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
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
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

Primary Float Teachers needed for various temporary roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary Teacher's * perm roles following resignation period

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Primary Teachers needed...

Science Teacher Norwich

£25000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are seeking ...

Reception Teachers needed for January 2015

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Th...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker