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Poetry Month: Excerpt from Correspondent

April is National Poetry Month, and to mark the occasion we'll be sharing some of our favourite poems from collections we've published over the years. Today, we're sharing some excerpts from Correspondent by Dominique Bernier-Cormier and taking a closer look at the collection with an overview by Emma Faulkner.

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Excerpt from Correspondent
by Dominique Bernier-Cormier

A red M hangs like fangs above the mouth of the metro. We
step onto the escalator, imagine it’s the throat of a Soviet sea
monster. So deep we can’t see the bottom. I let myself get
swallowed, look at the white marble ceiling, the dark veins.
Crystal chandeliers shine like teeth. My mother whispers
magnifique, hiver nucléaire. Murals of red-cheeked boys raising
their fists into storms. I get split up, caught in a current of
arms and shawls, foreign tongues. My mother grabs my hand.
T’es dans les nuages? Tiens ma main. On the platform, a wind
that comes from nowhere, everywhere. The doors opening
with the soft sound of curtains. Towards the heart of the city,
a man’s voice announces the stops. Away from it, a woman’s.
We sing along to the only Russian song we know:
осторожно, двери закрываются: Caution, the doors are closing.

In this impressive debut collection, Dominique Bernier-Cormier describes memories of snow falling on Quebec City’s copper roofs, scientists tracking the location of a sinking submarine near the Russian Coast, and everything in between. Images of children flipping bright kopecks at a dancing bear outside a flea market, or a translator awaking from a suicide bombing with ears ringing are some of the vibrant and moving portraits the poet crafts through his ability to weave story and scenery, real and surreal, to create a masterpiece of experience which is not confined by the boundaries of place. Bernier-Cormier is not afraid to shock readers, with his traumatic and unbelievable descriptions of extraordinary events. In one poem, a young boy watches his father report the news on TV as hostages hold wet handkerchiefs to their mouths.

Readers can expect to find in Correspondent poems of vivid scenery, surreal conditions, and extraordinary detail. Here is an example of what to expect when you pick up a copy of this startling collection:

Across the street, a red sun sets the windows of the Hotel Ukraina on fire. The tallest of Stalin's seven sisters. We huddle on the couch in our pyjamas. My mother holding a remote in her lap. Static sky, bad reception. The TV clearing its throat. My father's body, cut in half, moving up and down the screen.

Correspondent features three long prose poems, each divided into 19 sections, fusing images of bucolic coastal summers, a father fixed by a television broadcast, and the colours of a Moscow winter with vividly depicted scenes of gunfire, media scrums, and live reporting. In this unusual hybrid of the personal and the historical, Bernier-Cormier tenders alternating perspectives on what is said, what is seen, and where the silence begins.

Dominique Bernier-Cormier was born in Quebec and spent the summers of his childhood on New Brunswick’s Acadian coast. But he grew up in Moscow, Paris, and Beijing, where his father worked as a foreign correspondent for CBC/Radio Canada television. Bernier-Cormier won the Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem in 2017 for “Fabric.” His poems have also been shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, Arc’s Poem of the Year Award, CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize, and a National Magazine Award. His chapbook, Englishing, was published by Frog Hollow Press in spring 2017.

Grab your own copy of Correspondent by Dominique Bernier-Cormier here, or check out the rest of our poetry collection here.

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