This has been stressing me out, the pile of books I have read but not reviewed and even though I have been telling myself I will get to them, my Christmas present to myself (besides the 150-box of Prismacolor Premier pencils!) is to just let it go. So I will do short comments in this post, which may turn into a mega-post and move on, returning to my usual one-post a book as new reads get completed.
Martine Audet, Ma tête est forte de celle qui danse (Éditions du Noroît, 2016): A highly-regarded Montréal-based poet with a quirky use of language. This collection projects strong images of violence, pain, love, passion. I read it while on vacation in Cuba and the ambient heat seemed to magnify the emotional content of the text. For me, reading poetry is often a very physical affair. As I read, I try to conjure up images, and the words and images lead to physical sensations, from floating to intense claustrophobia, from elation to heartbreak. This book hit so many notes with me… A language quirk that shows up repeatedly in this collection is the use of the verb “pouvoir” (Je peux = I can) as action directly on objects rather than actions, a strong assertion of the power of transformation.
Kim Moore, The Art of Falling (Seren/Poetry Wales Press, 2015): A wonderful collection of poems. Some of those I particularly liked spoke of music and musical instruments, related to the author’s occupation as a music teacher. One of the random choices purchased during my trip to London, England.
Sylvia Plath, Ariel (Faber & Faber, 2015 ): A classic. I had read isolated poems, and had loved “You’re” since the age of 17, but overall, I was disappointed by the collection. Maybe my expectations were too high and I have to reread them another time with a different mindset.
Corinne Chevarier, Anatomie de l’objet (Éditions Les herbes rouges, 2011): Two suites exploring transgression and abuse, in images both direct and diffuse, with a strange twist of language that both depersonalizes the victim and expresses a deep tenderness for the child within. Loved it!
Ouanessa Younsi, Emprunter aux oiseaux (Mémoire d’encrier, 2014): A wonderful suite of poems by poet and psychiatrist Ouanessa Younsi, where she expresses her love and tenderness for her aging grandmother who is suffering of dementia. There are now so many authors looking at the effects of dementia on humanity, identity and relationships, whether it involves family elders, parents, or a spouse. The loss of cognitive capabilities and language brings so much into question… poetry is a great medium to explore it. In this suit, the poet uses what is left of language is her grandmother and incorporates her words. She says in the introduction: “Parler de Denise ne suffit pas. Denise possède une parole riche et pauvre, défenestrée et parfaite parce que sienne. Il me faut lui donner un espace. Les déments ont une voix qui mérite l’écoute du poète attentif à la finitude. Ma grand-mère incarne la philosophie: apprendre à mourir. Denise touche à ce qu’il y a d’humain dans l’humain et les ormes. Elle pose la question de l’être: qui est Denise, qui suis-je, lorsque tout – projets, espérances, raisons, famille, bonheur, langage – s’évapore? À ce point précis de la perte, on frôle la dignité, le noyau du ciel. On respire par les yeux.”
Derek Palacio, The Mortifications (Tim Duggan Books, 2016): The story of a Cuban family where the mother leaves for the US with the children and the father stays behind and is part of a group of rebels living in the mountains. All members of the family evolve very differently. The daughter’s spiritual search takes her back to Cuba. Her brother goes looking for her. These quests enables them to reconcile themselves with their origins and with the father they barely knew.
Mary Costello, Academy Street (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2014): The life story of a Irish nurse, starting with her childhood and youth in Ireland, and young adulthood and challenges as an immigrant and single mother in New York. The character development is reminiscient of Colm Toibin. Many shades of sadness and loneliness.
Annie Ernaux, Les années (Gallimard, 2008): I loved this book. A panorama of life in France from post-war to present, through a series of photographs (described, not shown). For me, it brings back memories of many French novels set in the large period, but especially the two decades after WWII, as well as images accumulated over many trips to France.
Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach (Vintage 2007): Very sad novel of a marriage that was not meant to be… A young couple’s romance falls apart on their wedding night when the woman reacts badly to her husband’s approaches. A tragedy bred in times where nobody talked about sexuality.
Frédéric Lenoir, Du bonheur: un voyage philosophique (Fayard, 2013): What I would call “pop-philosophy”. Interesting survey of what philosophers have said about the concept of happiness. Offers good references to get deeper into this subject. For most recent publications, references are French authors.
Louise Dupré, La main hantée (Éditions du Noroît, 2016): In this collection of poems in free verse and prose, the haunted hand of the poet explores pain, loss and a variety of private hells. Very touching verses about euthanizing a cherished cat.
Delphine de Vigan, Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (JC Lattès, 2011): I highly recommend reading this book before D’après une histoire vraie, which does refer to it frequently. Story of a life with a bipolar mother, the good and the bad moments… I wonder what it is called a novel, when it looks like memoirs. If it is factual and their no invention and act of imagination, it is not fiction… Or is everything fiction when told by one person, even if well researched, given the possible flaws due to faulty memory and fanciful interpretation?
Osip Mandelstam, Voronezh Notebooks (New York Review Books, 2016): I heard this name in connection with Anna Akhmatova, in a gathering of intellectuals who seemed to know who he was and I didn’t… and therefore felt ignorant and uncultured. What for? Maybe I know things they don’t… I read parts of the poems out loud to the dog, either in my backyard with the dog sitting in my lap and no doubt dozing off, or at the dog park, resting in the shade after a game of fetch. I am not sure any poetry can be translated perfectly and carry the qualities that make it good and/or interesting. A poet of the early Soviet period, Mandelstam is sent into internal exile, where his wife is permitted to join him. He composes poetry in his head and dictates poems to his wife when he considers them complete. Given that he was not officially published, there is no definitive edition of the Notebooks and available copies show variations in contents and sequencing. The translator of this edition has written a substantial introduction to set the context for the poems. That really helped me get a better appreciation for them.
Sjón, Moonstone (Sceptre Books, 2016): I really don’t know what to say about this book… I did not like it and having not read any others by this Icelandic author, I had trouble appreciating that this was a price-winning piece of fiction (but then again inspired by real life). The blurb says the following:
The year is 1918 and in Iceland the erupting volcano Katla can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavík. Yet life in the small capital carries on as usual, despite the natural disaster, a shortage of coal and, in the outside world, the Great War grinding on.
There, sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn lives for the new fashion – the cinema. Asleep, he dreams altered versions of the films, threaded with strands from his own life. Awake, he hovers on the fringes of society. Then the Spanish flu comes ashore, killing hundreds and driving thousands into their sick beds. The shadows of existence deepen and for Máni everything changes.
Capturing Iceland at a moment of profound transformation, Moonstone tells the story of a misfit in a place where life and death, reality and imagination, secrets and revelations jostle for dominance. As mesmerising as it is heartfelt, this miniature historical epic is the work of a major international writer.
The mystery remains complete for me.
Dominic Marcil and Hector Ruiz, Lire la rue, marcher le poème (Éditions du Noroît, 2016): A short essai about teaching the writing of poetry to young adults in urban environments, taking advantage of this environment to explore the nature of poetic language. Very inspiring!
There we go! Done with the Pile! And let’s get back on track with future blog posts. I have a number of books in progress as usual, doing some hours of reading in between drawings and household activities. So lots of hours of reading during this holiday period, not quite on the couch picture below because that was in the lobby of the hotel on my last trip to Cuba, but something else comfortable at home.