Homage to Edouard Glissant, Martinique's whole world poet

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Alive like the earth, the water, the wind

Maybe this long American detour took him away from us too early. Falling ill early last summer, on his way back to New York, Edouard Glissant was not able to overcome an accumulation of medical complications, despite the caring efforts of his wife Sylvie, and other loved ones. But at least America recognised his genius, while France's establishment was somewhat forgetful, with the notable exception of Dominique de Villepin, who, as Prime Minister, had entrusted him with an assignment to write Memories of Slavery (Les Mémoires des esclavages la Documentation française, 2007).

The proposition that rounded off this report, buried by the leadership that emerged from the 2007 ballot box, is more topical than ever now: "The grandeur of a country is not primarily a question of its economic capacity, nor of the weight of its armed forces [...], but of its possessing the aptitude and the audacity to propose the opening of a new planetary road, the Road of World Solidarity. This road is more difficult to blaze than the old silk, salt, spice, or even slavery roads. But let us set out on it nonetheless, with neither naivety nor scepticism."

Edouard Glissant couldn't care less about the silence and indifference he was faced with at times, especially as he was always accompanied by a robust network of friends. Supported by the Ile-de-France region and by the Fondation agnès b., the Tout Monde Institute is a meeting place as nomadic as its founder. It is beneath its banner that his farewells were pronounced in France, with a wake hosted at Paris's Maison de l'Amérique Latine (Latin America House), directed by his friend François Vitrani. Then he set sail to his island-world, Martinique.

"S'en aller! S'en aller! Parole de vivant!" ("To depart! To depart! ..."), this cry inevitably springs to mind. It belongs to Saint-John Perse, a fellow poet, a double, born in Guadeloupe, but on the side of the plantations and its order. The young Alexis Leger, who was to adopt the pseudonym Perse, was nicknamed Ban-moin-lè in Créole (Give me air, space and wind). Edouard Glissant, now laid to rest in the Diamant marine cemetery, facing the great solitary rock that punctuates the southern extremity of Martinique, will have air and space. And, above all, he will be alive.

Before departing, in the early hours of the morning of February 3 2011, Edouard Glissant did actually find the time to say that he had dreamt that he was elected, or nominated - he couldn't quite remember which - as a "living soul of the world". Poets are not afraid of the childhood that remains an intrinsic part of them - as it does for all of us - of the spontaneity and whims of childhood, its vision and lucidity. For all poets are soothsayers, and Glissant was a visionary right to the very end. The work with which he has left us is very much alive, and it is up to us to let it grow.

In our last conversation, when he had already been bed-ridden for several months, we discussed rain trees, those trees that thrive while hosting a proliferation of other plants, vines and ferns on their trunks and branches. Yes, Glissant's work is alive like a rain tree, and like the earth, water and wind that give it life.

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English version: Chloé Baker
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Click on' Prolonger' top of page to go to Edouard Glissant's 2009 video interview with Mediapart.