On Poetry and Paris: An Interview with Author Cecilia Woloch

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On Poetry and Paris: An Interview with Author Cecilia Woloch
Cecilia Woloch, the award-winning author of six collections of poetry and founding director of The Paris Poetry Workshop, teaches throughout the U.S. and around the world, and spends parts of each year in Paris. She is currently in Paris to promote her latest work, Sur la Route, a poetic novella set in Paris, which has just been published by Quale Press. Woloch grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and rural Kentucky, one of seven children of a homemaker and an airplane mechanic. In recent years she has divided her time between Los Angeles, Kentucky, Paris, and the Carpathian Mountains in Poland. She recently took the time to answer BP writer Janet Hulstrand’s questions about her work, and her thoughts about Paris. JH: When did you first come to Paris, and what drew you here? Were you looking for something specific? If so, did you find it? CW: I first came to Paris as a college student. I guess I was nineteen years old; it was probably 1976. I was in London with two girlfriends who were also theatre majors. We were supposed to be doing a “short-term” course, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with our university; but we were the only three students who enrolled so our professor wasn’t able to come along. So it was just the three of us, running around London seeing plays and writing about them. Both of these young women had been in Europe before – they were from much more well-to-do families — so it wasn’t as big a deal to them as it was to me. I wanted to see everything I could see, experience everything I could experience. So when an opportunity came to go with one of my friends to Paris, to visit friends of her parents, I jumped at the chance – though lord knows I couldn’t really afford it. We flew from London to Paris, each of us wearing jeans and boots and a turtleneck, each of us with a backpack with her toothbrush and notebook and maybe a change of underwear. I think we only planned to stay a day or two, and ended up staying much longer. We ended up switching turtlenecks, just so each of us could vary her wardrobe a little. And it turned out that the friends of my friends’ parents were George and Betsey Bates, who were both on the staff of the International Herald Tribune, which had offices on the Champs-Elysees in those days. Really, I was completely unprepared for the glamour of it all. George and Betsey decided to take us to the Lido and Betsey outfitted my friend and me from her own closet. What a time that was! George and Betsey had very busy lives, of course, so they also left us to our own devices a lot. They gave us a Plan de Paris and told us to have fun. By our third day, I must have looked supremely confident making my way around the Metro, because French people started asking me for directions. I got to try out my college French, because little English was spoken in Paris then. I also remember a very sexy moment in the typesetting room of the Herald Tribune – an underground room full of noisy machines, which I remember as smoke-filled and steamy from the rain. Or maybe I was the steamy one? I was standing on a metal staircase, on my way back upstairs, when a handsome young typesetter walked over, took each of my boots by the heel, first one then the other, and trimmed the raggedy hems of my bell-bottom jeans with his pocketknife. I don’t know what I’d gone to Paris looking for, but I was completely hooked by the time I left. JH: How much time do you spend in Paris now? And what are some of your favorite neighborhoods and/or spots here? What is your favorite thing to do in Paris? CW: I’m usually here for a few months each year, a month or two in the summer and a month or two around the winter holidays, but that changes from year to year. For a few years, I was teaching a course in Paris for undergraduates from USC that ran for a month; now I’m running independent week-long workshops for writers, and I try to organize one of those in the summer and one in the winter. These days when I’m in Paris, I mostly like to find a good spot to write for a couple of hours a day, and then I walk around a lot — I can’t ever get enough of walking in Paris — and I spend most evenings with friends. I’m lucky to have the circle of friends I have in Paris, friends in the expat and writing communities, and also my two French families. I go with friends to museums and galleries, and restaurants and cafes, of course, and I love going to the cinema in Paris, and going out to hear live music. I just try to live the kind of life I’d be living if I lived in Paris year-round. JH: How did you become a poet, and when did you first start writing poetry?  CW: I like to answer this question by quoting the poet William Stafford. When someone asked him when he started writing poetry, he answered, “When did everybody else stop?” Honestly, it’s hard for me to remember a time when I didn’t write poetry. My mother read to us a lot when we were small – I have two brothers and four sisters – and she sang almost constantly. So we were always making up little songs and rhymes and stories. I started scribbling things in secret probably as soon as I was physically able to write, as I think many children do, and I started scribbling in notebooks when I was a teenager, as do so many…

Lead photo credit : Eiffel Tower/ Cecilia Woloch's writing workshop

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.


  • Keith Flynn
    2015-06-10 20:26:26
    Keith Flynn
    Great interview...well done.