- Co-ïncidences : Poèmes illustrés par Monique Loubet by Cynthia Hahn, and: Ciel à outrances by Madeleine Monette
Quebecois novelist, member of the Académie des lettres du Québec, and winner of the 1980 Prix Robert-Cliche for Le Double suspect, Madeleine Monette offers Ciel à outrances, a stunningly powerful collection of twelve poems about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Her talent as an award-winning novelist is clear in this her first foray into poetry as one is deeply drawn into the lives so dramatically altered by the attacks. Monette sets the stage in her epigraph: “Pour tous ceux-là, se souvenir. Surtout imaginer.” She thus succeeds in achieving her goal as the poems take hold of the reader from the very start and help one to not only remember, but more importantly, imagine and feel the range of emotions of those so directly impacted by that fateful day. For example, “Le corps panique” begins with:
l’instant où ça meurt, celui où ça va mourir, un demi-tour de tête, un regard fouettés par la fulgurance de l’impact, tranchés par son improbabilité, le calme des affaires courantes crevé à même le ciel distendu, un ravage déchaîné qui pousse, [End Page 159] fonce assourdissant dans un chaos étrangleur, pans de murs en débâcle à travers le gouffre subit, pierres tombales portées par les flammes(66).
It is truly impossible to indicate which of the twelve poems is the most forceful in its effect. Yet, it is easy to imagine how they could be read aloud and shared so that their significance is not lost on anyone. Even the titles of the poems (“Le lait du ciel,” “Tatoué,” “Petite,” “Une crête de feu,” “Seule,” “Le plein de la bouche,” “Secret,” “Le corps panique,” “Fracturée,” “Élan vital,” “Le ressac des sens,” and “Outrances”) will cause one to pause and reflect as Monette’s words are so carefully chosen that their meaning is overtly compelling.
Co-ïncidences is not simply a collection of poems written by Cynthia Hahn, Professor of French language, literature and culture at Lake Forest College, and illustrated by Monique Loubet, French painter who exhibited her work in the American Midwest and is a member of the “Groupe des peintres du Marais.” It is a symbiotic fusing of poetic and artistic talents. Divided into three sections, “Ascent/Ascente,” “In Flight/Envolée,” and “Landing/Atterrissage,” Co-ïncidences renders a complete sensorial experience: “It is a serendipitous merging and pursuit of coincidental paths, an aligning of friendship, of pages ripe with journey. In short, this text, with its multiple points of entry and dual language, celebrates inspiration and transcendental discovery through paired artistic creation” (8). As the poems are offered in both English and French and are accompanied by symbolic bird illustrations “to imply the movements of the soul” (8), one undergoes a triple flow of responses: one of reading Hahn’s poem in English as well as in French and then that of absorbing the connection of Loubet’s illustration to the poem. There are twelve poems that make up “Ascent/Ascente,” and “In Flight/Envolée” and “Landing/Atterrissage” have seven poems each. In “Ascent/Ascente,” the poem “Elle en arbre/She as Tree” is particularly striking: Hahn’s words and Loubet’s illustration more than just blend together but are a perfect melding of literary and artistic endeavors. The significance of the poem is brought to life by the staggeringly beautiful illustration that could easily be a wood carving. Its judicious use of two colors only, brown and white, and the continuous flow of its lines outline the trunk of the tree as a woman’s body connected to the water, itself connected to the woman’s head:
Je m’arrose,/I water myself en arbre de femme;/tree woman...