Nathalie Man on How Her Public Poetry Turns Paris Street Sweepers into Art Curators

Nathalie Man on How Her Public Poetry Turns Paris Street Sweepers into Art Curators

Ashley Rindsberg

Nathalie Man is a poet, writer and a street artist. She started writing at the age of 7 and during her teenage years won regional and national poetry prizes. Due to winning a national short story she joined the junior jury of the Jules Verne’s Adventure Film Festival in 2007. She studied French and comparative literature along with comparative philosophy and political science at Sciences Po Grenoble. She organizes writing workshops and hosts a poetry and msuic radio show every thrid Monday of the month on La Clé des Ondes, an independent radio in Bordeaux (90.1FM). Nathalie's poems are pasted throughout the streets that allow for people's reactions- several exhibits showcase her work and poetry.

More on Nathalie's work:

Ashley: So Nathalie Man, welcome to The Meaning Creators. You're going to tell us about yourself, but I'll just give a little bit of an introduction from what I know, which is that you are a poet.

Nathalie: Yes.

Ashley: But a different kind of poet in the sense that your poems don't only go on paper in a book or other places. They go to very public places, which are on the walls of cities that you're in, namely Bordeaux, where you live. So tell us first who you are, where you come from, where you were born and raised. And then we'll jump into the poetry part, which is really interesting, exciting, really a beautiful thing.

Nathalie: Okay. So my name is Nathalie Man. My dad is from Hong Kong. So he left China because of Mao. Because my grandfather was from the [inaudible 00:50] and that's why he left China and they arrived in Hong Kong. And he always complained that he was less than the British because the British were the Commonwealth. So less than the British. So it was for him, very hard. That hard that he married a woman in France to become French and then won the green card lottery and became American. So anyway, so that's my dad. Then my mom is Spanish. She's from the North of Spain, Cantabria is the region and Santander is the main capital. But she was born and raised in a little village. Same thing. I mean, she lived, her family lived also in the Spanish war, right. We know so much. So right now we're still looking for some people who disappeared in our family and trying to get some money to open those graves and identify the bones and put them into real graves anyways. So that's kind of the story.

And they met in Switzerland on a train because my mother wanted my father badly. I was born in Lyon. Lyon is a city in kind of South, I mean South Eastern. I'm kind of not south, but somehow East of France, and yeah. And so as far as I can remember, I've always written because I really loved that. Why? Because also I was an only child and I was getting bored. I was bored a lot of the time. My mother was working. My dad left because he realized, "Oh, why do I have to be a father? You know, I made a kid, but I don't want to pay anything. I just want to have sex with other women and I'm just not going to stay home." So he wasn't there. Had businesses in Los Angeles in Monterey Park. Had a travel agency called Nathalie. By the way, I still have the card and I will show it to you later. So yeah. Raised with my mom and things were pretty difficult because my mom was earning very little. She used to wash in like old people's houses. So she would have a little money and then sometimes she would do some translation from French to Spanish. And then she would try to be a teacher, but she didn't pass a contest to be integrated into the national education system. So, you know, it's kind of difficult. So writing for me was a way to escape from the reality I had because I was living in the projects where, you know, cars were burning. There were drug addicts everywhere. And to be honest...

Ashley: And this is in Lyon?

Nathalie: This is in Lyon. There are projects in France, Lyon especially. Yeah, look, I was very different. Like I went to a good school because my mother took me to another school, not in the neighborhood. Because I was bilingual in Spanish, I could go to the international school, which was public. But most of the children were rich people. Some of them were like me, right. Like sons of immigrants. But mainly so there were people from everywhere, but still, I felt I was Chinese and I didn't want to be Chinese. I wanted to be white. So that was difficult. And I think all this kind of identity thing...It's really important now. It's taking it you know; I shoot for so much. I was like thinking, you know, I'm not in the criteria of beauty. And you know and why do I have this black hair and the black eyes? And I want to be white. I want to be blonde with blue eyes and I want to be taller than I am. And something like that.

This would be an issue because, you know, I had anorexia when I was 11. So these kinds of things really, you know, it was voila. So this is where I am. From Lyon, we went and lived in Spain for a while with my mom because she was or have this kind of, we call it in France, "le mal du pays". Meaning, le mal du pays is like you're sick because you miss your country. You're sick because you miss this country, right. And so we came back to her country, to Spain. And I realized it was really Catholic. I realized my grandmother didn't accept me because I was not baptized, not Catholic. Also, my trainer who was because I was doing basketball. I was playing basketball. I love basketball and the guy came to be my coach. He was from the USA and he was black. He was the only black guy in Santander. So my grandmother said he was 'sale' which is dirty. Like he was dirty. I was like...

Ashley: Woah. Okay.

Nathalie: I was amazed at not knowing my grandmother. For eleven years I was with her and I didn't realize she was racist. Okay.

Ashley: Wow. Okay.

Nathalie: So that were the issues like that. After Spain, we came here to Bordeaux. I was 12. And after that at 18, I wanted to get out of here because I like this town. It's little. So, you know, I went to Paris. Then I went to Grenoble. I did political science studies. I went to Singapore, Beijing. I came back to Lyon. I went to Berlin and then I lived again in Paris. You know I was working there as a journalist and as kind of thing. So I was working also in restaurants and I was a sailor and I was working in museums, translator, tour guide. And then I came back to Bordeaux broke because I had no money. And it was before me too and my last director, my last, my hierarchy at the museum was working in Paris wanted to give me another opportunity because I had a political science degree, your diploma, right. Master degree, right. So why was I really only at the entrance of the museum? I said because I was writing. I needed time to write.

So I didn't want to have a full-time job. I wanted a little job that will take a little space in my brain. And that's it. He says, "Oh, I want to find you something. You're going to be my secretary. You're going to earn like five times more. I'm just going to ask you to have sex with me." And I'm like, "Man, you're the age of my dad. This is never going to happen." Yes, it happened like that, for real. I had an interview recently. I didn't give the name, of course. I will never give the name, but it's just what really happened. I was so upset that I'd say, "Okay, I'm going to go back home with my mom." And I went to her place because I was so disgusted. I was like, "Come on. I am brilliant. And that guy is going ask me to be the secretary and have sex with this guy." But come on, I will never do this. Never. This would never happen.

Ashley: Wow. And you didn't think about finding some recourse, like some kind of complaint or...?

Nathalie: No. The thing is I was also sick of Paris. Paris was taking so much energy out of me. You know it was taking more than it was giving me. And in all my life was a mess. And I thought, okay, well he was not a mean person. Like he was just saying, well, I'm not asking, you know, I'm not going to be annoying you. We're going to have sex once, twice. And I'm like, never. And I thought, you know, I just want to quit and that's it. And then two months ago, I told the directors adjoint, you know, and I told her why I left because she didn't know. And then she just said, "Okay. No, it doesn't surprise me. He was an asshole. So voila."

Ashley: It sounds like an asshole thing to do or worse than that.

Nathalie: Yes. It is. It is. Yeah.

Ashley: Let's pause and talk about poetry and writing.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Ashley: And where in all of this very active, full life, did you find yourself connecting with words and with poems in particular? How did it start?

Nathalie: I started when I was seven. It was more kind of little novels, right. Little stories I was writing about. You know kid problems. You know the concept of beauty. The concept of multiculturalism. Really. I was really into that when I was seven. I still have the books, little stories I mean. But I really started, I think when I was 11 because maybe that depression I had. Maybe that anorexia, I had, you know, I had to like dive into myself, right. And the only thing I had were words but tiny words. Like I was so exhausted. I couldn't write so much because I was exhausted and didn't have energy. And so poetry was something like it was kind of the liquor right? I mean, it's not wine, it's not beer. It's really the liquor of, you know.

Ashley: Yeah. That's a beautiful metaphor actually.

Nathalie: Yeah. The first one I remember because I sent it to a contest. It was about flying. It was a metaphysical meaning. But then I won the prize. Blah, blah, blah. Then who wanted to publish me were aviators from here in the region in their magazine because they took it as the first degree, right. To fly, right. And I realized, man, I'm 12, those guys want my poems, they read something I didn't write because for me it was metaphysical. It was obvious. For them, no. Then they asked me for more poems. Years after they asked me poems about flying and stuff. Well, I was not in the mood after that, right. I was like, I don't care about flying, you know? Well, they offered me, you know, yeah, that's how I connected first. But I think this kind of depression I had and that was for me the way of saying the things without getting to it because I was exhausted and to go straight to the point. And then I think it helped me in the beginning, helped me to reconnect with myself, you know and to say things that matter to me and show other people. And of course, I didn't write for myself. I always wrote for somebody. I wanted people to read me. I always sent it to contest, to magazines. In my high school, everybody was reading me. It was very important for me. The reader was as important as me writing.

Ashley: But where did you, how did you even come to the idea when you're 7 or 10 or 11 or whatever age you were, and even come to the idea of writing a poem? I mean, were you reading poetry at the time? Where you...?

Nathalie: So much. So much, of course. I mean the first book...

Ashley: So you were seven years old reading poetry.

Nathalie Man: Yeah, I mean, come on, we have this Prévert. Everybody had Prévert, you know. Voila.

Ashley: That's very French. I can tell you almost with a hundred percent accuracy that seven-year-olds in America, by and large, are not reading poetry. Definitely not Jacques Prevert.

Nathalie: Well, I did. I love it. My favorite one...

Ashley: That's amazing.

Nathalie: My favorite one, you know what it was, it was about war. And I wrote it in the paper. It was like, the woman is doing like doing like …You know when they were doing a sweater with wool. Like she's...

Ashley: Knitting. Yeah.

Nathalie: What?

Ashley: Knitting.

Nathalie: Knitting and the dad is, I don't know what he's doing. And the son goes to the war and then it's about politics because it was, I don't know why it was my favorite poem at the time. It was like, well, what's happening in this family. I mean, like if everything looks very calm, but actually it's very tragic. And that's what I like about it. It's like when I was a kid, I really loved the subtext of it, you know? It's like because I was feeling that my life, my reality had so much subtext, especially politically, because like I said, my mother has a Spanish family. In my Spanish family has always had subtexts in their conversations because of the Spanish war and Frankism.

Ashley: And what was the subtext?

Nathalie: The subtext was nothing happened. No, I'm kidding. No, the reality was nothing happened and the subtext was we were angry. Okay. Some are left-wing, some are right-wing. We hate each other. If we are going to war again, we'll kill each other, but let's not talk about it.

Ashley: Wow. Wow.

Nathalie: It was always about that, you know.

Ashley: It's such an interesting idea because today in the US, I don't live in the US anymore, but you can see that kind of horrible, acidic tension between left and right. Even among families, where families can't speak about certain topics because there's so much anger. There's so much hatred. And so what it does, it doesn't go away. It goes underground. You know, it's just because we don't talk about it, it doesn't mean it's not there. It's always there.

Nathalie: It goes dip, dip, dip. Yes. We don't talk anymore. I can't show it to my grandmother anymore because I realized she was racist and intolerant to agnosticism, atheism. She just wanted Catholic people, even not Muslim, really not Jewish, really. So that for me was I couldn't accept. Maybe I haven't understood her so much. I've been writing about her. So I finished the book about her and my mom, how they raised us as a woman during Franco. Maybe, you know, it was a period of time where they were alienated and they were built in that way, shaped in that way, that they couldn't think something different. Well, my mom now is absolutely different. She's so tolerant and she's a free woman. But for my grandmother to be free maybe it was difficult. She was free enough to allow her, the six children she had, mainly women to go to university. Wow. You know, like, wow. She was alone too. My grandfather left also, you know, like all the men in my family left. So yeah. But I agree with you. It goes underground. And it's the same in France right now. I mean, the left-wing and the right-wing, we're kind of we're in war. I mean 2022 is the presidential election. Don't worry. We're still fighting for it. You know, it's like, we know it's there.

Ashley: So you started writing poetry when you were very young.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Ashley: Seven, or maybe even earlier. And that was something you did continuously all through your life. You're writing some form of poetry or another kind of expression, literary expression?

Nathalie: I did. And I'm not going to say it wasn't every day because it was not every day, but I did. It's something I never stopped. You know I met this guy when I was 20 and I was fully in love with him. I mean, you know, I didn't go to university for that year because I was so into him. So I was with him all the time. I'm saying that because I stopped writing because I was waiting for him all the time. He was my reason to live or something and all my energy was focused on that man. I remember he said, at some point, I love when you were writing. You're not writing anymore. I mean, I think you were getting silly with me. And I realized, yeah. This is something I really like he's right, you know. And then I started writing and with him, I think he gave me this. Now, I'm writing a lot of erotic poetry and thanks to him because sex was amazing. I started writing erotic poems and I thank him so much. Now I don't see him anymore because if I see him, it will be impossible to get away from him. But it was a really exciting. So yeah, even though when I was trying to stop, somebody will say, I love when you were writing because you were reading it to university, to people, to blah, blah, blah, and now you're not doing it. It was something that gave you a shape and now I feel like you're invisible. And I'm not saying that, but you know what I mean? It's just a...

Ashley: Yeah. Sure.

Nathalie: You become a blank page and people don't want that. They want you to be a written page.

Ashley: I think people who identify as writers, feel like maybe with all artists, but with writers, it's like, like you're saying, it gives the shape to their life. It really defines who we are in a way that's not always healthy because when it's not going well, or when you're not being read or whatever, the particular issue might be, you feel like your whole life is crumbling when it's actually not.

Nathalie: Absolutely.

Ashley: It's a probem.

Nathalie: Let it happen to you. I have a question. Because I absolutely agree with you. So, you know, recently I met a guy and I'm in love what that guy. He said, "Oh, well look, I think I don't like what you're writing. I think it's too erotical for me." And I'm like, "What the fuck? This is me. My writing is me. You cannot tell me you don't like my writing because this is me." Okay. But then two weeks later, I'm like I said to a friend, "I will give my entire career to live this love story. I don't give a fuck about writing. I want to stop writing. I want to be this kind of slave dog. I'm not kidding, really. And I now understand why I have these extreme moments, you know. When I will be ready to throw everything in the river and I don't give a fuck now. Then I do something else. But then it catches me again, you know.

Ashley: I think because I think that people who are that way tend towards the arts, such as writing and especially writing because it does require everything. It requires a complete commitment. If you're going to be a serious writer, you have to be ready to just be out there forever and risking it all. And having no sense that anyone's actually going to give a shit, ever. And you just have to keep going and going and going and going. And you get to a point where you start asking yourself, wait a second. Am I actually crazy? And then you answer it by saying, I don't know, but it doesn't really matter because I don't want to do anything else.

Nathalie: That's the thing. I've tried my whole life. I wait, you know, it was like, Oh, you're 33. Don't you want to settle down? Of course, I want to settle. Now, of course I want a house. I want a swimming pool. I want a man. I want kids. I want that. I want everything. Just can't because I tried for four years in Paris to have jobs that suit my diploma, you know, political science, the degree, master's degree. And to be honest, I quit every job I had because it was too much for me. I didn't have thought about quitting. It's just one day I go to the office and I'll say, well, man, I'm quitting. I'm just tired of it. I just couldn't stand because it was taking all my energy and I couldn't write properly.

Ashley: Yeah.

Nathalie: My mind was busy.

Ashley: Yeah. I think that's the thing. That's the decision that we all have to make. But what the interesting thing is that I think that's a decision everybody has to make in some fashion, if they're trying to do something that's really connected to their heart or their soul. Even entrepreneurs, even business people, you know, you look at them and we all kind of have this fantasy, like, "Oh, they just went and made money." But it's actually not like that. They were also on that path where they're like, "I have to do this and I'm willing to..."

Nathalie: They're risking this thing. They are.

Ashley: Yeah. Risk it all and just keep doing it over and over and over. And I think that's a kind of feeling of being alive. I was just reading this poem by Don Marquis. I don't know. It was a poet who wrote a newspaper column. He wrote the poem in the newspaper every week, which in America is like a weird idea. And the poem was from the perspective of a cockroach who believes he's a free-verse poet whose soul has been transmogrified into the body of a cockroach. And he writes a poem about a moth. That he watches a moth fly into a flame. And he's saying, why does the moth keep flying to the flame and his answer is because that one moment of kind of bursting into flame, for the moth it's worth everything, you know. And I think there's something in that idea. It's obviously it's very extreme. It's like these guys who jump off mountains in a wingsuit.

Nathalie: I'm thinking about the poem of Pei Tao. That I really like. I don't know. He's kind of, you know, he's a superstar here. This guy Pei Tao and translated by Eliot Weinberger.

Ashley: Okay. I don't know. I don't know the poem.

Nathalie: Well, it's about work and I really like, I don't know if I'm going to find it. But what you're saying, exactly what you're saying, that this kind of commitment and sacrifice you have to make. Or the other thing, I mean, if you do something you don't want to do, then you lose yourself, right. You're a Nico or something. And man, I don't know if I'm going to find this because I always, maybe I have to go there. Okay. Wait, I think it's Work, the name. Work, 187 187. He translated it into English too. So it says something like that. It says, "Work, competing with its shadow a bird becomes eco not unexpectedly, you choosing a profession in the storm or the world inside zeppelins ancient memory's thorn. Mother opening windows like some hero in an old book spreads autumn's fun open dazzling the eyes. You unfilial son wiping glass clean with white cloud, wiping the self in glass clean." It's something. I don't know but it's kind of this.

Ashley: It's beautiful. Yeah. I'll post it. I'll post it in the interview so people can read it.

Nathalie: Yeah. Yeah.

Ashley: So tell me, how did you get to the point where you started to put the poems on walls and for people who will post photos. So people understand Nathalie posts these poems and big sheets, big white sheets that are kind of wheat-pasted onto a wall around the city. And you know, it's not something you see very often or at all. I don't think I've ever actually seen that in a city. So how did you get to that point where that's what you're doing and tell us exactly what it is you're doing? Like how often do you put them up and where do the pumps come from? And give the whole background to that.

Nathalie: Okay. I don't think I'm the only one because there is a Emancipazione della Poesia is something Italian. They paste poems. It's an A4. So it's like really the paper like this and they put it, you know, just this paper and they put it on belle ville. I saw it later after starting pasting myself. But apparently, it's older than I am. But actually, I am kind of, apparently in Paris at least, people say I'm the only one to make it that way because those guys are basically Italian. You go to Paris and you paste an Italian poem. Come on. People are French. Like, I don't understand this. I don't understand. Okay. So anyway, I started in 2013. I was living in Paris and I was poor and I was angry. There was kind of rage, there was a lot of rage, anger, a bit of desperation, a lot of empathy. I'll explain it to you. I have been invited when I was encouraged to meetings where all the old people, bourgeois, come and listen to your poems because I was already publishing little reviews, right.

And in this circle of poetry there were a lot of old people and once in a while, some young guys who just want to be the future Rimbaud. And they have been trying to get to those old people's age. You have to try to publish me. Now we will do whatever. And in two years, I'm going to be famous. And so I was tired of this. This is not me and I was bored. And when I'm bored, I'm bored. I cannot think strategically. Like people are sleeping when I'm reading my poems. They're old and like I'm young. No, I want life. So I decided to go in the streets because I was poor. I had no money, really. I would go down and out in Paris. I would read the walls. The thing which was really was reading the walls really and people were bringing so much stuff. Something they wrote, I really liked and I put it in my room. I'm going to take a picture so you can see it. It was this thing. And it says, you know, it's a picture I took and I really like. It is on the door of my room. When people come to my room, it's called," Monsieur pas travail au" says, men have no job. And you know arts, this is a number. So it says, I have no jobs. Please call me, right.

Ashley: Right.

Nathalie: I can do whatever, right.

Ashley: Yeah.

Nathalie: And I realized this is for me. I realized, well, this is exactly what I'm looking for. Something which is a straight message to people. It says the most simple thing, I am looking for a job, but it says it nicely, man, no job asks zero sex, whatever number, telephone number. Then there was another...

Ashley: Did you ever call the number?

Nathalie: No I didn't. Maybe I should have. But then there is other stuff, like kind of what I used to love was like reading something, taking a picture and then confused the sentence. So the sentence was men, dogs are barking. But then men like plural. Men, you know, exclamation point, dogs are barking. And I thought I heard something like, no, it was not. It was silence. No, it was silence, exclamation point dogs are barking. When I slept over that sentence, I imagined it like this, silence, exclamation point, human, no, men are barking. And men are barking for me was more interesting than dogs are barking because you don't expect men to be barking. Or I think this is a good word, right? The woof, woof, woof. That's the barking thing.

Ashley: Yeah. Yeah.

Nathalie : So that's how it started. Okay. And then I used to see a man who was a homeless guy who was always in the same spot, taking care of himself. Washing his teeth, brushing his hair, and trying to be decent, which is really rare and that's it. I wrote my first poem in 2013 about this homeless man. And I wanted to place that poem big in the spot where he was sitting. There were no walls available. So I went somewhere elsewhere I thought it was more okay. And there was a lot of graffiti. And for a whole year, I posted poems about homeless and poverty and stuff without signing them. I was not signing them because what I was interested in was to see if people were going to want to change my point. Because at the time I was trying to find some money and I realized, well, maybe I could call my teachers from the university and ask them if I can do, a thesis, a Ph.D. , right. And so ask for a scholarship that I didn't have, right. They didn't give it to me. But to honor or to have the scholarship, I had to set up a project and my project was, I want to paste in the cities, in Europe, in the language of the cities, right. In German in Germany. In France in French. In Italian and Thai. Whatever. I don't remember where exactly. I think it was German, France and some, you know, maybe Spain.

And I'm going to see if people change the poem because I want to verify the theory of textual cooperation by Umberto Eco. He says to the reader, the test is not finished until the reader beholds it. And so what does it mean? I say, well, I want to do something very literal, very first degree. I mean, are they going to change it like this? Can I see it? You know can I see it? They're going to change verse. They're going to modify. They're going to, and it happened the first night. So I paste it. And then the day after there was a comment that said, there's a little story, a storm started in me. Blah, blah, blah. Bridgitte, that was the name of the girl. And then I started pasting poems to blue sheets, you know.

Ashley: Wow. Yeah. That's beautiful.

Nathalie: This is how it started really. Because the people who are working in Paris or the people who are cleaning the streets because they respected my work and never took it off, like never. And so I realized, wow, I can continue because it's okay, you know. Then I met a guy from the...

Ashley: That's an amazing point. I just want to pause on the fact that they didn't take it down. Nobody defaced your work. The people who were, and the fact that the people cleaning streets didn't take it down. It's not so interesting because it's not they recognize something was happening there, you know. It's that they paid attention to something. They saw what it was. They didn't see it as garbage or as graffiti or something that shouldn't be there. They saw it as something that should be there. And so they left it there, which is incredible. I mean, it's so.

Nathalie: Four years the maximum. Four years...

Ashley: That's amazing.

Nathalie: Until the rain took it off because they even painted the wall. They painted the wall and I have pictures. They painted around my poem.

Ashley: That's incredible. I think that's something, you know, again, I don't want to play on cliches about the difference with differences between Europe and other places. But I do think that it says a lot. That there's that kind of sensitivity to what someone's doing, even if they don't necessarily understand it and certainly they don't know who or what it is because it was anonymous and still they kept it, which is amazing. So, okay.

Nathalie Man: Yeah. I thank them. Like I had my first website and I said, the first sentence was thank you so much. Then I went to city hall because I had a meeting for something else for another project, the guy was saying, "Oh, you're a poet. You should do like this person that paste big poems in the neighborhood." And I'm like, "Who? Which one?" And then I realized it was me. It's like, this is me. It's my poem. I did it. He's like, "Okay, well nice." I said, "Like, why are they not taking them off?" And he says, "In my district, people who are cleaning the cities, the streets can decide if it's contemporary art. And if they decide it's contemporary because this is their choice and responsibility, then they can keep it." And not everywhere.

Ashley: That is crazy.

Nathalie: Yes.

Ashley: That is a crazy, crazy, crazy idea.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Ashley: So these guys who are cleaning the streets are art curators in that district.

Nathalie: Yeah. Well, in the 19th district, they can appreciate if it's for them a piece of art. And if it's for them, a piece of art, they can keep it that way.

Ashley: Right. So they are the one making the actual decision. It's like the street is the museum. They're the curator. They decide if it stays or if it goes, which is mindblowing.

Nathalie: It is. It is.

Ashley: This really is crazy and amazing and great to hear. That's awesome. So you're putting up these poems, you're putting up on the wall. You're stunned to find that people are noticing them. Are you hearing in other ways from people? Or aside from people who are writing stuff on the poems, are you hearing back from people, you know, who saw them? Is there a dialogue that starts to happen between you? How do you know what kind of reception there is? Because they're anonymous, they're on public place. How do you know what's happening with them?

Nathalie: Well, the thing is because I was anonymous, it was difficult for them to find me. Then I started a website one year later and I put like the poems written into my website. And until they could find me, they put the poem on Google entirely and then they could find but it took them a while.

Ashley: Yeah.

Nathalie: I started receiving emails, people saying, thank you so much. I've been looking for you for six months, eight months. I have them because I was writing a book. Wait a second. I just want it because I have it here. So wait. So that's my Bible. It's my Bible with all the work I did until 2017. So it's like, I don't know, like a 1000 page. No, 500 page. Sorry. Five hundred pages. So I put all the emails I received, you know, and so I'm going to try to find you the first, you know, maybe the first email because it was really moving. People have been looking for you so much and they want to thank you, you know. Anyways, that's it. This is how it started. And I just wanted to maybe show you the pictures of, I don't know if you can see it, this is a picture, the first poem I wrote and then the comment.

Ashley: Yeah. So to people, if people are listening, it's a photo of a poem and someone is actually handwritten on the poem wall their response.

Nathalie: Yeah. Yeah. So I don't know now because I haven't read it for a long time. But there's something that a lady, I think it was a student has been looking for me for a year and she wants to thank me and to know more about poetry, my poems. Why? That's it. It's Laura M. It's in November. The 11th of November, 2014. So it's a year and a month  after, I started in August 2013. So a year and plus month, right. And she's like little comments by a reader off the streets, right. And she says, "Look, I read your poems in that wall next to this bookshop in the 18th district. And I always take this trip because I really want to read your poem every time I'm taking this street to go to the grocery store," she says. She says grocery store but she says like a grocery store for students. Okay. And she says, "Thank you so much for your words to make the streets more beautiful and my grocery, my shopping."

So that's it, you know, but it's cool because, so that's a little thing. But then the other word, other mails were like "I've been looking for you, blah, blah." Or later, you know, like one year later, the 1st of January, 2015, that same lady tells me, how am I doing? She has me thinking about me. She has been reading the poem I wrote. And she says, I really liked this verse. Déjà je t'aime d’odeur. I already like you by taste or something like that. And I hope that your year is going to be great and full of surprises. Right. So yeah, I started a dialogue with my readers. But it was mainly because they were trying to find me. Then lately I've been more public and Instagram arrived. There was no Instagram at the time or maybe I didn't have a smartphone also. But it's been maybe a year I have Instagram or something like that or two. I don't really know how to use it. But now that I use it, people are sending me more messages. And now that also have hashtag because I didn't want to put hashtags on anything. So I put NM. That was NM, that's all. So you have to go put the poem in Google to find it on my website, but sometimes it didn't put upon the website. So, and then...

Ashley: What's your Instagram handle? What's your name?

Nathalie: NM and I will write it for you if you want.

Ashley: Okay. We'll put it in the notes. But then let's talk a little bit before about the content of the poems. How do you describe them? How do you think about what you're writing about and where do the ideas come from? Where do the senses come from, the words come from? Are there some poems that you say, ah, okay, this is a poem for a wall and some poems you say, no, this poem is going to be for somewhere else, a book or for something else? Talk about that a little bit.

Nathalie: Yeah. Okay. I started writing for the street in 2013 when I was thinking about poetry in the streets. Of course, the poems I pasted were written for the streets and they were talking about people living in the streets. It's like especially homeless people, right. Then this is the first wave. The second wave is 2016. Okay. We are living here in France, something which was really important for my generation called Nuit Debout, nights stand up. You know nights get up or get up night or stand up nights, right. It was Place de la République. It was a huge thing with a lot of young people and that gave me so much energy. And I started political poems, right. But like, of course, it's a poem. So it is not obvious. But it's about, you know, these issues, like for example, this minister said that, you know, if somebody behaves well, we can, taking the French nationality off. Something which I do not agree. You don't do this. This was done with the Nazis. So you don't do this. So this is a second wave, right.

Again, poems that I thought I wrote for the streets. This second wave poems were shorter, four, five verses maximum. This is the best. It's the best. Why? Because you can make it very big. People can see it. It's great. But then, you know, of course, I listen only to what I really want to write. So then it was a third wave, which was more political, but more about maybe the cities I know. It's like the way you live in the city, the way the city influences you, and stuff like that. Those problems were a bit longer, 10 verses, 12 verses. And there were not specially meant to be pasted on the streets, but I decided to do it because my ex-boyfriend said you should put this on the poem. I said to him, "In the streets." I said, "Yes, you're right." So I, you know, didn't have really until then poems, I wouldn't paste. No, I didn't have.

Now maybe this last wave I have. I have many poems I cannot paste, they're too long. But they have to be long because there are things that have to be said. There was, says a fourth wave, which was about racism, multiculturalism, blah, blah. And also this feeling of loss and lonely, like being strange, not strange or this strange thing. So that was more something maybe personal. And I didn't really want to paste. In my last wave, which is my wave right now. It was erotic. And I decided that was also political, erotic. I'm saying desire is important. Desire has to be everywhere. But like real desire, not like commercial desire. Not like, you know, alienated desire somebody giving to you. No, but your desire and desire of life, the desire of whatever. And so I've been doing this lately and I have hesitated on some points that I thought maybe they're too, they could be a bit obvious, you know. They're third sense, double sense, but come on. And then I say, whatever I'm doing it. And of course, some old men would take them off because it was kind of obvious, you know. The kind of poem which says, "Epuisement la sentiment a me reparte de corona, which it relates to the book of the Perec which says "D'épuisement d'un lieu parisien." Epuisement which means that you go through something until the end thought out.

Ashley: Which Perec was it?

Nathalie: Perec c'est épuisement, le truc de parisien. Non. C'est épuisement.

Ashley: That's the title of the book?

Nathalie: Oui, Oui, Oui. Epuisement d'un lieu Parisien. Voila. Tentative d'épuisement, c'est ça. Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien. And so because I had to also go through this love was not working and for me, it wasn't reciprocal. And so the problem was you know, something that I'd take care of the last tree of the forest and I will suck the whatever thing. So, you know, old men didn't like it at all. Like I started pasting it and somebody was like, "Oh, how can you be so obscene?" And I'm like, "This is not obscene. It's about the forest." You know like a forest, you're really have been because now it's psychology, man. So, yeah. Well, so this is like the last wave. My last wave is more erratic but maybe I'm starting a new wave, which again, about poverty. But like more like fights and like, okay, now my city turned left-wing, so I feel stronger. And I'm like, okay, now we're talking about these people like women who have kids and working and nobody helps them. And it's difficult for her, for them. And I'm trying to have some, okay. I want to really put myself in the place of somebody else. I always already did this. But I'm doing it again and again with maybe more political issues again, but that has to be also personal, of course, you know.

Ashley: So that's where you are now. You're doing the walls in Paris and it's in this new...

Nathalie: In Bordeaux.

Ashley: Oh, you're now in Bordeaux.

Nathalie: I live in Bordeaux but I will go very often to Paris, once a month, at least. So I paste in Paris and Bordeaux for the moment.

Ashley: Why Bordeaux?

Nathalie: Because like I said, in 2015 when I left this museum I came to my mom's place. And then I stayed here because here life is more laid back and smooth, I have to say.

Ashley: I mean, it's beautiful, I lived in Bordeaux for it was about nine months or maybe a year. I don't remember.

Nathalie: Really. When?

Ashley: Yeah. That would have been in 2009, 2010.

Nathalie: Oh okay.

Ashley: I was writing my first novel of starting and still writing it. And I went there to get away from everything that I knew here. Jason, a mutual friend of ours connected me with somebody and I stayed. I stayed there and it was amazing. I mean, it's really, I think most French cities that I've experienced are pretty incredible. I mean, coming from, you know, other cities around the world, I find these classic French cities and European cities in general, but there was something special about Bordeaux.

Nathalie: I like it. It's mostly laid back and...

Ashley: Yeah.

Nathalie: I always find support here and some love and affection. So I like it. Yeah.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. There's something because it's small. It's not a big city and...

Nathalie: No.

Ashley: You feel that and then it's a good thing. You feel it in a good way.

Nathalie: Exactly. Exactly.

Ashley: Yeah. Yeah.

Nathalie: By the way, somebody paste it for me in South Africa, in Cape Town.

Ashley: Oh really. I was going to ask if that ever happens. People post in other places.

Nathalie: They asked me to send them my poems by the post office and they will paste them for me.

Ashley: That's really, that's great. I love that.

Nathalie: Yeah. Yeah, me too.

Ashley: So it's been fascinating and great. I'm definitely, how much of your work is in English? If I saw it on your website, there is one poem?

Nathalie: Nothing. None.

Ashley: Okay.

Nathalie: There is one poem on my website. Yeah.

Ashley: Yeah. Okay. Well, if you have more translated, we would love to read them and to hear them and to see them on our walls or maybe we'll just put them up in French and let them do their best.

Nathalie: No. I would pay the translator. I would definitely pay a translator. I want that. I want that in my life. It will happen. Where are you now? You're in Israel?

Ashley: I'm in Israel. Yeah.

Nathalie: Okay. Lockdown?

Ashley: Yes. Yeah. We're locked down. Yeah, again.

Nathalie: Okay. We're not.

Ashley: I hope you don't go into it.

Nathalie: Fingers crossed.

Ashley: But it seems like it might be heading in that direction.

Nathalie: This is awful. Yeah.

Ashley: We'll see. But Nathalie, thank you so so much. I hope we continue conversations because I love what you're doing. You're an amazing person. And I really, really admire the courage that it takes to put something as personal and intimate as a poem out on a wall. It's like taking a little beautiful piece of crystal or something fragile and putting it in the middle of a busy street and hoping for the best and that it won't be crushed and ruined. And what I think you've shown is that it doesn't necessarily get crushed. It doesn't ruin.

Nathalie: No. No.

Ashley: It's the opposite. I mean, what you said about the so-called street curators, preserving your work is really an inspiring thing. And I think that's something we should all bear in mind because it's very easy to make a judgment about what will happen, especially when we think of a certain person and what they will do and how they will react and to make that assumption. But we don't really know. And I think that's the beauty of poetry is that it reveals what's the interior of our lives and the interior of the lives of those street cleaners who are respecting this beautiful work on a wall and considering it art.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Ashley: That's an amazing thing. So thank you. Thank you for your time. I think people can find this really interesting and we'll talk and hopefully...

Nathalie: I suggest tomorrow.

Ashley: Yes. Great. And maybe we will bump into each other once after coronavirus in Bordeaux or Israel.

Nathalie: Sure. Israel or Bordeaux. Definitely.

Ashley: Great.

Nathalie: Okay. Take care.

Ashley: Thank you, Nathalie. Bye.

Nathalie: Bye.

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