Friday, May 19, 2023

Marie-Andrée Gill, Heating the Outdoors, translated by Kristen Renee Miller


Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend I’m there:

You flip the choke, yank the cord, and we take off in a black cloud. With this much snow, we can’t break down; I’m not even wearing a coverall. I’m enveloped by something like that saying, everything in its own place. You steer through trees in the dark, turn on a dime. Branches in my face, flakes in my eyes—with you I’d never get stranded.

It would make a good title for something, I tell myself: Dances with ski-doos. (“LIKE NOTHING EVER HAPPENED”)

It is curious to realize that I know the name of Montreal-based Ilnu Nation member Marie-Andrée Gill through the review Jérôme Melançon did over at periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics of Chauffer le dehors (La Peuplade, 2019). That same collection, her third to be published in the original French, has now appeared in English translation via translator Kristen Renee Miller, published as Heating the Outdoors (Toronto ON: Book*hug, 2023) as part of Book*hug’s “Literature in Translation” series. The back cover offers that Heating the Outdoors “describes the yearnings for love, the domestic monotony of post-breakup malaise, and the awkward meeting of exes. As the lines between interior and exterior begin to blur, Gill’s poems, here translated by Kristen Renee Miller, become a record of the daily rituals of ancient landscapes that inform her identity not only as a lover, then ex, but also as an Ilnu and Québécoise woman.” Composed into clusters of sketched-out fragments that feel composed in real time, Gill’s book-length lyric is structured in a quartet of lyric suites, threads of accumulating sections: “LIKE NOTHING EVER HAPPENED,” “SOLFÈGE OF STORMS,” “THE RIOT STARTS WITHIN” and “THE FUTURE SHRUGS.” “On a bed of fir saplings,” she writes, near the end of the second section, “we touched that mute, ephemeral / beauty. We stumbled out, uncertain, searching for the edible / root of language, nursing our dazzling wounds. Together we / drove a street sweeper over our ghosts. // In any case, we knew what to do with our bodies between / thunderstorms.” Gill writes a sequence of meditative sketches on the wilds of domestic matters and domestic matter into clusters of lyric propulsion, moments captured in turned light, and the intimacy of each small moment, contained and collected, simultaneously holds an infinite space. “Still writing to survive,” she offers, in the first section, “I make to-do lists, interpret fading / images from good dreams: fried onions and hot soups, / chanterelles and apple tarts, our accidents of simple / happiness.”

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