An Angel Around The Corner/Un ange autour du coin|
by Anne Cimon
Post Your Opinion
|The Comfort of Unique Society
by Michelle Ariss
"I went to heaven, 'twas a small town
Lit with a Ruby, lathed with Down.
Stiller than the fields, as the full Dew,
Beautiful as pictures no man drew.
People like the Moth of Mechlin frames.
Duties of Gossamer, and Eider- names almost û
Contented I could be 'mong such unique society."
"In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age"
Reading Anne Cimon's latest book of poetry An Angel Around the Corner/Un ange
autour du coin, is a little like finding "such unique society" as that of Dickinson's heaven
in the opening poem. "Lathed" with simple language, the collection is lit not "with a
Ruby" but with the "Honey-coloured sunlight" in "Church at Thanksgiving", with the
orangey resin of "The Amber Teacup" and with the bright yellow of the ribbons that "are
today's symbol of hope/for the return/ of the missing/soldiers,/any missing soul. . . ." in
the opening poem, entitled simply "Yellow". For anyone who has experienced the
emotional agony of the death of a beloved partner, friend or family member, Cimon's
poetry can instill the same quiet optimism that is found in meditation and prayer.
Such optimism begins with brief but intense, private insights which eventually permit the
sufferer to return to increasingly public interactions. The arrangement of the poems in
this collection, the author's fifth, mirror that psychological process. The book is divided
into four parts. Although the sections are untitled, the subject-matter of the works
assembled in each invite headings such as "Mourning", for the first four, "Coping" for
the following six, "Healing" for the next four and "Accepting" for the final six.
Just as there is, generally speaking, nothing flamboyant about death, there is nothing
ostentatious about An Angel Around The Corner/Un ange autour du coin. The collection
is gentle and sincere, as if the narrator receives solace from the careful sharing of her
pain-filled reflections on death, and on life. For example, only in the third entry entitled
"To Gerald" is the book's inspiration introduced. Clearly, it is Gerald whose death has
brought upon the narrator the "sorrow / of being a widow." He is the "you" who "died of
lung disease" and who, in "Yellow", was "courageous as a soldier/wounded in the chest."
Knowing now who the narrator mourns, we too are able to sense the momentary comfort
offered by the "glow" of the "oversized" amber tea cup and the "rustic power" of its
"Russian soul" to summon the friendships and fortitude needed "to survive / another rude
day . . ."
The poems in part two confirm that loyal, sympathetic friends are invaluable when
coping with a personal tragedy. In Cimon's case, supportive friends are those who "wait
for me" at the end of "Ottawa: The Yellow Room". But, and more interestingly from a
stylistic perspective, ". . . an antique lamp, / pine chest, and a decorative/bird cage in a
corner" also serve to console in that poem, as do a shell that "looks like/an open palm" at
the bottom of an artificial pond in "Sutton, June 14, 2003", and kindred spirits like
Dickinson who, in "Emily as Flower Child"
. . . shaped poems
breathtaking as rosebushes,
pruned back words
deftly as stems and branches. . . .
"I look for what I love," Cimon writes in the "Sutton" piece and in this second section of
the book, the suggestion is that the warmth of loving friendships radiates from both
animate and inanimate forms of life.
Introspection and empathy signal the onset of healing. "It's Not a Dream" is illustrative
of the works in the third section of the book, poems that suggest that tragedy provokes
analysis both of self and of others who suffer or have suffered. Here, the narrator recalls
the spirit she demonstrated as a child during visits to her institutionalized father:
My father scolds
me to stop
climbing the wall
but only that small aperture
allows a ray of light
into the cell û
My spirit still seeks
and rises towards it every time.
It is the rediscovery of this indefatigable resourcefulness, the image suggests, which will
empower the narrator, enable her to lead a new and different life by accepting the
inevitability of her loss.
Other spirit-strengthening recollections find expression in "Stoned Soul". This is an
especially poignant, memorable piece in which the narrator empathizes with the anguish
of the young woman in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting entitled "Found":
Stunned, like her,
by centuries of defamation,
stoned on drugs,
I fell to my knees,
face hidden in hands,
and cried I was blind.
Rescued by "A lover's steadfast grasp" the narrator is, in the final lines, able to cross "the
distant bridge/to a freer life."
Cimon's allusions to the work of Dickinson and Rossetti are not surprising. Indeed, their
"unique society" adds depth and breadth to the metaphysical interrogations taking place
throughout the collection. What comes as a surprise, and a refreshing contrast, is the
author's attraction to the work of Jack Kerouac. Perhaps for her his peripateticism and
spontaneous attitude represent the ultimate "freer life". Whatever the connection,
"Reading Kerouac's Scattered Poems", the last entry in this third section, suggests that he
is someone who, especially with his "wee wee wee poem" line, revives the author's
ability to laugh. For her, it is truly ". . . a Zen moment". Mocking her "goody-two shoes"
self, Kerouac's writing instills her with the hope that the angel, the one that Kerouac's
character Duluoz perceives is in everything, soon "comes round the next corner."
In the fourth and final section, the narrator has accepted death as part of life. Now open to
the world around her, she finds herself able to appreciate the serendipitous privilege
afforded her by a veiled woman in "Unveiled". She values the company of religious
practitioners in "Pentecost Preacher" and "Church at Thanksgiving". And in "In the
Desert of Kuwait: Winter 2003" she laments the sad ironies of a war in which soldiers,
. . . no more than twenty years old,
sweet-faced boys and girls
trained to kill, to make
Inside tents, they play
write "death letters"
to loved ones.
The style of the above excerpt is, unfortunately, typical of the collection. The author's
desire to explore and convey a range of emotions seems to take precedence over her
attention to form. For instance, given the context, the metaphoric potential of the
reference to ping-pong remains unexploited. Confining the game to a single line is not
enough to draw attention to the stark contrast offered by the image. Moreover, rhythm or
perspective could have been called upon, but weren't, to suggest a connection with the
"courageous soldier" in "Yellow". In short, more of the stylistic risk-taking apparent in
Cimon's previous collections, particularly All We Need/Tout ce qu'il faut (2002) and No
Country for Women (1993), would have made this collection more pleasing,
aesthetically, and expanded its potential audience. Irving Layton once commented that
Cimon "possesses the gift for the significant detail, the right word, and the most
important element of poetry, surprise." It is that latter element that I would have liked to
see more of in An Angel Around The Corner/Un ange autour du coin.
What is a consistently pleasant surprise, however, and sure to garner a broader audience
for the book, is the fact that, as with the collection's title, each English line on the left
page is mirrored in French on the right. The author's ability to create the same touching
ambiance in both versions of the poem must have something to do with the "gift"
identified by Layton.
At a recent reading at Bishop's University, Cimon was asked if she wrote in both
languages in order to "reconcile the two torn halves of her interior being," as Christine
Klein-Lataud proposes in a 1996 article on Nancy Huston's simultaneous translations.
Cimon's response was, like her work, sincere and straightforward: "The poems come to
me, sometimes in English and sometimes in French. Whichever one comes first is the one
that gets translated." Also a journalist and literary reviewer, Cimon considers her
bilingual approach simply a reflection of her personal experience of Canada. She writes
in the preface to the collection that her perspective is of a woman with deep roots in this
country, a country wide in miles, rich in nature's beauty and vast in its freedoms. It's a
country where "wild-eyed poets" can lurk and saunter without fear of punishment; where
translators, with good will, work night and day.