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December 2023
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   « After receiving your invitation, I knew almost instantly that I would talk to you about the poem J’arrive où je suis étranger (literally: ‘I arrive where I am a stranger’). It’s a text by Aragon from a 1964 collection. The first time I heard it, it was the version sung by Jean Ferrat. I was driving my car, listening to the radio. From the very first verses, I realized that something was happening.
I pulled over and I started crying. Confronted with the beauty of this song, I wept.
   I must have been 50 at the time. So this was over 10 years ago.
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   There’s a before and an after this music, this poem. At first, you don’t quite see what it’s about. But the more the song continues, the more you grasp its meaning. At the same time, the older you get, the more you understand it.
   The reason I like it so much is also because it talks about aging. A subject that no one wants to talk about. I know it by heart now. Some verses still bring tears to my eyes.
« It is better to dim the lamps
A longer night suits us better
It is bright daylight that is getting older »
Excerpt from the poem J'arrive où je suis étranger,
written by Louis Aragon in 1964
  I chose a sung poem because, in this specific case, Jean Ferrat doesn’t just ‘accompany’ Aragon’s poem. He adds his poetry to the poetry. Jean Ferrat is a singer I heard all the time when I was little, along with Barbara and Georges Brassens. These were the voices of my childhood.
There’s this velvet quality, this tremor, this vulnerability, this humanity. It’s lucid and naive all at once. It grips you.
  Jean Ferrat has one of these voices that holds an ideal. It’s a voice that springs from the heart. His songs remind me of Saint-Exupéry or Camus. They have a healing quality.
  I also like to think that poetry, which has never really been in fashion, can take on more accessible forms, thanks to music. Ton héritage (literally: ‘Your inheritance’) by Benjamin Biolay is poetry. Paint It, Black by the Stones is poetry. A song by John Lennon is poetry.
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   You might think that poetry would be popular in our fast-moving world because it can be read so quickly. But it’s not that simple. You face a poem on your own. No one holds your hand. In 2021, I published a book written entirely in verse, entitled Capitale de la douceur (literally: ‘The Capital of Softness’). My publisher was amazed at its success. But I think it worked because we live in a world with an immense lack of sweetness, and poetry brings things up to scratch. It calms you down. It establishes a low frequency. Simone Weil said, ‘We must go downwards.’ Downwards or upwards, it’s all the same in the end: it pulls us from this horizontal middle ground, this area of the commonplace and triviality. It takes us elsewhere.
« Trees are beautiful in autumn
But what has become of the child?
I see myself and am astounded
By this unknown traveler »
Excerpt from the poem J'arrive où je suis étranger,
written by Louis Aragon in 1964
   This is why I chose a poem by Louis Aragon. I could have chosen one by Victor Hugo, Jacques Prévert, Alfred de Musset or Molière.
But, with Aragon, it’s the first time I realized it was possible to tell a story with rhymes.
   Poetry is not just an aestheticization. It has a melodious dimension. When you think about it, poems are the first texts you learn by heart in school. We know they’re easier to remember. They have a rhythm. 
   In addition to the poetry of words, there is also the poetry of life. One leads to the other. Welcoming the unexpected, keeping an eye open to the world.
   I remember one day, a long time ago, I saw a man tilting all the side-view mirrors of the cars he walked past. The crazy thing was that he was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. He was an adult from an office, but he was also a kid at the same time. It was beautiful, like a scene from a movie. But you have to be able to see that kind of poetry. By opening your eyes and by saying yes to accidents.
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At Sophie's
   Yes, I’ve known this song for many years now. When I was writing Admirable, for example, I was thinking about my chapter titles and this poem popped into my head again. When it comes down to it, Aragon and I are dealing with the same subject: aging. When I was writing, Jean Ferrat’s voice resonated through my ears. On repeat. All year long. It’s stuck in my head for life. »
— Sophie Fontanel
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