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Yves Bonnefoy (born 24 June 1923) is a French poet and essayist. Bonnefoy was born in Tours, Indre-et-Loire, the son of a railroad worker and a teacher. His works have been of great importance in post-war French literature, at the same time poetic and theoretical, examining the meaning of the spoken and written word. He has also published a number of translations, most notably Shakespeare as well as several works on art and art history, including Miró and Giacometti.
Bonnefoy studied mathematics and philosophy at the Universities of Poitiers and the Sorbonne in Paris. After the Second World War he travelled in Europe and the United States and studied art history. From 1945 to 1947 he was associated with the Surrealists in Paris (a short-lived influence that is at its strongest in his first published work, Traité du pianiste (1946)). But it was with the highly personal Du mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve (On the Motion and Immobility of Douve, 1953) that Bonnefoy found his voice and that his name first came to public notice. Bonnefoy's style is remarkable for the deceptive simplicity of its vocabulary.
Starkness of expression is combined with a deeply ingrained sensuality and a longing for an (unattainable) 'other place', which comes to define human experience. Bonnefoy's work has been translated into English by, among others, Emily Grosholz, Galway Kinnell, John Naughton, Alan Baker, Hoyt Rogers, Antony Rudolf and Richard Stamelmann. In 1967 he joined with André du Bouchet, Gaëtan Picon, and Louis-René des Forêts to found L'éphémère, a journal of art and literature. Although it is his poetry that has made him a prominent figure in 20th-century world literature, he has written a great number of essays on art in general and pictorial art in particular. In this regard, L'Arrière-Pays ('The Hinterland', or 'The Land Beyond', 1972) occupies a pivotal place in his work. Commenting on his work, Bonnefoy has said: "One should not call oneself a poet. It would be pretentious. It would mean that one has resolved the problems poetry presents. Poet is a word one can use when speaking of others, if one admires them sufficiently. If someone asks me what I do, I say I’m a critic, or a historian."
He has taught literature at a number of universities in Europe and in the USA (Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts (1962–64); Centre Universitaire, Vincennes (1969–1970); Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Princeton University, New Jersey; University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut;Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; University of Geneva; University of Nice (1973–1976); University of Provence, Aix (1979–1981); and Graduate Center, City University of New York (from 1986)), where he was made an honorary member of the Academy of the Humanities and Sciences. In 1981, following the death of Roland Barthes, he was given the chair of comparative study of poetry at the Collège de France.
He has been honoured with a number of prizes throughout his creative life, most notably the Prix des Critiques in 1971, the Balzan Prize (for Art History and Art Criticism in Europe), the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca in 1995, Grand Prize of the First Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Awards in 2000 and Franz Kafka Prize in 2007. His name is regularly mentioned among the prime favourites for the Nobel Prize. In 2011, he received the Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award, presented by the trustees of the Griffin Poetry Prize. In 2014, he was co-winner of the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize.
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