Reflections/poem biography for The je ne sais quoi of it

Lone Breakfast after Prévert’s ‘Déjeuner du matin’

Lone Breakfast after Prévert’s ‘Déjeuner du matin’

“his lips on the rim of my white espresso cup;
his long fingers, stirring;”

Until I was horrendously sick and rushed to hospital in a fire engine while pregnant with my first son, I loved France. I still love the French language, but I am more wary now of the country. I also love the work of French poet Jacques Prévert.

Inspired partially by Prévert’s ‘Déjeuner du matin’, my ‘The je ne sais quoi of it’ was written in great retrospect (20 years later) to some of the experiences within the poem. My study of French and linguistics at the University of Oxford included eight months living and working in Normandy. It was one of the most homesick and depressed years of my life, but also one where I learned a great deal about myself.

When I went to France, I had a serious boyfriend, unfortunately, sent to teach at a school on the opposite side of the country. Like most young loves, we thought we could breeze through being apart, but we didn’t.

Following our split, I spent a few months ‘playing the field’. The man breathed after in the poem is no particular man. He is more an amalgamation of a number of lovers, combined with the break-up with my long-term boyfriend. I merged them, so I could use the ‘Déjeuner du matin’ framework, which features one man leaving.

In real life, as opposed to the poem, my boyfriend and I got back together for the last few months of my time abroad, before splitting up for good six months later. I have mostly very fond memories of him, but less so for some of the other men in my life during that year. Although bitterness is an unpleasant, and ultimately harmful, emotion, there is something to be said for it as an essential stage of moving on. It can also be useful for remembering what people were really like, not nostalgia or love’s romanticised version of them. Sometimes, a little hissing or a few fricatives may be required!

For those interested in the linguistics, the sounds ‘p’,’ b’ and ‘m’ are made by both lips moving as they might for a quick kiss. Fricatives are consonant sounds produced by the friction of breath through a narrow opening, creating a turbulent air flow, e.g. ‘f,’ ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) How does using foreign words and phrases add to, or detract from, the poem? (Atmosphere, authenticity, exclusion/distance for those who don’t know that language…
2) Do we need to know what every word/thing in a poem means or can it be enough just to enjoy the music, atmosphere, colour…?

Writing/Inspiration Prompt

Is there an incident from your past which you keep returning to? Explore the je ne sais quoi (I don’t know what) element of nostalgia, regret, hindsight… that draws you back to this event. In a poem or story, would you rewrite the ending differently?


plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.