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Poetry Canadian

Satie's Sad Piano

by (author) Carolyn Marie Souaid

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Initial publish date
Apr 2005
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    Publish Date
    Apr 2005
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Canadians tuned into radio get the official word sometime after 3 PM —former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is dead at 80. And while the country busies itself dealing with the aftershock, the news topples Venus, a 50-something woman who suddenly, unexpectedly, embarks on a painful downward spiral through memories of a past relationship, including an extended flashback to 1968, the height of Trudeaumania and an incendiary time for passion and the imagination. Montreal, still pumped and aglow from Expo ’67, is the Paris of North America and an exhilarating backdrop for new love. But Venus isn’t the only one with memories to share...

Satie's Sad Piano is a long poem charting the convergent deaths of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a love affair, and a fetus through the intersecting voices of an unlikely cast of characters—among them Radio, Mont-Royal, a series of old love letters, and a modern-day apostle.

Here, in the guise of poetry, is Quebec society freed from the tyranny of religion. Enter the mind of the emancipated woman and discover what happens when someone comes along out of nowhere and shakes up the mix.

It is about the world—a little less grey, a little less safe. It is about putting all your eggs in one basket and going for broke, about risking everything for your one chance at living. It is about living...

About the author

Carolyn Marie Souaid has been writing and publishing poetry for over 20 years. The author of six books and the winner of the David McKeen Award for her first collection, Swimming into the Light, she has also been shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Prize and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Much of her work deals with the bridging of worlds; the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility of it, but the necessity of the struggle. She has toured her work across Canada and in France. Since the 1990s, she has been a key figure on the Montreal literary scene, having co-produced two major local events, Poetry in Motion (the poetry-on-the-buses project) and the Circus of Words / Cirque des mots, a multidisciplinary, multilingual cabaret focusing on the "theatre" of poetry. Souaid is a founding member and editor of Poetry Quebec, an online magazine focusing on the English language poets and poetry of Quebec.

Carolyn Marie Souaid's profile page

Excerpt: Satie's Sad Piano (by (author) Carolyn Marie Souaid)

Mont Royal (a mountain with a view)


Even in death, he looms larger than life, dovetailing with the sodium clouds & the gun-slung cold. Rinsing back down over the city. She trudges. Vectors, they all trudge home to their davenports & dour TVs. Would she could wield her ponderous thoughts, pull souvenir swatches from the aquarelle sky.

Venus (the heroine)


everything points to your absence: dimmed tail-lights of cars & outgoing geese the grim, subtracted leaves

a bristled, Andean chill to the air

you on exotic soil –I, exiled in the long, wan shade of home

metaphors not of sadness, really but of the enormity of unneeding you

this late in the afternoon

Rose (a fetus)


Beyond the instant, there is history, loss, rooted in the gene-pool of a city, rusted into its ancestry. You smell it in the air. The elusive Northwest Passage, a scarcity of tea. Greenish, stegosaural hulks nailed over the river: the Navigators. Jacques Cartier, Champlain. Les filles who set sail, uncanonized. Oxidizing on infant soil. This is what lushes life, fleshes it out. Each moment, part of a greater genealogy. Branch after branch twigging backwards to the ghost nugget. Gentrify the industrial park, but in its heart of hearts, a condo is still an abbatoir.

Take a moment like this. You are alone, driving recklessly. The radio is on, and you are all ears. There is talk: Trudeau has died. Your sadness, shock shatters the singularity.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, we are two careening down the highway. You and I in the same humidity, at opposite ends of living. Your solid mind yielding to the shards: a weak, past-tense rose minnowing in the morgue. The crashed histories piling up. You lurch to a stop, your heart impounded, the car coughing its way to the side of the road. You wonder what might have been, given another moment, a different set of circumstances. A softer, leafier stretch. Hands clasped, communing, we might have hunkered down with a cup of chai and a cinnamon bun, and watched the house where he lay dying, the interred, half-mast sun underground.

Editorial Reviews

“ Erik Satie (1866-1925) was a French composer and pianist known for his eccentricity and the unusual titles he gave his compositions. Carolyn Marie Souaid aptly evokes Satie in the title of her fourth collection, Satie's Sad Piano.

Right from the beginning of Satie's Sad Piano, the language leaps off the page in exciting, vivacious rhythm and rhyme: "Poinsettias aghast. The children, too / in hats and scarves, skating / clear off the grind, pond crack, / their shrink-wrapped screams" You can hear the assonance in "aghast" and "hats;" then "pond cracked" and "shrink-wrapped" has a metrical parallelism that Souaid uses throughout, giving the collection a riff-like cadence. But more than pop for the ears, this collection of poems, told from several points of view, is a love story set against the backdrop of Trudeaumania. The poems also make use of Catholicism, Greek mythology and literature as points of reference bringing to mind Elizabeth Smart's poetic novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.

The lives of the character in Smart's novel and Souaid's character, Venus, parallel each other. Both fall for married men who are poets, both fall pregnant and both are martyrs to their passions and afraid of their lover's wives: "What I mean to write, I won't for fear: / 'She' in hot pursuit of our paper trail. / Darkness bleeding through the clouds. / Even here, in the filtered sunlight / beneath trees, / I speak only in whispers." The poem, in the voice of Mont Royal, that captures Venus's first meeting of her future love, parallels what is going on in the nation with Trudeau; in fact, the male character is a parallel character: "She first spied him at the epicentre, / the sun, in shambles, pivoting/ breathlessly around him / Genius? Philosopher? / Mountains, he'd said, gravitated to him / in dreams. Sermonizing, as always, / in puffed-up tongues. / Je ne reve pas en mots, je reve dans l'abstrait. / Which she interpreted of course, / misinterpreted, as strength." There is a god-like quality to this masculine character with the sun "pivoting breathlessly around him." We can see he is going to take over her world, as Trudeau takes hold of the passions of Canadians, and yet his strength is misinterpreted.

There is a blur between the character of Trudeau and the male character so that Venus is falling not for a specific man, but the passions of the time and the exuberance of the nation. This is a complicated collection of poetry to summarize in a few words, which is one of its strengths. A reader who knows little of Canada's history would still revel in the language, the long-limbed lines, the leaps, strong end-stops and the use of enjambment that creates double-meanings as in "reached deeper still / into the music / of her womb, vibrating / the darkest chords." Though there is a smattering of cliches, some attempt to stretch beyond their all-too-familiar use, as does the language throughout this collection of multi-voiced poems.”

—Yvonne Blomer, ARC Poetry Magazine

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