Featured Poetry: "That Paris Year" by Joanna Biggar
If you’ve been to France, this novel is a delicious joy ride, the next best thing to a return ticket. If you haven’t, it may get you packing. It is, above all, an extended love song to a city the author knows intimately and in exquisite detail. – Christine Berardo, writer and producer
OED: "Poetry- A piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery."
If you've come to this post there's a likely chance you've come with some confusion, for you know That Paris Year is the wonderful debut novel of Joanna Biggar and that, while it is certainly poetic, you would not call it poetry because it lacks form. To start, I'll cite that many people think the scene in The Brother's Karamazov where Ivan and Alyosha sit in the cafe and discuss theology is one of the best short stories ever written. And, indeed, I've met a not insignificant number of people who will argue with you over which soliloquy in The Waves makes the best stand alone poem. So when I declare, and I do declare, that this section of That Paris Year's prologue is not only succinct and a full and satisfying exploration of ideas by itself, but also absolutely sings you might understand why it would be represented in ASP featured poetry.
From the Prologue of "That Paris Year"
It’s been only ten years, but it seems a hundred since I walked this shaded street, passing the open grassy quad, the somnolent ivied walls, the buildings and bell tower beyond where California Spanish makes an impressionist’s blur of whitewash splashed with red tile, orange cannas, deep pick geraniums. The palm trees still scrape the eastern horizon before the rise of Old Baldy and fan the memory of heat—its breeze still scented with orange blossoms. But today it is the sycamores lining this street, the sycamores with their puzzling bark and their offer of shade, that I seek. Perhaps because I now know their cousins, the plane trees of Paris.
The sun gathers itself imperially, dictating heat from that high desert throne already hidden in ghastly haze. If I glance behind myself, perhaps the smog has settled so low I can’t really see the outline of Old Baldy, the palm fronds against the horizon, the tangle of rooftops and flowers. Perhaps even the scent of orange groves is only a figment of memory. No matter. Memory, I see now, is the vital organ of reality; our best, if fragile, link to the immortal. Otherwise, how could I be here?
I would not be turning down the little street with the old, cracked pavement to follow it to the end where it wanders into the wash. Would not be walking toward la Maison, its unkempt shingles and chipping porch paint, dingy living room with the puckered, dusty rose chairs, the persistent, if neglected, ivy on the mantle hung with a cheap and too fleshy Renoir. The room, the overstuffed furniture, and dark floors where I danced once dressed like a French whore and Gracie grasped love as a principle of physics. It is, all of it, you see, etched on the lids of my inner eyes.
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After 2015’s That Paris Year which followed a group of young women on their year-abroad at the Sorbonne—their youthful flings as well as their many rites of adulthood— Joanna Biggar is bringing its spiritual sequel Melanie’s Song overseas to her own hometown in the United States. Set in Califonia amid the cultural revolution of the late 60s early 70s, Melanie’s Song, while not a direct sequel to That Paris Year shares many of its characters and its familiar, lavish lyrical style. In MS, J.J., the protagonist of That Paris Year, a young reporter, is on a quest to find her missing friend, Melanie (the archetypal shy scholarly type and another character from TPY) who fled her marriage to a straight-laced classical musician in order to hitch-hike to Woodstock and San Francisco.
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Professional author and Francophile, Joanna Biggar, breaks down the historical and philosophical significances of France’s most well-loved holiday, Bastille Day. Pour tous: Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!