Entre Rive and Shore, by Dominique Bernier-Cormier

In Entre Rive and Shore, Dominique Bernier-Cormier inquires: “Does translation catch up to us all, inevitably?” The focal languages here are French and English, particularly related to the colonial conflict between the French-speaking Acadians and the British. Bernier-Cormier describes himself as a Québécois/Acadian poet and translator; Entre Rive and Shore stays very close to him, to his writing of this “book about translation,” and to his “family history.”

From the “Notes on translation,” the reader learns that in 1755 Bernier-Cormier’s ancestor Pierrot Cormier was declared “a traitor to a distant crown” and awaited deportation from Eastern Canada. “According to family lore,” the night before his deportation he escaped “wearing a dress” his wife “had smuggled into his cell.” “If it weren’t for that dress,” Bernier-Cormier’s “father always said, we might be speaking English and living in Louisiana, where many Acadians, including Pierrot’s brother, ended up settling after deportation.” If, in Entre Rive and Shore, one rive is Quebec, then the other shore is Louisiana. Forming a backdrop within the book is an actual trip Bernier-Cormier took with his father in 2019 to Lafayette, Louisiana in order “to explore that future we barely missed, ce destin qui nous a effleuré, and find traces of ourselves. To measure the space between two fates, entre évasion et exil.” Bernier-Cormier generously invites the reader along as he and his father meet the place, the people and their way of life south of the border—and as he considers the might-have-beens for his family.

The poet-translator shares in detail the trip south from engaging with “a guard [who] welcomes us to earth / with an accent and a gun,” to the “Airbnb we’re renting,” to a swamp tour, to browsing in bookstores, to eating in restaurants and drinking in bars. The trip to Lafayette is so intently described that the reader gets the sense that description becomes a way for Bernier-Cormier to fully think and feel through the different family fates. Entre Rive and Shore is, in part, “a poem about the South” and the North, a poem about French and English, but it is also about that which is lost in these “either/or” premises. This is poignantly foregrounded in the book’s setting. Louisiana is a place where the Cajun language and the land are “eroding” due to “[e]xtreme weather events.” The intense focus on specific details, grounded in location, also seems to be a response to what is and will remain ineffable about Bernier-Cormier’s family’s history. That something that is ghosting this writing; what is “just out of reach.”

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“A translation of a people from one shore to another” is both subject and aesthetic in Entre Rive and Shore. Bernier-Cormier calls on a variety of genres and forms—poetry, prose, translation, and correspondence—to access what is “stuck entre deux langues, two shores, / a dark harbor oú un navire fait escale navier between tongues.” The various genres and forms create multi-angular entrées and offer a wide net of attention to the “entre deux”—the living of a life between two places, languages, and identities, and, how twonesses torque and contort perceptions of self. Within the poems the poet-translator is constantly locating himself in his body, his body in place, and within particularities of culture, asking: “Why am I here again?” In part, the answer materializes from a desire to “tell where / one word ends et l’autre commence.”

Bernier-Cormier’s approach is to welcome a hybridity of expression and to accept a hybridity of self, speaking in a hybrid language. One of the beautifully satisfying aspects of Entre Rive and Shore is the way English is blended with French, French with English. By choosing not to italicize the French, and instead using the same typeface for both languages, the book avoids separation and asserts equivalence of the two languages. This gesture, in and of itself, allows for the hybrid “blend,” a “dream in both [languages], at the same time.”

Entre Rive and Shore is a book about writing a book. A book that explores “a blend of Acadian French and English”; a book of the “interwoven” “grammar and syntax of both languages.” A book wherein the poet-translator is “trying to braid [his] languages back together” and “wake up whole.” In this way, Entre Rive and Shore is a book “beyond the either/or.” After all, as Bernier-Cormier asserts: “The future is hybrid”; is “entre rive and shore.”

About the Author

Dominique Bernier-Cormier is a Québécois/Acadian poet and translator. His first book, Correspondent, was longlisted for the Raymond Souster Award. He lives in Vancouver, where he writes and teaches in both English and French.

  • Publisher: Gooselane Editions | icehouse poetry (March 28, 2023)
  • Language‏: ‎English & French
  • Paperback: 104 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1773102877
  • ISBN-13:‎ 9781773102870

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