its forms. [This .pdf file contains the whole program of events in Lyons.]
  • Words of hope at the Villeneuve shop in Marseilles. Through March 20, the shop will present its spring-summer 2004 collection by several designers in honor of poets. This will be shown in a decorative and dramatic form (a mixture of things and writings) in the five windows.
  • "Une invitation au voyage" (Invitation to travel), in Bordeaux. Performance organized by the Windows association in the street, through March 14: Monday, Thursday, Saturday, from 2 to 9 pm. Walk among postal art, send a bottle by sea, exchange poems with neighbors.
The television news from France 2 last night had some coverage of one of the events (you can watch the video feed: this piece is near the end), with images of people listening to poetry readings while looking at paintings in the Musée d'Orsay. What I love about this sort of cultural event is its egalitarian spirit: the people interviewed on television are ordinary people who go to museums, not pretentious art types ("Serious Art People," as Dave Barry put it: see post on January 19), and they are simply having fun with poetry and art.

Hopefully, the following proposal, although perhaps quixotic, will generate some comments from readers. At present, the United States military budget (approximately $399 billion for FY 2004, which President Bush wants to raise to $420 billion, according to his latest budget request) is around five times greater than its closest competitor (Russia, approximately $65 billion) and over ten times greater than that of France (around $30 billion). Would it not be possible to take a mere 1% of the American military budget (let's say around $4 billion) and create a Department of Culture that would finally bring us into line with other civilized countries and support our society's art, humanities, and scholarship, to inspire a cultural life in proportion with our GDP? Any presidential candidate who has the guts to propose this will get my vote and my meager campaign contribution. (There may still be hope for Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich, since the Democratic Party has apparently opted for the blandest vanilla Republican-in-disguise candidate possible.) We, too, could spend government money on poetry readings, art exhibits, sculpture, theater, free concert series, humanities research and teaching, and arts programs in the public schools. Life is too short not to spend one's time listening to and looking at beautiful things.</uncharacteristic political rant>

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