Pascale Petit and Exile?
This week I am giving a paper at the postgraduate symposium. The topic will be exile and I am thinking specifically about the poet, Pascale Petit. Like many modern writers, Petit has a dual nationality – Welsh and French – and she is one of many Welsh women poets who have turned away from traditional tropes and approaches in Welsh literature. Petit is probably the most radical in that she does not follow the maxim, 'Write about what you know'.
Rather Petit turns to other models:
I don’t compare myself to [Yeats, Eliot, Larkin or Hughes], though I think one of the reasons I don’t is because they’re men. And they’re the standard of excellence – I mean, male poets are the standard.óPascale Petit in interview.
Here Petit is responding to a question which asks how she relates to male literary greats: Yeats, Eliot, Larkin, Hughes. Petit rejects these models specifically because they are male. Is this due to anxiety of influence (or authorship as Gilbert and Gubar pose it) or is it more than this? Is Petit suggesting that male and female poetry is essentially different? Petit goes on to qualify her statement. She describes such male poets as 'the standard of excellence'. Such poets belong to canonising literary critics, not to her, or so it seems in this statement.
Petit continues estranging herself even further from a male English (and in the case of Yeats – Irish) tradition:
Apart from the gender thing, there’s also the fact that I’m not British, and haven’t looked to British poetry for models. I’ve looked more to America, Europe, Australia. So, to try and answer you: I don’t have British roots, nor any firm roots. óPascale Petit in interview.
In addition to her thoughts on gender, Petit also adds further comments that deal with her cultural outlook. As a Welsh/French subject, she doesn't feel herself to be British. I find it interesting that she describes herself in this way as if her identity is not linked in any way to any idea of Britishness. Rather Petit looks to Europe, Australia and particularly America (possibly referring to the continent of Latin America rather than the US). Petit, then, feels estranged from her roots and has an outward looking view regarding models and poetics.
Interestingly, although Petit has estranged herself culturally, she has been described as confessional:
I write what I am compelled to write, and hope that explorations of my childhood ‘private hell’ are of relevance to readers. There are entire countries undergoing private hells much worse than mine, but in a first world country this is sometimes forgotten.óPascale Petit in interview
Petit is forthright in talking about the disturbing experiences of her childhood, yet she expresses anxiety about the reader's response. In juxtaposition with her previous comment, she makes her difficult experience into a macrocosmic event that includes an entire country. Specifically the kind of country that she is talking about manifests itself in her work in her use of Latin American landscapes, cultures and heroes. The way that she talks about her poetics here suggests that perhaps the strategy of including the exigencies of developing countries has a double purpose. It simultaneously eludes the problems of writing confesssionally and privileges the models and cultures of the devloping world.