A sense of wonder in the natural world underlies the work of poet and translator Roselyne Sibille K.SRILATA speaks to her about what lies at the heart of her work...

“Between Daybreak and Dawn”

(Entre L'Aube Et L'Aurore)

Between daybreak and dawn

the three breaths and the river's reflected lights

I make my home

At fade of mist

and sun drizzle when the world takes shape

I make my home

With the first birdsong and the blue silence

I make my home.

Roselyne Sibille, translated from the French by Michael Fineberg.

“It's time” (Il Est Temps)

The leaves know

It is autumn


it is time


They loosen

It is time

They let go

The light

darts and smiles

in the soft abandon of leaves

They land

quivering still then quietened

to ground

“I don't try to write,” the French poet and creator of writing workshops, Roselyne Sibille tells me. “The words come and nest inside me.” It sounds easy but of course, I know it cannot be. The “effortlessness”, the not-trying requires a certain meditative effort. Roselyne's poems are sensual, polished. They spill over with a deep silence. Even though the conversation I have with her in the space between two readings at Prakriti Foundation's Poetry Festival is regrettably brief, I cannot but sense the remarkable intensity inherent in her practice of poetry. Writer Zoe Skoulding acts as interpreter, a fact that layers our conversation beautifully.

K.Srilata: Apart from writing poetry yourself, you also teach writing. You have created poetry workshops at the University of Avignon and at other places. Would you say that there is a synergy between writing and the teaching of it?

Roselyne Sibille: It is very important that I write myself. When I write, I try things out and I understand how writing works. It is not merely a cerebral act. It is practical knowledge. The writing is mixed up with who I am. What you get from my peculiar perspective you won't find by reading about it. I have written since adolescence and I am fifty seven now. My whole conscious life has been involved with writing… It is who I am.

K.Srilata: What made you turn to poetry, choose it over other forms?

Roselyne Sibille: In poetry, you can say the things that are the hardest to say, the most difficult to express. You can say in just a few words (in poetry) what will take you many more words in philosophy and metaphysics. It is a very economical form. Poetry is at an angle to ordinary language, to the world…

K.Srilata: You have just been through a six day translation workshop at Sangam House in Adhishakti. Tell me something about the experience. What does translation do for a poem? What gets “translated” in a poem?

Roselyne Sibille: Translation is a way of answering a poem more deeply than reading it. This is not just in terms of the way the words are put together, but in terms of spaces, silences, all of that… And I try to bring that back in language, losing as little as possible. It is like carrying water in a bucket that has a hole, spilling as little as possible. The poem becomes a new poem in French. It is not just a reformed version of the original.

K.Srilata: How important is poetry in the literary life of France today? Do people engage with it? And are publishers willing to publish poetry?

Roselyne Sibille: In France, poetry remains marginal in the world of publishing. But we have many poetry festivals to which ordinary people come, bringing their families. That gives me a lot of hope for the state of poetry in France.

K.Srilata: What is your take on the new modes of presenting poetry? The use of multimedia, for instance, which some of you have attempted at this festival… What does it do for the form?

Roselyne Sibille: It attracts more people to poetry. As for people who already like poetry, it unfolds the form for them – like a fan. Certain ways of using sound can put poetry in 3 D. In my own work, the connection of poetry with other art forms like painting, music, dance and video takes it to another zone altogether.

K.Srilata: Any literary influences from within France or from elsewhere that you would care to speak of?

Roselyne Sibille: I don't think I am influenced by other poets but I am aware of sensibilities close to mine. I am thinking especially of Philippe Jaccottet, Emily Dickinson, Kenneth White.

K.Srilata: How important is the presence of a writing community for you?

Roselyne Sibille: It is my second family.

K.Srilata: Tell me something about the process of writing a poem…

Roselyne Sibille: I live in the countryside and go for walks with a notebook. I walk in silence. I observe things. I open myself to the world… I smell things. I sense them. I feel a sense of gratitude for things that are living, for the fact that I am alive. I don't try to write. I stay calm. The words come and nest inside me. It is like an unformed stone and I turn it like a pebble in a river till I feel it is ready, finished. Sometimes there is a gift of a poem that arrives already shaped. I am not an intellectual poet. I write about nature as a metaphor for human nature. It is not just nature poetry. So there is a philosophical dimension to it.

More In: Books