Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue
|Hélène Cardona (Bilingual Collection in French and English)|
Page Count: 108
Publication Date: Monday, June 06, 2016
Cover Artwork: We Are All Immortal by Alexandra Eldridge – alexandraeldridge.com –
About this Book
Winner of the 2017 Best Book Award, the International Book Award in Poetry, the Pinnacle Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book and the Readers' Favorite Book Award in Poetry. Shortlisted for 2016 Julie Suk Award (best poetry collection from an independent literary press).
Praise for Life in Suspension
Dappled with transparent imagery, like the Mediterranean sunlight she grew up with, Hélène Cardona’s poems offer a vivid self-portrait as scholar, seer and muse.
Each poem fully exists in two tongues at once, and this adds to the book’s great charm and visionary quality.
—Richard Wilbur, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes
Hélène Cardona keenly understands poetry’s insistence that we slow down, downshifting into a more measured and conscious pace. Her powerful poems are written line by certain line, which is how her readers gratefully experience them.
These spare, open-hearted poems reveal Hélène Cardona’s astonished universe and give us a “glimpse into a world full of light.”
Hélène Cardona’s poems explore the roiling mysteries on the indistinct borderlines of spiritual landscapes, natural elements, and singular private visions. Surprising, upsetting and, ultimately, uplifting.
A tour de force of language and phonetics; a deeply felt and deeply spiritual collection which explores the universal human experience from a very personal point of view. This is intimate poetry, and yet it transcends the mundane through its lyricism and its glory in language. Hélène Cardona’s pen moves from the human to the divine and back in a single sentence, and the result is uplifting and magical.
In this bilingual edition of her poems Hélène Cardona is our contemporary ecstatic, time-traveler, and shape-shifter. Behind the dreamlike atmosphere of her poems lies a fierce will to discover beauty, to resurrect ancient enchantments, and to defend enigmas of the spirit. “I like transforming into an animal, / devouring who I was,” she writes. Her luminous poems celebrate the imagination’s power to dignify and exalt our highest yearnings.
Hélène Cardona is a woman of many languages. You will hear the tones of an elegy, a prayer, and most of all, the fairy-tale. I was moved by these pieces. As Hélène shows us, together with Hafiz, “this place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”
The poems are wonderful and in so many ways continue the vision and conversation of my favorite poet, the D.H. Lawrence of Birds, Beasts & Flowers. “The Winter Horse” is very much in my thoughts these days.
(winner of the National Poetry Series, the Lenore Marshall Award, two PEN Center USA Awards in Poetry, the Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry)
Life in Suspension is a terrific and singular achievement. Very few poets I know could accomplish anything like it, let alone with such grace and clarity.
—Stephen Yenser, winner of the Walt Whitman Award and the Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in Poetry
Poems that explore whole worlds – embracing and beautiful.
Un recueil émouvant, original, sensible. Travail d’orfèvre auquel on ajouterait sans hésiter le mot beau ! J’ai particulièrement apprécié “Ouranoupolis Pantoum.”
Hélène Cardona’s poems sing to the spirit of things and to the things of Spirit. Each delicious word and sentence is worth savoring, and makes a feast for the soul. A compelling read. I could not put it down!
HÉLÈNE CARDONA’S most recent books include the Award-Winning Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry); Hemingway Grant recipient Beyond Elsewhere (White Pine Press), her translation of Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac; and Ce que nous portons (Éditions du Cygne), her translation of Dorianne Laux. With Yves Lambrecht, she co-translated Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for the Iowa International Writing Program’s WhitmanWeb. A Romanian translation of Dreaming My Animal Selves was published by Junimea Editions in 2016. Hélène’s work has been translated into 13 languages.
She wrote her thesis on Henry James for her Master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne, taught at Hamilton College & Loyola Marymount University, worked as a translator for the Canadian Embassy in Paris, and received fellowships from the Goethe-Institut & Universidad Internacional de Andalucía.
She contributes essays to The London Magazine, co-edits Plume and Fulcrum, and is co-producer of the film Pablo Neruda: the Poet’s Calling. Publications include Washington Square Review, World Literature Today, Poetry International, Dublin Review of Books, Asymptote, The Warwick Review, Irish Literary Times, Drunken Boat, The Brooklyn Rail, The Los Angeles Review and elsewhere.
Hélène had roles in Chocolat, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World, The Hundred-Foot Journey, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Happy Feet 2 and Mumford. For Serendipity she co-wrote with director Peter Chelsom and composer Alan Silvestri the song Lucienne, which she also sang.
Read a sample from this book
Review: Alison Williams reviews Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue for Poetry International (November 2017)
If a purpose of poetry is to transcend, then Hélène Cardona’s poems in her new book Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue reflect a linguistic spiritual transcendence that is illuminated on every page. It is a transcendence, however, that doesn’t ignore the deeper conflicts of life. Rather, each poem is a moment of awakening and presence that blooms something in the reader akin to a mystical revelation grounded in the physical world. Grief, childhood, death and rebirth, longing, mysticism, the holiness of beauty, a oneness with animal nature – all are touched upon and lit away from like a hummingbird testing ground.
Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue was first written in English and translated by Cardona into French. An acclaimed poet, actor, and translator, Cardona, having grown up in the various Mediterranean countries that are visited in this collection, is herself multilingual. This innate knowing of multiple languages and love of literature and word is felt in every line, resulting in the sense that language is a rivered vehicle for the thoughts, emotions, and sensory perceptions of one particular human being, suspended over rushing waters.
Poetry, writes Cardona, “offers a new vision of the universe, reveals the soul’s secrets and mysteries.” The collection is broken up into four parts, with each part representing a different dimension. The first section reveals memories of Cardona’s childhood, and evokes the same kind of sensory perception of land, home, and nature, as she writes in the first verse of the poem from which the title is taken:
This passage back through time in Part I introduces the reader to Cardona’s mother, the Kitty of the dedication and of the first poem. Kitty, who is referenced in the dedication as having passed away, commences the book with an epigraphic poem of her own, “To Kitty, Who Loved the Sea and Somerset Maugham.” She pervades the book, slipping in and out of scene like a winking ghost. Reading Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is like unveiling a code to Cardona’s interior landscape in memory of her mother. Later, in Part 4, the speaker in the poem “C’est comme ça” travels to Peru “over the fire road to perch on the rock that bears my spirit,” where she hears “my mother’s voice echo / you’re all the sunlight / that’s ever been in my life.” Death and grief make for fertile ground in a living connection between Cardona and her mother in these poems, as well as with her extended family, in recent generations and beyond. In “In Search for Benevolent Immortality,” Cardona’s family and her memory offer her grounding and solace in the yawning greatness of time.
References to other poets and writers in epigraphs lend another clue to the world Cardona inhabits (or, the other-world) in the first part as well as the subsequent three sections: Carl Sagan, E.E. Cummings, Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Walt Whitman, whose Civil War Letters Cardona translated into French for the Iowa International Writing Program’s WhitmanWeb. Whitman’s presence resides in these poems, in the deep immersion into nature’s wonder and mystery, the tender buds of spring existing side by side with the bones of the dead. The simultaneous and cyclical contradiction and merging of nature’s elements: earth, air, fire, water, and, not to be forgotten, ether. Space exists in these poems, the outer space we see as vast and far off, and the same space existing here and now in our bodies. Cardona’s language is descended from the great mystics, with words and phrases plucked directly from the natural world, like an arm reaching to grasp a leaf floating in the air. In speaking of her grandfather in the poem “Stone,” she writes “we have the same ear for reading / the bones in the wind / and breaking down the sun.”
The poems feel as though they exist in the single language and in all languages at once, as though translation was unimportant, an afterthought, as these poems would transcend the bounds of any language in any tongue; and simultaneously as if translation was never so important, for the choice of words is so effortless as to only exist in that state of “suspended” perfection. As Richard Wilbur writes in the Forward, “…for such a many-languaged mind as hers, the ‘translations’ must have been there since the beginning.” It is the depth of the impression of the native tongue, the same impression of memory and sense Cardona ‘remembers’ linguistically, particularly in the first section, that permeates the language of the poetry.
Yet for all this reflection on depth of language, Cardona’s poems are remarkable in their directness and simplicity. “I understand the nature of plants / I used to be a flower / I like morphing into an animal / devouring who I was” she writes in “How God Thinks Is Surprising.” Understanding the nature of the world, morphing and devouring, Cardona’s poetry embraces the reader on a timelessly mystical journey.
© 2018 Poetry International Online
Review: Antonio D’Alfonso reviews Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue for The Pacific Rim Review of Books (November 2017)
Interview: Hélène Cardona interviewed by Mia Funk for The Creative Process
Review: Anomaly reviews Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue for Books to Watch Out For 2017 (October 2017)
New from Salmon Poetry, this bilingual edition of poetry in English and French has already drawn much praise from the literary world. Cardona joins the chorus of multilingual and multinational poets in challenging the notion that living “between” languages means living within a dilemma. Cardona instead embraces the fullness and complexity of language, place, and the self.
Interview: Hélène Cardona interviewed by AWP for AWP: In the Spotlight (September 2017)
Review: Risk & Alchemy: John Domini reviews Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue for The Enchanting Verses Literary Review (August/September 2017)
“And so with leopard’s ears/,” writes Hélène Cardona, “I hear beyond the range of sound, / the ineffable, the sublime, my mother's / breath, my grandmother’s smile...” Rhetoric like that takes no small poetic risk, since who can get away with pairing up words so vague as “ineffable,” and “sublime?” But Cardona ushers us into just such a cloud-chamber, & there delivers the electricity of fresh elements in play -- or more often, in grief. The death of the poet’s mother, casting shadows and raising challenges, has prompted this outburst, and the result is Cardona’s best work, every piece fluid and quick, yet determined to probe the aching absence and locate the reassurance that remains. The project also allows for admirable flexibility, as each piece works in shorter lines, and with an unlabored, soundable rhythm, but the poet arranges these in a variety of forms: in single blocks, three- or four-line stanzas, and once in a fine, moving pantoum. Language is a major ingredient of her alchemy for immortality, in fact. Every poem, she explains in a forward, was composed in English and then later translated to French, and the text presents both, side by side. In more ways than one, LIFE IN SUSPENSION takes a reader to a farther shore.
The poetry in Hélène Cardona’s Life in Suspension reminds me at times of artwork by the famed Jean-Michel Basquiat, known as the Radiant Child. Basquiat purposely drew as a child. This added creativity and innocence to his work. These characteristics are in Cardona’s work, due to her ability to suspend the notion of completion in some of the poems.
In the title poem, Cardona takes us through a childhood by providing snippets of happenings in it (starting from the womb). A grandfather’s visit at three years old is remembered, “He holds my brother in his lap/and says, a boy at last, I am not impressed by girls” (27). Sixteen is the last age that the poem states. “I am sixteen years old, off to San Diego/My Mother cries at the Paris airport. She breaks my heart but the pull is stronger” (31). The reader wants to know what happens in the subsequent years but Cardona does not provide this information, on purpose. The desire to know is suspended, so too is the life of the protagonist of the poem. Cardona hints at this, “I become the sound of Tibetan bells, echoing and hovering in the cosmos. I perceive the whole world below, life in suspension” (31). This end gives the impression of suspension as meaning fly over (and it might well mean this) but the zeitgeist of the poem is one of premature stoppage, which is also a meaning of suspension.
This maneuvering is evident in Ex Tempore, which tells of a brother “In intensive care…between worlds/his brain flooded with blood” (75). The final lines of the last stanza, “Unlike his body, he seems at peace. All I can thinks is, Please God spare him” (75). We do not know if the brother survived. The poem ends in suspense. In this way, Cardona invites us into the emotionality of the poem. It is “unfinished” but registers with us.
Other poems in the collection employ animals and dreamlike states, happenings that Cardona is at home with (see her Dreaming My Animal Selves, Salmon Poetry, 2013).
There is something instinctual here, with freedom at the base. Perhaps this is why Cardona features animals in her poetry. They remind us that we too are instinctual and that this part of us can be in motion more often if less constrained by the mind. But we must not move away too quickly from the mind. Imagination lives there. This lesson, too, is in Cardona’s work, as the poet is “gardener of memories” (Ouranoupolis Pantoum 45).
We are fortunate to read Cardona’s account of this search in poetic form. The poems in the collection are also in French. This facilitates a wider readership of Cardona’s work, and serves as proof that poetry suspends linguistic barriers. It belongs in everyone’s collection of books.
About the reviewer: Elvis Alves is the author of the poetry collections Ota Benga (Mahaicony Books, 2017) and Bitter Melon (Mahaicony Books, 2013). Find out more at www.poemsbyelvis.blogspot.com
Review: Paul Wilner reviews Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue for ZYZZYVA Literary Magazine, May 2017
Hélène Cardona’s new collection, Life in Suspension—La Vie Suspendue, (108 pages; Salmon Poetry), commands respect. Richard Wilbur’s introduction tells us the “poems were conceived in English, then rendered into French.’’ I’m not fluent enough in French to judge their exactitude, but it’s hard to argue with Wilbur’s judgment that “for such a many-languaged tongue as hers, the ‘translations’ may have been there from the beginning.’’
The bravura title poem begins with an Orphic incantation: “Let me introduce myself./ I’m your Memory Collector, your companion and spirit guide.’’
She then takes us on an odyssey from the time she was “in my mother’s womb in Paris’’ to Terracina, Italy, Monte Carlo, Karben, Germany, at dance lessons in Geneva, a Spanish market, and the cliffs of Northern Wales, ending, curiously enough, in San Diego. “I perceive the whole world below, life in suspension,’’ she writes, with Whitmanic acceptance.
“El Recuerdo’’ begins with a quote from Charles V: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women/French to men, and German to my horse.”
Cardona’s expansive vision and cosmic outlook may not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying her vision, energy, and wild imaginings. Her credo may well be expressed at the end of a poem about Klimt and Giacometti: “Every wall is a beginning.”
Interview: Dreaming the World in Translation: A Conversation with Hélène Cardona in World Literature Today (May 2017)
Hélène Cardona interviewed by Alison Williams
As the world becomes increasingly and undeniably global, translation is more relevant than ever in reaching across borders to find both difference and common ground through art. Poet and translator Hélène Cardona spoke about her new bilingual poetry collection Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue with Alison Williams at the recent 2017 Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Washington, DC. The two met up after Cardona’s panel entitled “Dreaming the World in Translation” to talk about Cardona’s ecumenical childhood, her development as an artist, and the importance of translation in creating ongoing dialogue around art, culture, and an empathetic international society.
Alison Williams: Can we start with a bit of your background? I have the sense that it’s inherent to your work.
Hélène Cardona: My upbringing is somewhat uniquely American because I’m an immigrant and the daughter of immigrants. I was born in Paris to a Greek mother and a Spanish father. My father was translating a lot of international poets and writers, like Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. There was so much censorship in Spain, everything was political, and there was no freedom of expression. He was about to be arrested for his writing, so, to escape Franco’s dictatorship, he fled to France. There he met my mother, who had left Greece to study law, and that’s how I came to be born in Paris. Soon after, we moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where my brother was born. My father worked for the UN and was involved politically, advocating for immigrants who were living in difficult conditions.
At home, French was the dominant language in the sense that we lived within the French world; but my dad spoke to us in Spanish and my mom spoke to us in Greek, so translation was a way of life. You don’t think of it, you just talk to one parent in one language, the other one in the other language, and that’s how life is. I grew up navigating cultures, steering my boat, and yet feeling very French somehow.
Williams: And of course, your name is Hélène.
Cardona: Yes, it’s a funny story. When I was born, they didn’t have a name for me, because they assumed I was going to be a boy. Finally, my mother gave me her mother’s name. They raised my brother and me with no gender difference. I wore dresses but played all kinds of sports, including soccer. I studied music and ballet at the Music Conservatory. I was also really good at math and physics. I was an equal with the boys everywhere. And it always felt strange when I saw differences in treatment between boys and girls. I felt very frustrated about it.
The French system is selection through math. So if you’re good at it, you’re encouraged to go into the scientific section in high school. I specialized in math, physics, and chemistry and also studied languages (English, Spanish, and Latin). But once you’re in the system, you’re—
Williams: You make your track.
Cardona: And they expect you to keep going. So at seventeen I was in medical school, and at nineteen I had a breakdown because it wasn’t for me. I thought I could do it all, but once you’re in medical school, you can’t. It’s all people do. Other interests are unheard of. After two years, I was burned out. I crashed. I had a deep depression, and I got out of med school. And my dad was so upset with me, like I was letting him down. When I hit the specialization the French system required, it was the beginning of the end, a slow death. I didn’t want to give up my artistic side (I played the piano and belonged to a dance company), but I couldn’t say no to getting into med school. It sounded good. I thought, I’ll be the kind of doctor who is a linguist, who does all these artistic things—but no, the regimen wouldn’t allow it.
Williams: It sounds like your work as an actress, writer, and translator was built out of this initial fragmentation or realization, where you had to explore and build this new part of yourself as an adult.
Read the full interview here: https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2017/may/dreaming-world-translation-conversation-helene-cardona-alison-williams
Interview: Hélène Cardona interviewed by Jonathan Taylor for Everybody's Reviewing blogspot (May 2017)
JT: How would you describe your own (very individualistic) poetic voice? What are your intentions in your poetry?
HC: I write as a form of self-expression, fulfilment, transcendence, healing, to transmute pain and experience into beauty. For me, poetry is a process of self-revelation, an exploration of hidden dimensions in myself, and also a way to express the profound experience of the fundamental interconnection of all in the universe. Writing is cathartic as it extends a search for peace, for serenity, rooted in a desire to transcend and reconcile the fundamental duality I see in life. Ultimately, I seek expansion of consciousness.
We are stretched to the frontiers of what we know, exploring language and the psyche. The poem is a gesture, an opening toward a greater truth or understanding. Art brings us to the edge of the incomprehensible. The poems, in their alchemy and geology, are fragments of dreams, enigmas, shafts of light, part myth, and part fable. Mysticism constitutes the experience of what transcends us while inhabiting us. Poetry, as creation, borders on it. It is metaphysical. It offers a new vision of the universe, reveals the soul’s secrets and mysteries. These lines from the poem “The Isle of Immortals” encapsulate my philosophy:
What defines my writing is the sacred dimension of the poetic experience. And it is founded in very concrete reality, a reconciliation of the spiritual and the carnal. It speaks of transformation and seeks the unison of all that lives.
JT: Clearly, your poetry is enjoyed by a wide range of different readers; but I was wondering if you have a kind of ideal reader? That is, who is the reader you imagine when you are writing?
HC: Thank you for saying that. I’m delighted to have a wide range of readers. But I don’t write for a specific kind of reader. I’m hoping my poetry leaves the reader in awe, with a renewed sense of wonder and of the sacred.
Read the full interview here: http://everybodysreviewing.blogspot.ie/2017/04/interview-with-helene-cardona.html
“LIFE IN SUSPENSION”: HÉLÈNE CARDONA’S LUMINOUS BI-LINGUAL COLLECTION OF POETRY
Traces of melancholy, flashes of resilience and above all, an abundance of wonder – at things both quotidian and cosmic, past and present – shine through Life in Suspension/La Vie Suspendue (2016, Salmon Poetry), a bi-lingual collection by poet, translator and actress Hélène Cardona (Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, IMDb, Amazon).
The daughter of a Spanish father and Greek mother, Cardona was born in Paris, grew all over Europe and now lives in Santa Monica, California. She studied English Philology and Literature in Cambridge, England; Spanish at the International Universities of Santander and Baeza, Spain; and German at the Goethe Institute in Bremen, Germany. Later, she attended Hamilton College, New York, where she also taught French and Spanish, and the Sorbonne, Paris, where she wrote her thesis on Henry James for her Master’s in American Literature.
As a translator, Cardona has worked at embassies and as an actress, had roles in successful films such as Chocolat (2000), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and Jurassic World (2015). She has published in several journals and magazines, among them World Literature Today and Asymptote.
The multiplicity of Cardona’s endeavours, the littlest of worries and the grandest of adventures of her traveller’s life come together in Life in Suspension in a most graceful harmony.
In the title poem, she collects memories, peels the past, unwinds the clock – revisits herself at ages 0, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16…tasting German Christmas treats, playing the piano in Geneva, leaving her mother behind at the airport and flying to America. She ultimately learns to let go, to trust in the ripeness of the moment.
In “A House Like A Ship”, Cardona imaginatively describes the drive and the pain of an uncertain peripatetic existence. But the struggles along the way only toughen the frame and strengthen the spirit:
Themes of missed opportunities, unfulfilled wishes gradually unfold but the poet’s voice never descends into bitterness or despair. An expectation for the unexpected remains alive like an unextinguishable flame:
Cardona then goes on to examine self-identity – the many facets of it, the different possibilities hidden in one single person. She employs an enchanting idiom of dreams, doppelgängers and parallel universes to talk of one’s desire for other versions of themselves.
Towards the end, Cardona finds herself alive…witnessing her own funeral. Death is hardly an event because she has just happily dissolved into the earth and the sky from which her individuality had emerged in the first place. She has merely changed state from solid to liquid to ether. And this is a sequence that will be played again and again. Here, Cardona quotes the ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras – “Nothing is born or perishes, but already existing things combine, then separate anew.”
Overall, Life in Suspension is a magical collection of poetry that will enrich the reader. Profound in thought, assured in tone, it artfully makes references to several great minds of the East and the West – Rumi and Hafiz, E. E. Cummings and Carl Sagan.
The words of the poet: “I write as a form of self-expression, fulfillment, transcendence, healing, to transmute pain and experience into beauty…writing is cathartic as it extends a search for peace, for serenity, rooted in a desire to transcend and reconcile the fundamental duality I see in life. Ultimately, I seek expansion of consciousness.”
Other volumes available by Hélène Cardona are works of poetry Dreaming My Animal Selves (2013, Salmon Poetry) and The Astonished Universe (2006, Red Hen Press) along with works of translation Beyond Elsewhere (by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press, 2016) and Ce que nous portons (by Dorianne Laux, Éditions du Cygne, 2014).
REVIEW: Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue reviewed by Anthony Di Matteo for The Los Angeles Review (February 2017)
Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is Hélène Cardona’s fecund title for envisioning, in two languages, a poetry afloat in life and life in poetry—pendulous, pensive, spontaneous, in suspense and suspension. This third of her bilingual lyrical collections implicitly reveals how so much of our thinking and feeling depends upon the Indo-European root of “(s)pen-.” Much weight has been hung upon it by poets ancient and modern. One thinks of Coleridge’s description of the imagination, “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.” Or Ovid’s description of the newly created earth in the opening of his Metamorphoses, “pendebat in aere tellus,” that is, “the pendulous round Earth with balance’t air in counterpoise,” to use Milton’s translation of Ovid’s phrasing, inserted into Book 4 of Paradise Lost to remind us what’s at stake should angels make war. Cardona’s first poem in the collection, “To Kitty, Who Loved the Sea and Somerset Maugham,” also summons angels who weigh upon human life, in this case, “The angel who smells of my childhood / my mother” (“L’ange aux senteurs de mon enfance / ma mère”). The deceased mother Kitty appears to the speaker as a vivid memory conspicuously constructed out of the speaker’s experiences with art, music and nature associated with her absent mother, who also somehow continues as a living being inside the speaker:
This inaugural poem, the only one lacking a period in the collection, initiates the reader into the between-world of the senses and the imagination that arises out of their interplay in the life within. The poems throughout the book explore various poetic and artistic legacies, from Welsh medieval legend to Klimt, Cocteau and Spielberg, that comprise something like an ages-old enterprise in the pursuit of rapture or a hyper-mode of being.
States of suspension abound in the poet’s vision of art, poetry and life. Consider the stellar phrasing in the last poem in the book “Spellbound” (“Envoûtée”) offered as a description of being under the influence of dream: “lumière / défiant la pesanteur” (“light / defying gravity”). Or the poem “Low Altitude” (“Basse Altitude”) in which the speaker identifies the course she sets her sights on, where her spirit both elevates and is weighed down: “Je vole à une altitude vertigineusement basse” (“I fly at a delicately-low altitude”). This state of flying low induces metamorphoses both exhilarating and dangerous as recognized by the poem “A Mind Like Lightning” (“Un Esprit Comme l’Éclair”) whose phrasing recalls the earlier poem “Low Altitude:”
Suspended vision turns the poet into a miraculous kind of creature, “A Winter Horse” as a later poem has it, whose rambles are guided by an imagined maternal rider:
These whirlwind, global rides that take over the speaker’s mind, “un tourbillon de pensées,” are rooted, weighted or suspended by the supportive, beloved figure of the mother as the title poem “Life in Suspension” makes clear. This poem tells the story of the speaker’s developing biological and artistic life that also looks out to all human life in its love for and bond with a fostering mother figure. The speaker exists somewhere between the mythical and the all-too-human. She claims allegorical status—“I am the Memory Collector” (Je suis la Collectionneuse de souvenirs”)—but she also longs for her own life:
One’s origin is forever set but the journey ahead is ever unclear. Thrust into the world, the poet as growing child encounters a widening terrain, from France to Italy, Germany, Geneva, Spain, Wales, and America:
The English “pull” in the last line the poet renders into French by “l’appel”—more properly translated as “the call:” “Elle me brise le coeur mais l’appel est plus fort.” This sentient and imaginary experience, where the pull of absence can make the call of presence stronger, is a liminal one that Cardona returns to again and again. “Je me suspends dans le vide” (“I hang in the void”) declares the poet-speaker in “Galactic Architect,” the sonnet-like poem found near the mid-point in the collection. A subsequent poem, in fourteen lines of free verse, echoes this non-position. Entitled “Dans le néant” (“In the Nothingness”), it offers view of an imaginary non-site, a utopia perhaps, necessary for the verbal suspension of poetry:
Simulating existence suspended in a pulse of being and nothingness, the book alternates free and formal poetry, with pantoums, sonnets and sonnet-like forms interspersed among the predominantly free verse. Involving more than a translation of one language into another, Cardona’s ability to write or fly low, in French and English poetry, creates semantic nuances that light up in multiple directions, while her writing pays close heed to the base level of syntax, rhythm, line and sentence. Her work presents a tender, pensile world that merits repeated line by line explorations.
Anthony DiMatteo’s recent poetry collection is In Defense of Puppets (Future Cycle Press, 2016). He is a professor of English at the New York Institute of Technology.
Review: Life in Suspension/La Vie Suspendue reviewed by J. C. Hallman for The Brooklyn Rail (December 2016)
A Poet is a Mood by J. C. Hallman
Generally speaking, poems are monolingual. That is, what a poem has to say is generally held to be specific enough to be fixed to a singular language event. If it’s lucky, it will get translated into another language, perhaps even by the poet, but the translation will be understood to be an approximation of the original, and if you’re a Frosty bent (he of the claim that the essence of poetry perishes in even the smoothest of transits from one language to the next) you’ll read these translated poems with an awareness that even a great poem would be better still if you could read it in the original Russian (most of the time).
Surely one of the most prominent features of Hélène Cardona’s latest, Life in Suspension, is the way it denies us this all-too-simple assumption, the way it leaves us, as it were, suspended between languages. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to describe this, because while it would be easy to say that each poem in the volume has a French and an English version, with one language on the left side of the book and one on the right, as is typical of facing page translations, that’s not entirely accurate because in facing page translations you know which was the original and which the translation. But here, a “bilingual collection” in which both appear for the first time together, how would you determine which is which? Who’s to say they’re not actually separate poems? Technically speaking, a note at the front tells us the English came first, but Cardona was born in Paris, so perhaps even their original composition was a sort of translation.
All this creates a particular dilemma for a reader, but a pleasant one, it turns out, because I found myself toggling back and forth between the French (of which I have juste un peu) and the English (a little better) much more than I normally would, not to second guess the translations (which I suppose is the whole purpose of those facing page deals), but because my eye kept catching peripherally on moments when the translation—if we can even still call it that—wasn’t perfect. That is, moments when the poet decided that a line break in one language wasn’t the right line break for the other. If you’d told me about this in advance, I would have thought that this bouncing back and forth would have totally screwed up the poems for me, breaking their flow and all that, but it turned out to be an added joy because of course it was the poet who was making these decisions too, and therefore even the dual-language aspect of this surprising volume, which just as often will have you thinking of Rumi and Rilke and Neruda, offers a unique archaeology-style pleasure of penetrating a psychic poetic cavity that generally remains undisturbed.
To make matters worse—by which I mean better—Cardona is one of those writers, one of those people really, who are better described as being talented rather than having a talent because their unlikely lives seem suspended between talents, nations, cultures, media. What can you really say about a poet who holds three passports, speaks god knows how many languages, and appears to have mastered a number of arts? In addition to the two books of poetry, Cardona produced a thesis on Henry James, published translated works by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac and Dorianne Laux, and, most prominently, has an extensive acting career that includes speaking roles in Chocolat and Jurassic World.
To be sure, I generally don’t go in for this sort of thing. I’m not dying for the next Ethan Hawke novel. Or James Franco. Or Aragorn, or the woman from Weeds and The West Wing. And to be honest, when I hear about these people, part of me wants to say come on, man, enough is enough. Too much limelight burns as surely does a summer sun. Even Dylan thought his Nobel was weird.
But Cardona is different, I think, and that dissertation on James is the clue. In both letters and fiction, James asserted that all the arts are one, and what he meant was that a novel can aspire to do what the gigantic Tintorettos in the Louvre do. In short, we should no sooner segregate media than people.
Anyway, any reservations one might have about a poet spread too thin across the culture dissolve at once in the experience of Cardona’s poems, which often, like James’s sentences, withhold their core image until the final word, when it crystallizes like something flash frozen, caught in motion. This might be critical to Cardona’s macro mission of suspension, in that the poems compile to form the chronicle of a traveler, without fixed language, without fixed nationality or profession, moving physically from Bar Harbor to Chalkidiki (it’s Greece), and emotionally from the calm of floating alone on a lake to the inner hurricane of watching a loved one slip from this world to the next. En route, there are these poetic hesitations, the vibrancy of life trapped in amber.
As well, Cardona surprises with jarring aphorisms. Quoting aphorisms is dangerous, I know, because a poem’s stirring phrase is like the flower of its plant, and while you can yank the flower up and admire its beauty, it will, yanked, wither and die, and you might just as well have chosen to leave it alone. Nevertheless, here is a bouquet plucked from Cardona’s flowerbed of a book:
These simple blooms will stay with you for a time. But then they will fade, because ultimately a poet is not a voice or an image or a phrase. A poet is a mood. And what you will recall of this book at a distance—like the aphorism from Whitman, epigraphically borrowed here—is that though you’ve lost the rest, you remember being with the poet for these moments stolen from an unlikely life.
Extraordinarily, magically, poignantly, I could have sworn just as I finished reading Hélène Cardona’s latest poetry collection and was switching on my laptop to write this review that I could faintly hear a lone piper playing Flowers of the Forest. Highly unusual in a house on the southern coast of England close on 500 miles from Edinburgh. As I threw open the windows with a clear view of Cap Gris Nez on the French coast 20 miles away the music grew louder. The air was suffused with the 500 year old air lamenting the Scottish fallen at the Battle of Flodden, the crash of the waves and the wind in the trees on the cliffside. I could see no piper but highly appropriately in my reverie post reading Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue as I looked out to sea the music pulled tight on the Celtic thread of my ancestry.
‘Highly appropriately’, because through the poems in the collection Cardona explores life after loss, particularly the loss of one’s mother, when one feels as though one has gone into suspended animation between the past and the future. How one can feel lost in the heartbroken void of the present, but also how one can slowly become receptive again to the the threads of memories and not only pull them tight but also wrap them around the lines stretching back through one’s parents and through the generations of one’s family. As she writes in the poem, In Search for Benevolent Immortality:
Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is a bilingual collection. Cardona wrote each poem first in English and then in French, linguistically reflecting the fact that she was born in France and now lives in the USA. But a life in suspension for Cardona is a life suspended between many different languages and lands, cherished memories and experiences in a variety of different tongues, and the ancestral voices she hears are as multi-lingual as she is: she speaks English, French, Spanish, German, Greek and Italian fluently. Her mother, Kitty, was Greek, her father, Jose Manuel Cardona, is a Spanish poet, and her formative years were spent all across Europe, in addition to time in the USA.
As an acclaimed and accomplished poet, actor (her credits include: Chocolat, Mumford,The 100 Foot Journey, Heroes Reborn), and literary translator, language and literature are her lifeblood and passion and she is as beautifully deft with the words of others as she with her own. As she compounds in the first verse of the collection’s titular poem, in which she beautifully and evocatively encapsulates her poetic voice and muse:
The dance, ‘a dance to the music of time’ to borrow from Nicholas Poussin/Anthony Powell, in Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is in four parts. For me, the poems in the first part explore the loss of a mother, how life becomes a frozen present – there is no future, only a past one is desperate to remember, to remain in; ‘a cloister of shadows loved’ as Cardona writes in Twisting the Moon. Whilst in the second they reflect on how the love of another can help one heal, allow one to continue, as she writes in Eagle, ‘On the wall of time to come / a window appears’.
As a teenager Cardona spent time in Wales, and later in Ireland, and the collection and, for me, particularly the poems in the third part take inspiration from Celtic legend, from Ceridwen, a mother, an enchantress, and the Celtic goddess of rebirth, transformation, of whom Medieval Welsh poetry speaks of having possessed the cauldron of poetic inspiration. The poems in this section explore transformation, metamorphosis, and the natural world to reflect on the changes in oneself bereavement brings, the natural cycle, and also that in searching for one’s mother after losing her, and wondering how one can ‘find’ her again, there is the realisation that she is in everything, throughout the beauty of nature. The final part is contemplative of one’s own place in ‘the dance’; the past is gone, but lives on within the child, what are the ways in which we are reborn, and how do we face our own end. As Cardona writes in Between Klimt and Giacometi, ‘Every wall is a beginning’.
To end with the three words with which this review began the beautifully realised Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is extraordinary, magical, and poignant.
Review: Life in Suspension/La Vie Suspendue reviewed by Grace Cavalieri for Washington Independent Review of Books, August 2016
Hélène Cardona wrote her poems first in English and then translated them, herself, to French — an ideal way to get an exact replica. The poems are a combination of worldly sophistication and fairytale. Cardona is an actor, and singer as well as writer, and her musical background speaks to how she lays her lines with subsets of rhythm. She chooses words that leave a lingering presence, line to line with a light hand, impressionistic, and yet exact. It’s how a singer knows to choose the right vowels and how to create patterns of sound. Cardona distills minutes and crystallizes images. Sometimes I’m reminded of Leonie Adams in tone and temperature for delicacy of theme; and in speaking to the present moment. Cardona’s poetry feels so far away from today’s rhetoric; there’s absolutely no social consciousness about the affairs of the day. It’s multifaceted with imagery and thought that seem removed from present chaos, and could have been written in another century. This is poetry with layers of complexity made of lace — a magic carpet ride, not like anything else around.
Review: Life in Suspension/La Vie Suspendue reviewed by Matt Sutherland for Foreword Reviews, August 26th, 2016
Devotedly Euro-American, schooled in language, literature, verse, acting, and the working parts of script, Hélène Cardona first wrote this bilingual collection in English and then delivered the French translation. A citizen of the United States, France, and Spain, she earned a master’s degree in American Literature from the Sorbonne and fellowships from the Goethe-Institut and Universidad Internacional de Andalucia. En passant, Cardona’s movie-star beauty pales next to her writing and intellect.
"I’m learning to let go, trust the ripeness of the moment. That everything happens at the right time."
Life in Suspension is a testament to Cardona’s unique ability to make words sing on the page. From the first poem, “To Kitty,” Cardona dazzles with visually stimulating images of eyes “the color of rain,” and how “laughter burns snow.” A literary architect, Cardona pushes the exploration of many of her poems to the brink of possibility. While the casual poetry reader will enjoy the array of spectacular diction, imagery, and overall musical cadence of the piece, the hardcore enthusiast will find himself wading in a gold mine of rich thoughts and observations. To that end, audiences will find that each time they read the same poem, they will uncover a gem that went unseen in the first go-around.
The defining characteristic of Life in Suspension is its authenticity, both in presentation and style. Equipped with a dual English and French translation, it matters little whether the reader is versed in French. Each of the French versions, when read aloud, are evocative and compelling, and just downright pleasing to the ears.
Proof of the poet’s intimacy with nature is unnecessary; its evidence is scattered throughout the dozens of scintillating metaphors and personification that often examines the role of light in the world. One of the more stunning, transcendent images of the entire compilation appears in “Galactic Architect”: “From the bottom rung of a ladder in the sky/I hang in the void.” While this and all of the poems in this compilation are open to interpretation, there is certainly a strong indication that the speaker of “Galactic Architect” has a romanticized vision of breaking free from the hustle and bustle of the material world and soaring toward the quest for the world’s unknowns. It is difficult to ignore the similarities, both in imagery and the energy of the poetry to the father of the literary Romantic period, William Wordsworth’s, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”
Even amidst the chaos and movement of Cardona’s poetry, there is a sense of grace and calm. In a peculiar way, it’s almost as if her poetry is a microcosm of the universe: amid all the chaos, there is always control. Of all the poems, the poetry compilation’s namesake is the most fitting example of this chaos versus control dichotomy. Rather than compare the “Life in Suspension” poem to the rest of the compilation, readers should consider this poem an encapsulation of the compelling, colorful, and potent nature of Cardona’s work. Although “Life in Suspension” is a poem, the interwoven narrative, with the main speaker, the Memory Collector, steals the show. The image of memories being thrust into the “fire, the cauldron of resolutions,” which “burn into embers and flickers that evolve into butterflies” is astounding and conjures all sorts of Harry Potter pensive visuals. The Memory Collector recalls a multitude of memories, increasing in age and intensity.
“A House like a Ship” and “Twisting the Moon” are among the more memorable poems, but “Spellbound” captures the spirit of Cardona’s seemingly-fervent desire to break through boundaries and return the world to its natural glory and luster. Life in Suspension is melodious in reading, but dives into uncharted metaphysical and spiritual depths as well. Poetry aficionados who relish hunting for the deeper meaning, the poem within the poem, will be thrilled by poems like “At My Funeral,” which opens up with an eye-popping line: “Somebody speaks at my funeral but I am not dead.”
Life in Suspension is poetic elegance personified, a package of stylistic flawlessness and depth of thought that belongs on the bookshelf of any poetry lover.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
Review: Life in Suspension/La Vie Suspendue reviewed by Hugh Hazleton, PhD:
A Lyrical Search
This is a poignant book, much of it based on the author's own experience. The first two parts are filled with images of her childhood from across Europe as well as with portraits of lost family members for whom she has become a "gardener of memories." The last sections are a lyrical search for transcendence and for the metaphysical truths that underlie the natural world and human experience. The French and English versions are distinct, with interesting differences: two versions that reflect and interact with one another, enriching the poetry and giving it added meaning and another linguistic dimension beyond the limits of self-translation.
Review: Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue reviewed by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac for the French literary magazine, La Cause Littéraire:
"Life in Suspension is a love song, a hymn to goodness and beauty"
"La Vie Suspendue est un chant d’amour, un hymne à la bonté et à la beauté"
Sarasvatī, la déesse de la connaissance, des arts et de la parole, semble avoir doté Hélène Cardona de bien des grâces : actrice, elle a notamment joué dans des films de Lasse Hallström ou Lawrence Kasdan et, dernièrement, dans "Haunting Charles Manson" de Mick Davis ; pianiste, elle a obtenu un prix du Conservatoire de Musique de Genève ; danseuse de haut niveau, elle a longtemps pratiqué l’art classique du ballet ; scénariste et traductrice notamment de Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Walt Whitman, René Depestre et de son père José Manuel Cardona ; diplômée de l’Académie des Arts dramatiques de New-York, auteure d’une thèse sur Henry James, elle est aussi et peut-être avant tout poète.
La poésie d’Hélène Cardona souffle à rebours de l’air du temps. Elle se situe à contre-courant de la production littéraire que le psychiatre Carl Gustav Jung qualifiait de « poésie névrotique », centrée sur les états d’âme de leur auteur, les replis les plus crasses de l’âme humaine, l’apparente absurdité de l’existence qu’elle ne fait mine de rejeter que pour mieux l’embrasser. Plus que jamais, la poésie a besoin de serviteurs inspirés et inspirants, dont le regard porte au-delà du visible, sachant que « la lucidité, prévient Gustave Thibon, est le pire des aveuglements si l'on ne voit rien au-delà de ce qu'on voit : le visible amputé de l’invisible n’est que le masque du néant. »
Le dernier recueil bilingue d’Hélène Cardona, Life in supension / La vie suspendue, récemment paru aux éditions Salmon Poetry, s’inscrit précisément dans cet élan visionnaire où la poésie voit et donne à voir au-delà des apparences trompeuses, dans une tentative de communiquer ce qui se situe au-delà du langage, car, ainsi que le murmure le poème « Basse altitude » :
La vie suspendue est un chant d’amour, un hymne à la bonté et à la beauté ; non pas cette beauté fugace et superficielle des apparences, mais l’exacte beauté qui permet de connaître la Différence dont elle est le signe — jaillie tel un reliquaire des mains de l’orfèvre sous la forme d’un joyau longuement martelé, de même que les épreuves de l’existence et le temps façonnent et grandissent ceux qui savent, comme l’auteure, transformer le plomb en or, « les tempêtes intérieures » en détachement spirituel envers tout ce qui est relatif et limité, en gardant « l’esprit résolument tourné vers l’infini », « même si tout semble perdu » :
Au fil des pages, les mots d’Hélène Cardona offrent un vibrant hommage à la création, à la nature (« …le long des falaises étourdissantes, le vent celte m’ensorcelle »), aux éléments (« Je sens le vent à travers mes cheveux / m’aimer comme jamais ») et, en substrat, d’un bout à l’autre du recueil, un poignant hommage à la mère disparue, l’ombre aimante de l’enfance, omniprésente dans ce recueil :
Au fond, La vie suspendue est, essentiellement, l’expression d’une vie d’artiste suspendue aux lèvres de l’invisible, au souffle divin et à l’unité la plus profonde de l’Homme, du cosmos et de la Cause incréée qui dépasse et résout l’apparente dualité inhérente à toute existence humaine.
Finalement, ce nouveau recueil d’Hélène Cardona n’est rien de moins qu’authentique poésie, « car la poésie, observe Fray Louis de Léon, n’est rien d’autre qu’une communication du souffle céleste et divin. »
"This is a collection of poetry to be savored slowly and enjoyed again and again"
Life in Suspension: La Vie Suspendue (English and French Edition) is a collection of poetry written by Helene Cardona. The poet is also a translator, editor of an anthology of Poetry and Aesthetics, and an essayist. The poetry in this collection was originally written in English and then translated by the poet into French. Her collection is separated thematically into four sections which seem to bear a correlation with life cycles. Each section is prefaced with quotes that act as guideposts for the reader as he/she travels therein. Many of Cardona's works revolve around her family, most particularly her mother whose essence seems omnipresent for her daughter as expressed in her opening poem, To Kitty, Who Loved the Sea and Somerset Maugham: “Whose laughter burns snow/Whose warm breath I breathed/This morning as I woke/The scent of gardenias whispering/I never left you.” There are also memories shared of a Greek grandfather whose glib pronouncement "...a boy at last, I'm not impressed with girls" seems embedded in her consciousness. But in that family is also the world embraced in miniature: the streets of Paris, ballet classes as a child in Geneva, a grandmother in Tarragona who teaches her Spanish, horse-back riding in Wales.
Helene Cardona's bilingual collection of poetry, Life in Suspension: La Vie Suspendue, reels with energy and images that pour out into the reader's consciousness. Cardona gleefully plays with words and makes them do her bidding, joyfully violating their essence and somehow making the violation a thing of nature and beauty. I was intrigued by the bilingual nature of this work and enjoyed reading both the French and English versions, sounding out the words as I read and savoring the way the sounds and meanings meshed and played. Life in Suspension is a frank and fearless work that reveals, at times, so much of the author's essence that I felt a need to step back and allow her space, a bit of privacy. But then her next few lines would seem to acknowledge the closeness and defy any traditional need for space. This is a collection of poetry to be savored slowly and enjoyed again and again. Life in Suspension is most highly recommended.