Thanking the Jury of the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, for 'Psaumes Balbutiés' (A stammered book of Songs),

to be published in English by Pushkin Press.

"Perhaps her illness, the silence of Alzheimer’s disease, has made me even more aware of what is to me the real poetry of language: it is not in the first place a matter of form, or rhyme, or music. It is foremost being able to hear and listen to the universe of meanings behind every word (and maybe every silence too)."

Dear Members of the Jury,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Cher Monsieur Hollande (how very nice of you to drop by),

It was a pleasant surprise to me to receive the news, from my publisher, that ‘Gestameld Liedboek’ – ‘Psaumes Balbutiés’ is granted the honor of the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger.

It is a book so close to myself that reading parts of it in public did sometimes prove to be too emotional. This ceremony is an emotional event as well, and a happy one, for that matter – as November 28th also happens to be my birthday. At nineteen surely I must be one of the youngest writers to have ever been granted this prize.

It is however a melancholy occasion as well, since 48 years ago (and not nineteen of course), at a quarter to four in the afternoon of November 28th 1965 I was born from the womb of the woman who in later years would often be so proud of her eldest son being, as the expression goes, a celebrated writer. I haven’t been able to tell her about the Prix when I went to see her at the nursing home where she’s looked after so very well. But she smiled, and so did I.

Perhaps her illness, the silence of Alzheimer’s disease, has made me even more aware of what is to me the real poetry of language: it is not in the first place a matter of form, or rhyme, or music. It is foremost being able to hear and listen to the universe of meanings behind every word (and maybe every silence too). Writing poetry in a sense boils down to remembering the future and predicting the past – by waiting and listening, in the act of writing.

I would like to thank the jury of this Prize for their choice. I would also like the thank the people of the Sofitel Paris le Faubourg for their hospitality. I expressly wish to thank to my French publisher, Fayard, who have been publishing my word for nearly fifteen years now.

It is an additional honor, and a pleasure, to me, to celebrated tonight together with Alan Hollinghurst for his marvelous novel. We’ve met before, on various occasions in the past twenty years or so, and it is great to share our little Arc de Triomphe tonight.

I especially wish to express my profound gratitude to Marie Hooghe, my loyal translator since my first books were translated into French. Dankjewel, lieve Marie, and thank you all,

Erwin Mortier
Paris, Fabourg Saint Honoré, November 28th 2013