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Célyne Fortin

Born in La Sarre in Abitibi in 1943, Célyne Fortin co-founded and co-directed the Éditions du Noroit from 1971 to 1991, along with René Bonenfant. There she published collections of poetry and art books: from Femme Fragmentée, 1982, and L’envers de la marche, 1982, limited editions with pastel drawings, to Les Intrusions de l’oeil, 1993, and Un ciel laiteux, 2008. In 2012 there appeared the collection Ovale, Femme infrangible, poems (1982-2008), an anthology prepared and presented by Jean Chapdelaine Gagnon. She also published the tales and narratives Jours d’été, 1998, with Editions de la Pleine Lune, published in English by Ekstasis Editions as Summer Days, Chanterelles, 2000, with Lanctôt éditeur, Commandements, litanies, et autres imprecations, with Heures bleues, 2003, other art books with Bonfort, and Ile est un mot magique, 2000, with Éditions du Silence. Since 2003, she has been responsible for the collection “Le Dire,” at Heures bleues.

Translator: Donald Winkler is a Montreal based literary translator and documentary filmmaker. In the realm of poetry, he has made films on Irving Layton, P.K. Page, F.R. Scott, among others. And, among others, he has translated Roland Giguère and Pierre Nepveu. He is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for French to English translation.

First Window

I have come to set my papers in order
and my thoughts
and what I plan to read.
And my feelings as well.
To set them all in order before the great clean sweep
the grand disruption
here in Abitibi.
In this place where I’ve so often set down words.


In La Sarre, where the streets are broad as hope.
There where the river the “Amikitik” or white fish
runs its ever darker waters
higher still towards the North
to where the waters divide
in that land the Amerindians named Abitibi.

La Sarre-Wabakin.
Where “there are mountains of hard wood.”
Where I could not grow.
But where I return to write.
La Sarre that saw me born.
Land of my childhood.

The chipping sparrow’s tiny there and soft
with a large white feather in its beak.
Like me, is it trying to rebuild a nest for itself
in this village lost in sleep?


When the Abitibi sky is blue
it is deep
and luminous.
Is it to free our minds
from the blizzards and the long winters’
hard cold?

A strange winter here.
There are no birds.
Not even a crow.
Is it the Arctic cold
or have I arrived too soon?
It’s the beginning of February.


In planting his spruce trees
did Monsieur Dubuc suspect
I’d be admiring them still
sixty years on?
One now has two crowns
and they rise
before this imposing dwelling
with its New England allure.
Painted green and white since forever
it’s made its way down the decades
and still parades its Sunday best.
In recent years
it’s become a safe harbour
for many poor people
who go there often
to fill their shopping bags
and stay alive.


Does this feeling of fullness
derive from the landscape’s serenity alone
or from me looking upon the landscape?
Does the serenity stem from my presence
cast over the image being observed
or is it heightened by the prospect
presented to my gaze?

In my glasses the colour
when darkness drops over my eyes.


Coming out of school.
You whirl your full-to-bursting bag.
You shift it from shoulder to shoulder
from hand to hand.
A child wheels on himself
whips at an icicle
or a hard hunk of snow
with a branch.
Shouts from afar.
Cries to urge on the straggler.
The littlest drags his feet
his big bag in tow.

It’s been many many years
since my friends and I
took the same street home from school
our delight renewed each day
by a girlfriend’s larks.


From Wabakin, or Four Windows onto Snow
by Célyne Fortin
© 2013 Célyne Fortin
Translation © 2017 Donald Winkler
Published by Ekstasis Editions