Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A review of Co-ïncidences, by Dr. Cynthia Hahn



Probably the best compliment one writer can pay another is to admit to the pangs of jealousy I experienced upon reading a line I wish I had written:

Daybreak Harvest

Poised to sing spring, this
in-between hour when
poems are time’s pockets.

Obviously, Cynthia Hahn is herself justifiably proud of her stunning metaphor of “time’s pockets”, since this verse is repeated under her photo on the back cover of her newest collection, entitled “Co-ïncidences” (Editions alfAbarre, 2014;  editons@alfabarre.com)

In this collection, Cynthia Hahn and artist-illustrator Monique Loubet brush onto paper the delicate landscapes of a woman’s soul.  Dr. Hahn is at her poetic best in the spare precise Haiku of her art, like the delicate brush strokes of Chinese characters that convey multiple meanings.  Ms. Loubet’s art is in perfect balance with the words on the page, full of subjective and sensory impressions that re-create objective reality.

My greatest enjoyment of this bilingual collection, however, was trying to decipher which poetic version came first:  the English or the French?  As someone who can call Cynthia Hahn a friend, and as poet and translator myself, it was a great game for me (and perhaps for her students) to read back and forth between the French and English to seek out the original poetic inspiration from the poetic translation.  In testimony to her craft, this was never very obvious and my guesses are certainly influenced by personal preferences for certain sounds and images.

Comparing the English verse:

Copper bell sounds a
lake of yellow lotus,
sun’s grounded glow.

to the French

Une cloche de cuivre sonne un
lac de lotus jauni,
chimères de soleil tombé en terre.

makes me think that this poem was born in English first, while the vocalic harmonies in the poem Elle en arbre

Les oiseaux me fortifient
de leurs nids
de leurs dons de trilles

lead me to believe that this French rendition, with its strident bird songs, was written before the English.

As for Night Undresses

Sun and Moon lie
in a crimson suitcase
filled with ragged clouds.

I’m convinced that the beautiful evocation of this image had to have been first seen with Cynthia’s English-speaking eyes.  My impression is that Cynthia Hahn is a bit more “liberated” in English and more rigorous in French, but if that is true, she would only be acting in faithfulness to the distinct natures of those two languages.

Her collection is a bird’s eye journey, from Ascent, to Flight, to Landing, in a final contemplation of mortality at a poet’s favorite place for that:  the sea. 

I came back to a new reading of these poems over the Christmas holidays, and was again pierced through with lines written for the finality of another year in the cold of winter:

Who will sing new year
leaves onto the trees?

Softly falling angels.

Congratulations, Dr. Hahn, on an elegant, moving work.  I say that with both jealousy and admiration.