I, Nadja and Other Poems

by Susan Elmslie


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Winner of the 2006 A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and shortlisted for the McAuslan First Book Prize (Quebec Writers’ Federation).
Shortlisted for the 2007 Pat Lowther Award and the 2007 ReLit Awards.

Poems that reach towards the lost or the might have been.

In her debut collection, Susan Elmslie delves into the life and mental illness of the real person behind André Breton’s surrealist romance, Nadja, recovering the story of a flesh and blood woman who became a symbol for the unknowability of the feminine and the irrational side of the human psyche. Ultimately, I, Nadja is about many women as Elmslie’s lyrically astute, confident lines move into the daily world of motherhood, adolescent memories and heroines like Marie Curie and George Sand. With her great fury of a voice, Elmslie’s poems are forthright and daring, fearlessly rhapsodic, as “they sing/your shape through doorways,… sing/the whole house awake.”

I can get perfect distance between us – maybe
language is what washes the sheets eventually,
snapping on the line, telling us how neat things must be.
Like irony: a man spent eighteen years building a plane, only
to have it crash on its maiden flight, killing him completely.
Some throw themselves in to the role of the timeless lover,
believing only in their own ability to endure, endure,
and prepare for that chance meeting at an airport bar.
You look at me and I know I have blown my cover.
When I talk of taking a trip I mean forever.

from “Four Postcards”

“What range and abundance! A catalogue of trench coats, a daughter’s first hunger, the stories of George Sand, Marie Curie, and, of course, Breton’s love, the unforgettable, unknowable Nadja. Each of these poems is fully felt, finely formed, astonishingly different from the next. Susan Elmslie compels you to linger with admiration – but also to keep turning the pages, breathless for the next discovery.” – Stephanie Bolster

“If for no other reason, buy this book for the “I, Nadja” poems. They are brilliant. But there is another reason-the book itself-all of it.” – P.K. Page

A Note about the Cover Image (from Susan Elmslie)

I came across the image that Alan Siu has framed and incorporated into the book’s cover design during my research trip to Paris (funded by a Canada Council grant), in April, 2001. I was there to retrace the steps of Breton and Nadja. Because their first meeting was of great importance to Breton, I started by looking for the exact spot where it happened. He indicates in Nadja that the meeting occurred late in the afternoon on the Rue Lafayette, but (despite his apparent interest in facts) he does not know the name of the intersection he crossed just before seeing the young woman. He does mention that it was in front of a church, and that he had come from the Humanité bookstore. Visible above an awning in Breton’s photograph of the bookstore is the number 120, which I surmised was the address. So by piecing together some of the details and literally retracing his steps along the Rue Lafayette in the 10th district, I was able to determine that the intersection was Place Franz Liszt, and the church he referred to was l’Eglise St. Vincent de Paul.

I spent my last full day in Paris, a Sunday, at the Saint-Ouen Flea Market (Breton’s regular haunt of a Sunday). Rummaging through one of the postcard stalls, looking for images of the 10th district, I found this postcard from the mid-nineteen-twenties:  a woman standing two steps from where Nadja and Breton first met.


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About the Author

Susan Elmslie’s first trade collection of poetry, I, Nadja, and Other Poems (Brick, 2006), won the A.M. Klein Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the McAuslan First Book Prize, the Pat Lowther Award, and a ReLit Award. Her poems have also appeared in several journals and anthologies—including the Best Canadian Poetry in English (2008, 2015)—and…

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Additional Info

  • ISBN: 1894078535
  • ISBN-13: 9781894078535
  • Pages: 160
  • Year: 2006
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.75 x 0.5 in
  • Category: ,

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