Chantal Dupuy-Dunier: Caress the Essence of Experience

BY Chantal Dupuy-Dunier
(Flammarion, 2009)

Translator’s Note

Chantal Dupuy-Dunier lives and writes in Clermont-Ferrand, in the Auvergne region of France. These six translated poems are derived from her collection, Éphéméride, published by Flammarion in 2009.

In French, an éphéméride is a tear-off calendar, the kind found on many office desks; it also refers to the history of a given day. For example, the éphéméride of June 10 for an American reader includes Judy Garland’s birthday, Janis Joplin’s first live concert, and Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite-flying experiment in a lightning storm. Life’s gestures are its telling details, the stuff memory is made of and, by extension, what poetry is made of. Given these definitions, it is not surprising that Dupuy-Dunier’s project in this, her fourteenth collection, is to offer a poem for every day of the year — including leap years. Her poems are essentially untitled, each simply labeled with the date it refers to in parentheses. Several of these poems directly comment on their dates’ éphémérides, such as August 6, which is subtitled, also in parentheses, “Anniversary of Hiroshima.” However, usually the poem’s engagement with its éphéméride relates more to Dupuy-Dunier’s personal history or to the small histories being made or reinscribed in the moment — in her garden, her home, or her travels — than it does to celebrities, saints, or cultural landmarks. In the poem for April 15, which is the date Dupuy-Dunier uses to begin her poem-calendar, she opens, “What sets forth the poem / is always gesture.”

Life’s gestures are its telling details, the stuff memory is made of and, by extension, what poetry is made of. Gestures can be grand, such as an atomic bomb or a political act of resistance, or they can be almost unnoticeable, such as a word spoken, a grain of sand, or the precise way a blended fragrance fills a kitchen. What artist, what poet, is not struck by the world’s many gestures? Noticing the too easily overlooked, giving voice to the voiceless, offering language to the wordless — these are the poet’s tasks. Dupuy-Dunier uses the particulars of her world (our world) as metaphorical vehicles to bring us deeper into life’s gestures, inspiring us in our own daily noticing and our own encounters with the ephemeral pages of time. By learning to see the migratory birds, for example, or the pattern of wear on a lighthouse’s steps, we learn to read and write our worlds differently.

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