I travel. I’ve written about it. People have read it. Some even enjoyed it. Like music, travel’s one of those remarkable things where individuals in the same place at the same time can have wildly differing experiences. Individual tastes? Different perception? It doesn’t really matter. Fact is, that’s the way it is.And that’s the way it is with Hugues Corriveau’s Words for the Traveler. I read the Antonio D’Alfonso translation. Think armchair travel, but a journey in which our guide’s thrown a select handful of darts at a map – personal, regionalized experiences – communicated through two distinct poetry styles. The book’s in fact bookended within itself – two chunks of time in Rome with a salad-like peppering of Europe, Asia, and a dollop of North America to fill the hoagie.
I like it when an author’s unafraid to share opinions. A longtime journalist and literary critic, Corriveau does just that. But does so through tidy visual structure. Part I: Rome (the top of our bread roll) lays out vignettes in compact prose. Poetic, yes. Visceral, yes. But not what you may expect from a book of poems. It could be the most tightly edited Lonely Planet ever. But one in which the writer actually travelled to those places. “I’m sitting there while the traffic desperately tries to break the hours into fragments of loud noise. // Then, there, right at the end of Isola Tiberina, the island of the sickly, sitting at the foot of the Ospedale Fatebenefratelli, a couple kiss.”
In Part II: Elsewhere, Hugues spreads carefully crafted verse in recurring structure. And through our geographically diverse sandwich filling, a dart strikes Afghanistan. “Mother and child in Kabul are eating / by themselves near the arbor of flowers, / still alive despite the debacle, / resisting to the movement of clocks.” While across an ocean – Atlantic, Pacific, you decide – we hit the Big Apple. “Mother and child in New York protect themselves / from the glass thrust like cold knives, / tears quench dry throats, / blood clouds the world’s gaze.”
Part III: Back in Rome (the base of our handheld meal) blends both prose and verse, neatly served sustenance with a palette-pleasing finish. “There are times when he feels calm. In the cloister of the Chiesa Santa Maria della Pace, perhaps. In the noisy jumble of breaking waves, in between sleep and sleep, fragility of being.”
Initially published in Canadian Poetry Review.
Words for the Traveler by Hugues Corriveau
About the Author: Poet, fiction and non-fiction writer, Hugues Corriveau was the poetry reviewer for Montreal’s daily Le Devoir 2006-2017. He was also literary critic for Lettres Quebecoises 1990-2011. A five-time finalist for the Governor General Award, he has written over thirty books. He has won the Alfred-Desrochers Award twice and the Grand Prix du livre de Sherbrooke. His latest novel, La felure de Thomas, was published in 2018. Hugues Corriveau lives in Montreal.
About the Reviewer: Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey and 2019 WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. His poetry, articles and columns are published around the globe. Bill’s a serial traveller, travelling even when he’s not physically on the move. Find him @billarnott_aps.