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Anne-Laure Chamboissier

Bernard Heidsieck, poetry in action

For some days now, "Vaduz", "La poinçonneuse" and "Carrefour Chaussée d’Antin" have been echoing in my head and going round in a loop like scannings. Bernard Heidsieck, one of the pioneers of sound poetry, passed away this Saturday 22th November. That effectless musicality that was peculiar to him, that very special voice with its composed tone which marked each one of us who discovered him on stage for the first time.

While a revolution was going on in the field of music in the early 1950s, Bernard Heidsieck became aware of the dead end in which poetry was stuck. If such a radical revolution was in the process of happening in music, it seemed to me like a crying need that the same should happen in poetry. From then on, he thought about a new way of conceiving things. This involved offering poetry a new space other than that of the page. The word became active, and poetry acted. He held himself straight, whether standing or seated, very quickly preferring the term action poetry, in 1963, to sound poetry.

The score poems (1955-1964) marked the start of this attempt. Semantics was always there but gradually disappeared. Phoneticism no longer existed, even if that attempt only really assumed its full breadth from 1959 on. He used a tape recorder for the first time. The arrival of technology in the field of this new poetry in the making played a predominant part as a manufacturing tool and a diffusion medium. Electronics helped his research to develop: trituration, cut-up, superposition, collage… and from then on certain semantic data were changed.

How did his work then develop?
The series idea was decisive for anyone wanting to understand his approach. In 1962, Bernard Heidsieck achieved nothing less than sound writing with Poème-Partitioin B2-B3, and that text gave rise to his first public reading. There then followed Biopsies (1965-1969), Passe-Partout (1969-2004), Canal Street (1973-1976), Derviche/Le Robert (1978-1986), and Respirations and Brèves Rencontres (1988-1995). He really did make poetry a tool for reading reality. I was producing texts about things that struck me, that surged up, and which gave value to very simple things, with which we live. It was important above all not to make poetic poetry go beyond “poetic language”. Those words alone sum up that demanding quality that was his, and which never left him.

Unlike other sound poets of his generation, like Henri Chopin, he abandoned neither meaning nor phrase. His poems are written, the score is part and parcel of the oeuvre. Through this process of pre-recording on a tape recorder, and simultaneous improvisation, with a microphone, live, he gives another dimension to the poem. He projects it outside the space of the page. And produces a work where body of text and voice form an inseparable whole, forever questioning. His converging notes, so valuable for understanding his oeuvre, attest to this:fFinished, recorded, each one of my texts poses me the problem of its re-transmission. How to make it live, in public, visual? How “to make it act”? How to experience it? How to make it “pass” into the frame of “a reading”/action intended to be minimal—and above all neither game nor happening?
Bernard Heidsieck was the driving force behind a polymorphous work in which each fragment is developed like an Ariadne’s thread. State by stage, we have let ourselves be grabbed by this world which is both extremely constructed and free of any kind of straitjacket. As a real physical experience, this work cannot be grasped by a simple reading of his texts. Without listening, you cannot approach the whole corporality, the subtlety of a language re-manufactured with déjà vu, “the incandescent language of everyday”, to use Olivier Cadiot’s nice phrase.

> Bernard Heidsieck, Notes convergentes, Intervention 1961-1995, Al Dante, 2001.
> Olivier Cadiot, Un derviche à Royaumont, CCP no.19 devoted to Bernard Heidsieck, published by the Centre International de la poésie de Marseille, 2010.