Pierre Béarn

Poet, fabulist and activist for writers

Pierre Béarn's life's work began in the 1960s when he founded the poetry review
La Passerelle ("Gangway"). That was when I first got to know him, for it was with the contributors to his magazine that he started his rather quixotic "
mandat des poètes", which was an ambitious scheme, planned as early as 1950, to come to the rescue of down-and-out poets by encouraging those better off to contribute to his
mandats (money or postal orders) to tide their less fortunate brethren over hard times.

Louis-Gabriel Besnard (Pierre Béarn), poet and writer: born Bucharest 15 June 1902; died Paris 27 October 2004.

Pierre Béarn's life's work began in the 1960s when he founded the poetry review La Passerelle ("Gangway"). That was when I first got to know him, for it was with the contributors to his magazine that he started his rather quixotic " mandat des poètes", which was an ambitious scheme, planned as early as 1950, to come to the rescue of down-and-out poets by encouraging those better off to contribute to his mandats (money or postal orders) to tide their less fortunate brethren over hard times.

This poetic benevolent fund, unique in the history of letters, had its office in Béarn's apartment at 60 rue Monsieur le Prince in Paris and its committee and generous donors soon included many well-known names in contemporary writing and publishing - Guy Béart, Michel Bénard, Andrée Chedid, Maurice Druon, Michel Déon, Régine Desforges.

During the Sixties, Béarn made a significant literary contribution to the rebellion of the students in Paris in 1968, when he coined for them the disgruntled slogan that came to epitomise their disgust with daily bourgeois existence: " Métro, Boulot, Dodo" - a life of labour beginning with the crowded morning Métro and ending with exhausted sleep. The idealism of the young demanded something better than that from life, and in a certain sense the young today have got it. (Another version of the slogan was " Métro, Boulot, Bistro, Mégots, Dodo, Zéro" - the addition of bistro and dog-ends found its apocalypse in the nothingness of full-blown zero. ) The phrase had first appeared in his book on his own experiences as a working man, Couleurs d'usine ("Factory Colours", 1951).

The poets' aid scheme flourished and Béarn was elected president of the Syndicate of Writers (1970-75) and thereafter president of several unions devoted to the rights of poets and novelists, until from 1978 he held the important post of President of the Commission of Professional Foreign Writers at the Ministry of Labour.

He was born Louis-Gabriel Besnard in Bucharest, where his father was the chef français in the kitchens of the King of Romania. His parents were of Breton and Champenois origin. At the age of nine, he returned with them to Paris, where at primary school he composed his first verses. Three years later, the First World War broke out. His father died in that war, and a few years later, while he was still an adolescent, his mother died. So Louis-Gabriel Besnard had to shift for himself, and ran through a medley of picturesque jobs that included selling boxes of boot polish, bartender, groom, taxi driver and racing cyclist.

At the age of 20, he embarked upon the battleship Jean-Bart for Constantinople, and was promoted to cipher clerk. On his return to France, he began working seriously as a writer and Pierre Béarn was the pseudonym he adopted when he became a "man of letters". His first professional engagement was as art critic for Paris-Presse in 1930. From 1931 he also wrote on gastronomy for Paris-Soir. He became a popular lecturer, and eventually became a producer of radio programmes from 1949 to 1956.

It is a wonder that his generous dedication to the well-being and the rights of fellow poets and other writers did not prevent Béarn from producing large quantities of his own literary works. But there were numerous collections of poetry, nearly all rewarded by literary prizes. He also wrote on gastronomy, travel in Africa and sea voyages. His poetry, alas, has been unfairly neglected in recent years, but he made up for that with masterly collections of fables, making him the one living writer following in the steps of La Fontaine, Florian and Fénélon. He wrote in all nearly 300 fables, decorated by his own quirky illustrations.

Among his better-known works is a steamily erotic novel, La Bête ("The Beast"), published in 1989 and recently reissued. Béarn's contribution to this popular genre relates to the first sensual experience of a 12-year-old Lolita named Sandrine. He wrote in his foreword:

If this book should destroy my reputation, it can't be helped. A writer, and especially if he is a poet, has a duty to convey a portrait of his times, and as a witness to those times is responsible only for the sincerity with which he lays his heart bare.

In June 2001, Béarn, on his 99th birthday, was merrily signing copies of La Bête at the poetry fair that is held every year on the Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris.

It was important that he defended poets themselves as much as poetry. In one of his last letters to me, he lamented the fact that too many poets write only for themselves, and are not read even by their own fellow poets.

James Kirkup



Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee