If you love Paris and would like to enjoy a bitter-sweet and highly personal collection of poems, I'll once again recommend Suzanne's collection,The Paris Poems, wholeheartedly. That's with the whole of my heart, not just part of it!
You can read the story of the book, and my small part in it (the cover pic) by checking out the review I did a while back - click the book cover just below. I've also included a few excerpts to give you a feel for her work.
And now here I'm delighted to present a little interview with Suzanne herself. Her answers to my questions are full, honest and revealing and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading them as much as I did.
What she has accomplished, with this little collection, is something which both inspires and comforts me. She's had the guts to write with feeling about something important to her, which is what I try to do every day in my pieces on Paris, so I sense a kindred spirit speaking through her words, although from a totally different angle, as it should and must be. Thanks Suzanne, and see you in Paris soon! Next time, the photos of you will be mine :-D
Suzanne Burns: Americans see Paris as the ideal city in which to experience romantic love, to meet and fall deeply in love with that handsome or beautiful stranger who has been waiting on the other side of the world for them their entire life.
Americans almost see Paris as the ideal lover, the personification of an aesthetic beauty we cannot grasp. Paris pleased me for what it is as much as what it isn’t. It is beautiful and stunning in places, dark and rough in others. It is full of parks and cobbled streets and luscious food covered in glistening gravy and pastry, God the pastry…but it also has tourists and McDonald’s and traffic and exhaust.
It is at times almost, dare I say, normal, until the next perfect monument is revealed, the next bookstall along the Seine, the next crepe, the next postcard perfect moment. Yes, Paris pleases me to no end. My loyalty to Paris is immortal.
PIYP: What is your favourite place in the city?
SB: Montmarte because of the winding streets and the hills and the view of the Eiffel Tower at the base of Sacre Coeur. I almost couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be a woman who grew up in Oregon in the middle of nowhere surrounded by forest and mountains and for one afternoon I had the privilege of staring at the Eiffel Tower peeking out of the low clouds like something even a perfect dream couldn’t believe it was having. Plus I walked up and down Brassai’s fabled steps and ate a four-course lunch at the Moulin de la Galette, where I experienced my first taste of foie gras. Indescribable.
PIYP: Why does Paris inspire you so much poetically?
SB: Paris inspires me because of its inherent slowness. For all the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan city, Parisians take their time. Even a cup of coffee becomes a ritual, with the adding of cream, the tiny spoon next to the large saucer to stir in a packet of sugar, the dark chocolate waiting on the saucer for that one perfect sweet bite.
This type of purpose to enjoy pleasure without hurry is the ideal situation for not only writing poems in but writing poems about. Plus there is so much beauty in the city, when I first saw the Eiffel Tower I actually cried, and Pere Lachaise and macarons in the window at Ladurée and the French men with their impeccable suits flouncing down the Champs-Elysees.
Paris is gorgeous; it is impossible for poets not to want to dedicate their lives to capturing her. But her kind of beauty can never really be captured.
PIYP: A lot of your poems seem bitter-sweet. Is that true?
SB: I am a bittersweet person by nature. Combine my love of literature with my Irish melancholy and a healthy dose of sentimentality and you have a poet who not only is intensely aware of the beauty in the world, but also painfully aware that it is fleeting. I don’t believe true love ever ends, but I do understand that one of the beloved in each relationship, be it lovers or best friends or parent to child, will die first, and that life is crafted around the ability to love and suffer. There is such sweetness in the good times, like being in Paris for two weeks in October, and there is such bitterness in knowing that I had to leave.
PIYP: Have you ever thought of living in Paris?
SB: I think about living in Paris every single day, buying bread and cheese and reading Proust under a tree and walking up and down every street and pretending to be Hemingway strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens each evening after a good day of honest work…but I do love America for its humor and its friendliness, so I am torn. My ideal would be to live in Paris every year for one season at a time, and rotate those seasons. Money is of course a factor…but if I had it I would book a flight and find an apartment tomorrow to spend April in Paris, like the song says.
PIYP: There is a large cast of characters in The Paris Poems, but Paul Newman is mentioned several times - why's that?
SB: Paul Newman is the consummate American actor, and he died while I was in the city, steps from Notre Dame, where I lit a candle for him. I am a very lapsed Catholic, and though I felt not much in the way of a spiritual communion in the church, I felt compelled to honor someone who brought so much joy to the world of movies. I was also very surprised that some of the stores taped hand-drawn signs with Newman’s birth and death date in their windows. It made me feel a little homesick, but the sentiment also filled my heart and helped me feel safe being so far from home.
PIYP: Do you have a special Paris moment you can share?
SB: My favorite moment in Paris took place in Père Lachaise. With such an extreme language barrier my husband and I felt so alone and almost lonely walking the streets without being able to read the signs or understand any of the conversations for days.
When we arrived at Père Lachaise everything changed as we made our way to Jim Morrison’s grave. A group of young Spaniards dressed in bohemian clothes, complete with gold aviator sunglasses, was standing by Jim’s grave swigging on a bottle of red wine they passed to us without blinking. We tried to make small talk, which was also lost in translation, until one of the men held out his iPod and played one of Jim’s recordings of Awake for the whole crowd to hear.
At the end we all cheered, some of us cried, and we embraced each other, heads so close they almost touched, strange bodies becoming, for that one isolated moment, friends. The experience made me simultaneously realize how large and small the world really is.
PIYP: What is poetry, for you?
SB: Poetry is elevating language so it makes a reader feel a certain way without being coerced or manipulated. Poetry is writing at its most sincere. Poetry is never overly sentimental or overtly cruel. Poetry can make a reader laugh and cry within a few lines.
PIYP: What have you got lined up next?
SB: I am still working on a novel and writing the occasional overly sentimental love poem now and then.
PIYP: What's your philosophy on life, if you have one?
SB: My philosophy on life is that it is very very short so you better pay attention to everything you can, love hard and sincerely, eat something chocolate every single day and be kind to yourself.
PIYP: Something that never ceases to intrigue me, if you would, Suzanne: 'Why are American women So Obsessed with Macaro(o)ns?!'
SB: American women are obsessed with miniature cupcakes and diet pills. I am obsessed with French macarons, which is how we spell it over here to differentiate them from the coconut macaroons they sell in American bakeries, because they are so beautiful. The colors are vibrant and whimsical, almost like the colors of my favorite childhood board game, Candyland, yet at the same time, the taste is very adult, creamy, tantalizing, decadent.
I love French macarons because I remember walking along the Seine and eating a pistachio one, walking through the Latin Quarter while sinking my teeth into a pink framboise macaron, sitting at a café close to the Place de la Concorde and savoring a macron de chocolat. The whole concept of something so rich it almost seems dangerous appeals to me. My lust for the French macaron is profound. Plus I firmly believe they are best shared with the person you love feeding one to you on a slow afternoon when the rest of the world kind of disappears.
Note: Thanks so much to Suzanne, not only for answering the questions, but also for the whole friendly exchange we have had so far, from your tentative approach about using my photo for the book cover to the great news that the book had finally come out and receiving my signed copy! I'm proud of that lovely little volume of Paris Poems, I can tell you, though they're not even mine!