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An Angel Around The Corner/Un ange autour du coin

by Anne Cimon
82 pages,
ISBN: 0888872291


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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
Contented I could be 'mong such unique society."
Emily Dickinson

"In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age"
Jack Kerouac

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

My spirit still seeks
that light,
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
the sacrifice.

Inside tents, they play
ping-pong,
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.
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