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Luxembourg's New York poet
Culture & Life

Luxembourg's New York poet

2 min. 14.05.2014 From our online archive
In the 1960s, Luxembourg poet Pierre Joris first moved to New York. In the decades to come he would become a prolific wordsmith, publishing close to 50 books of poetry and essays, with some of his works now included in an exhibition in the Grand Duchy.

(CS) In the 1960s, Luxembourg poet Pierre Joris first moved to New York. In the decades to come he would become a prolific wordsmith, publishing close to 50 books of poetry and essays, with some of his works now included in an exhibition in the Grand Duchy.

Joris was born in Strasbourg in 1946, spending his childhood and youth in Luxembourg. It was at school in Diekirch when the then 15-year-old student discovered the magic and power of poetry at a reading of Paul Celan's Death Fugue - “a downright epiphany,” according to the poet.

After leaving school, however, Joris first began studying medicine – a “real” profession – in Paris. Aged 19, Joris abandoned the natural sciences and moved to New York City, where he studied English literature at Bard College.

“The literature which interested me came from the United States, with the Beat Generation and poets like Allan Ginsberg,” he told the “Luxemburger Wort”. His studies in New York were followed by a degree in translation from the University of Essex, and Joris has translated the works of literary greats such as Celan, Jack Kerouac and Habib Tengour.

“A 'good' translation is one, in which the original language, but also the language of the translation shine through,” he said.

Paris and North Africa followed, before the poet moved back to New York, where he still lives today. “I have calculated, that I have spent three whole months of my life on planes crossing the north Atlantic,” Joris said of his nomadic lifestyle.

Poetry written in English

Even though Joris grew up in Luxembourg none of his poetry is written in Luxembourgish, “because I never learned how to write it,” he said. Instead, he started writing poetry in English.

Writing in a foreign language allowed him not only to learn English, but also taught Joris about poetry itself, as he had to carefully chose each word. In the meantime, Joris, who believes that being multilingual is a natural state for people, has taken up studying Arabic.

Over the decades, the artform of poetry lost none of its appeal to Joris. “The biggest problem of our times is an 'overspecialisation', which has led to the current fragmented view of the world,” Joris said, adding that a poet is like a “scientist of the whole”, able to bring together disparate pieces of information into one, more complete, whole.

The journey of poetry

Poetry, and each individual poem, is a process, Joris explained. It begins with a first draft – written on an unlined sheet of paper in a notebook with a fountain pen. This is followed by a typed computer version and finally a printed poem in a magazine or a book.

The journey of the poem does not end there, however, as it is freed from the “'cage' of the book” at readings and performances, said Joris, who also performs improvised spoken word, music and song with his wife, French artist Nicole Peyrafitte.

With an exhibition featuring works of Joris currently running at the “Centre National de la Littérature” in Mersch, the poet once again made the journey across the Atlantic to the Grand Duchy.

“The poem is ideal for nomads,” he said, “because you can always carry it around with you in your head.”

Find out more about Joris and his work on pierrejoris.com

Interview by Vesna Andonovic